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Iowa Debate Remains Silent on Housing

There was a moment in last night’s debate when housing stood a chance to be discussed or, at the very least, have the singular word be mentioned. It was a fleeting moment, but if you paid close enough attention, it was clear. Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked a question about the climate to which he responded that on day one of his administration, he would work to eliminate fossil fuels in the United States. In fact, Mayor Buttigieg reminded the audience that every candidate on that stage in Des Moines has urged movement away from fossil fuel dependency.

Ideally, this would lead to a broader discussion on the environment, where each candidate would mention their plans to electrify the country, including the nation’s housing stock, and establish a national green building standard. But without access to the proper financial mechanisms, ambitious energy goals and substantial building retrofit requirements can place upward pressures on housing affordability, have a detrimental effect on development and rents, and potentially drive rental housing providers to remove their units from the market. Yet, candidates were never able to explore these concepts as Mayor Buttigieg was interrupted mid-response by the moderator who wanted to move onto the next pressing question: What was Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass) response to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who allegedly made off-color remarks about the electability of a woman to the White House.

Last night’s debate was relatively tame given the precarious positioning of Iowa’s frontrunners. With less than three weeks to go before the caucus, Vice President Joe Biden exhibited low-energy and kept his responses noticeably brief, likely trying to maintain his marginal advantage in the polls. Sen. Sanders seemed to face the only real attack of the night, sparring with Sen. Warren and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) for a few minutes after the reveal of his alleged gender quote.

To no surprise, housing was shelved again. Perhaps the topic will receive more attention in other early voting states, like New Hampshire, where Governor Chris Sununu recently released a comprehensive housing plan to address the state’s workforce housing shortage, or Nevada, where four out of ten low-income individuals are spending more than half of their income on rent. Keep an eye on former U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), both of whom recently suspended campaigns. Their departure from the race does not mean that their interest in housing policy, namely fair housing, criminal screening and eviction policy, will not resurface on the campaign trail or in Congress. In contrast, the current administration’s work on housing continues. The White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing recently announced it is extending its deadline for public comment on local land use and administrative policies that artificially drive up the cost of new housing development.

The candidates will meet again on February 7, just four days prior to the New Hampshire primary. Both moderators and candidates must recognize the importance of housing and the crucial role the next President of the United States will have in defining its future.

The National Apartment Association will provide ongoing coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election Cycle, highlighting its importance to the rental housing industry. Stay tuned for more spotlights on candidates’ housing policies, debate analysis and much more. For more information on the 2020 Presidential Election, please contact NAA Manager of Public Policy, Sam Gilboard.