After Ben Carson, Maxine Waters spar, Democratic presidential candidates address homelessness crisis

Homeless man
A homeless man begs for money in downtown Los Angeles, California, August 22, 2011. |

Two days after a war of words over America’s homelessness crisis erupted between Democratic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Democratic presidential candidates sought to address the issue of affordable housing during the fifth Democratic presidential debate Wednesday.

The debate, which was held at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta and co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, was praised as perhaps the most substantive installment of the event so far.

Billionaire candidate Tom Steyer from California, where homelessness is a major problem, was the first person on the stage asked to discuss the issue. He blamed the affordable housing crisis on housing scarcity and “skyrocketing rents.”

“When I look at inequality in the United States of America, you have to start with housing. Where you put your head at night determines so many things about your life. It determines where your kids go to school. It determines the air you breathe, where you shop, how long it takes you to get to work. What we’ve seen in California is, as a result of policy, we have millions too few housing units. And that affects everybody in California,” he said.

“It starts with a homeless crisis that goes all through the state. But it also includes skyrocketing rents, affecting every single working person in the state of California. … We need to apply resources here to make sure that we build literally millions of new units.”

He also noted that the new homes would have to be built sustainably.

Democratic Debate
Candidates on stage at the fifth Democratic Debate on Wednesday November 20, 2019. |

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also agreed that there is a problem with housing supply but also raised concern about redlining.

“Our housing problem in America is a problem on the supply side and that means the federal government stopped building new housing, affordable housing. Also, private developers, they’ve gone up to mansions. They’re not building the little two-bedroom, one-bath house that I grew up in. The garage converted to a bedroom for my three brothers,” she began.

“I’ve got a plan for 3.2 million housing units in America. Those are housing units for working families, for the working poor, for the poor poor, for seniors who want to age in place, for seniors with disabilities, for people who are coming back from being incarcerated. It’s about tenants’ rights but it’s about one more piece,” she said.

“Housing is how we build wealth in America. The federal government has subsidized the purchase of houses for decades for white people and has said for black people you’re cut out of the deal. That was known as redlining. When I built a housing plan, it’s not only a housing plan about building new units, it’s a housing plan about addressing what’s wrong about government-sponsored discrimination, how we need to address it.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who noted that he was a mayor in his state during a recession as well as a housing crisis, was quick to point out how he started out his career as a tenant’s rights lawyer. He then raised concern about gentrification and suggested giving tax credits to rents to help empower people.

“These are all good points but we’re not talking about something going on all over America ,which is gentrification and low-income families being moved further and further out often compounding racial segregation. And so all of these things we need to put more federal dollars in it but we’ve got to start empowering people,” he said.

“We use our tax code to move wealth up — the mortgage interest deduction. My plan is very simple — if you’re a renter who pays more than a third of your income in rent, then you’ll get a refundable tax credit between the amount you are paying and the area median rent,” he continued. “That empowers people in the same way we empower homeowners. And what that does is it actually slashes poverty. 10 million people out. And by the way, for those people who are facing eviction, it is about time that the only people who when they show up in renters court is not the landlord, is also low-income families struggling to stay in their homes.”

Julián Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and another Democratic presidential candidate who did not make it onto the debate stage on Wednesday night, said he was glad moderators finally decided to ask about housing.

“Tonight’s Democratic Debate moderators did something they probably haven’t done in 30 years, they asked a question about housing. That’s important because today we have a rental affordability crisis in our nation. I believe that housing is a human right and I have a plan to ensure that every single American has a safe decent and affordable place to live,” he said in a video tweeted Wednesday night.

He also noted that “more Americans are sleeping on the street than before Trump took office.”

The war of words over America’s homelessness crisis began after Waters criticized a recent report released by the Trump administration called The State of Homelessness in America in an Oct. 28 letter to President Donald Trump.

The report highlighted that on any given night in America, more than 500,000 people did not have a place to sleep. It also noted how homelessness is concentrated in major cities on the West Coast and the Northeast like Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. Nearly half, 47 percent, of unsheltered homeless people were also found in California alone.

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