Elizabeth Warren Running For President OF NERDS!
Hey, while every media outlet is doing exactly the same stupid horse-race political coverage they said nobody should be doing, the actual candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are busily putting forward policy proposals -- the things pundits and voters keep saying they want to know about, at least in between discussions of "likeability" and whether Chuck Todd thinks candidates are bipartisan enough. So hey, here is a cool housing policy idea from Elizabeth Warren, who's trying to out-nerd everyone else with a proposal to make housing more affordable and even redress some of the nation's terrible legacy of housing discrimination. What a weirdo!
Warren outlines her housing proposals here, and we like 'em. There are even linkies to studies supporting her proposals, yay for info geeks! She notes that, for grownup adults, where you live (more precisely, where you can afford to live) has enormous consequences.
Housing is not just the biggest expense for most American families — or the biggest purchase most Americans will make in their lifetimes. It also affects the jobs you can get, the schools your children can go to, and the kinds of communities you can live in. That's why it's so important that government gets housing policy right.
Problem is, the federal government has spent decades getting housing policy very very wrong, from building racial discrimination into housing policy for much of the 20th century, to letting the big banks screw over homeowners and taxpayers as well. And of course, not doing much of anything to address the crunch in affordable housing for low and middle-income people. How's this for some real class warfare, via the supposedly invisible hand of the market:
The rising cost of rent reflects a basic supply-and-demand problem. There aren't enough places to rent that are affordable to lower-income families. That's because developers can usually turn bigger profits by building fancier new units targeted at higher-income families rather than units targeted at lower-income families. The result is a huge hole in the marketplace.
That hole ends up raising costs for everyone. Without enough affordable options, lower-income families have to stretch their budgets to try to find housing. They end up taking units that would otherwise go to middle-class families. Middle-class families, in turn, have to stretch their budgets to secure housing that might otherwise go to even richer families.
Warren would work to bring down the cost of rent by filling that hole, mostly by using the leverage of federal funding to build, maintain, and rehab affordable units, to the tune of $500 billion over 10 years. But wait! How will she pay for it? Simple: by adjustments to the inheritance tax, because America isn't supposed to have a hereditary aristocracy, in case you didn't notice that.
Currently, an heir doesn't pay a dollar of estate taxes until they inherit a fortune of $22 million or more. I would lower that threshold to $7 million — which is where it was when President George W. Bush left office — and raise the tax rates above that threshold so ultra-millionaires and billionaires pay a larger share. Those changes affect only 14,000 of the wealthiest families each year, but according to [Moody's Analytics], they fully cover the cost of my plan.
That same analysis by Moody's found the plan would reduce rents buy 10 percent, and, since it focuses on housing construction and remodeling (no doubt in line with the energy efficiency standards in the Green New Deal), it would create 1.5 million construction jobs, hooray!
The bill would also target funding to under-served communities, like your rurals and your tribal and Native Hawaiian governments, and also prioritize emergency rent assistance to middle-income families in areas with severe shortages of housing. Just like that middle-income post-WW II housing project in Brooklyn that Howard Schultz grew up in! (And if some 2060 candidate fibs and calls his childhood home a slum, that's a price we can bear.)
Also too, Warren's plan would encourage an end to state and local zoning regulations that increase the costs of housing in those areas. No, not fire codes, environmental protection, or accessibility laws:
These are rules like minimum lot sizes or mandatory parking requirements. These kinds of rules raise the costs of building new housing and keep families from moving into areas with better career and school choices.
My bill gives state and local governments a real incentive to eliminate these unnecessary rules. It puts $10 billion into a new competitive grant program.States, regions and cities can use the new grant money to build infrastructure, parks, roads, or schools. But to even apply for these grants, they must reform land-use rules to allow for the construction of additional well-located affordable housing units and to protect tenants from rent spikes and eviction.
She's not done yet, either: Warren also wants to address America's shameful history of official discrimination against minority homeowners. She notes that despite the 1968 Fair Housing Act,
the gap between white homeownership rates and Black homeownership rates today is about 30% — bigger than it was in 1960 when housing discrimination was legal.
That gap is one of several reasons black families' wealth has lagged well behind white wealth, since homes are the single biggest assets most families have. To address it, Warren would create a new system of down payment subsidies for people living in areas that were historically subject to redlining or other housing discrimination.
The people eligible for assistance must be first-time homebuyers who live in a formerly redlined neighborhoods or communities that were segregated by law and are still currently low-income. If they qualify, they are entitled to a substantial grant they can put towards a down payment on a home anywhere in the country. The program will provide thousands of families with a real chance to buy a home — the same opportunities the government denied to previous generations of residents of the area.
She isn't calling that "reparations," but it's about as close to a redlining reparations program as you could get without making eligibility dependent on race or on applicants having been individually discriminated against, which could be a paperwork nightmare. (There are also some kinks that would need to be worked out -- since it would apply to formerly redlined areas, for instance, how would you reduce the risk that subsidies might just go to white gentrifiers, huh? Nice for them, but not exactly social justice.)
Go take a look at Warren's proposal -- and at this comparison of her plan to housing policy proposals from Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, too!
Now if we could just get the teevee talking heads to start talking more about policy instead of personalities and supposed gaffes, huh? Maybe we could start advocating a horse race of ideas.
[Elizabeth Warren on Medium / Citylab / Data for Progress / NPR / Atlantic]
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