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Harris Pick Shakes Up Biden's Housing Priorities

gate with white house in background view

When Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign ended in December 2019, many thought it would be the end of the California senator’s journey to the White House. But Joe Biden’s promise of selecting a female vice presidential running mate, and growing calls for woman of color to be selected, brought her back into focus. With Sen. Harris formally added to the Democratic ticket, she has brought new life to the campaign trail with the prospect of her pitted against Vice President Mike Pence at the October 7 debate. She is expected to gin up her a massive online presence and have major influence on the ticket’s policy formulation.

What does this spell for Biden’s housing policy? The answer is quite a bit.

On most housing issues, Biden and Harris closely align. One facet of Biden’s housing strategy includes the establishment of a federal right-to-counsel standard for individuals facing eviction. Earlier this year, Harris introduced the Rent Emergencies Leave Impacts on Evicted Families (RELIEF Act) in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would effectively ban evictions for 18-months, place a halt of rent increases during that period, and create a renters legal assistance fund to combat evictions. While well intentioned, the policies proposed in this bill would be devastating to the rental housing industry, affect its long term viability and exacerbate existing housing affordability challenges around the country, not to mention, ultimately, impede the economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On climate, both Biden and Harris share an ambitious approach to enacting progressive green policy. Biden’s climate plan sees a net-zero emissions United States no later than 2050 and a reduction in the carbon footprint of the country’s building stock by 50 percent by 2035. Harris signaled during her own campaign similar sentiment, zeroing in on the impact environmental change has on low-income communities. Whatever the outcome of Biden’s environmental initiatives, the plan must contend the high cost and impact on affordability that deep energy efficient retrofits can have on a property. Any plan must ensure that property owners are granted broad access to the resources necessary to keep up with the plan’s goals.

Like many of her fellow presidential candidates, including Biden, Harris supported the creation of a renters’ tax credit that would subsidize housing costs for renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This tax credit fails to offer a solution to the nation’s housing shortage. It also could incentivize bad actors to raise housing costs, thus deepening the affordability crisis. Instead, the campaign’s attention should refocus on means-tested programs that help those most in need.

The lack of available and affordable housing is not lost on either member of the ticket. In Biden’s original housing plan, he provides for a $100 billion Affordable Housing Fund that will seek to fill in the housing gap. In 2019, Harris and Congresswoman Maxine Waters introduced the Housing is Infrastructure Act (H.R. 5187) that unleashed billions into various housing opportunities. The bill would make $10 billion of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to states and cities contingent on demonstrating a reduction in barriers to housing development. Amongst other provisions, the bill would also invest $5 billion into the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to help leverage greater private capital for housing projects.

Housing was not the centerpiece issue of Harris’ presidential campaign, although her legislative history clearly shows that she has a commitment to effecting change in the housing space. Biden has also demonstrated that he is willing to let the policies of his former fellow candidates influence his own campaign’s platform. His pledge to not run for a second term should his age or health not permit has shined an even brighter spotlight on Harris as the Democratic heir apparent. The question is whether she will continue the Obama-Biden legacy or trailblaze her own path to the presidency.

The National Apartment Association will provide ongoing coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election Cycle, highlighting its importance to the multifamily industry. Stay tuned for more spotlights as November quickly approaches. For more information on the 2020 Presidential Election, please contact NAA Manager of Public Policy, Sam Gilboard.