Democrats debate how to solve the housing affordability crisis

Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer in the debate.
(John Bazemore / Asociated Press)

Housing issues have gotten short shrift on the campaign trail, but in Wednesday’s Democratic debate the topic got prime airtime.

Several presidential candidates weighed in on how they’d address the housing affordability crisis, a big concern for California voters.

Tom Steyer, one of two California candidates onstage, said the housing squeeze in his home state was due to a shortage of available units. He vowed to build “literally millions of units.”

But he added it must be done in a sustainable manner, a nod to the politically fraught question of limiting where people can live in the face of environmental threats such as flooding and wildfire.

“Housing is how we build wealth in America,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, touting her own plan to build millions of units.

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She highlighted her goal of confronting the impact of “redlining” practices by financial institutions that historically have restricted access to home loans for African Americans, making it harder for those families to build assets to pass on to their children.

“It is not only a housing plan about building new units, it’s a housing plan about addressing what is wrong about government-sponsored discrimination,” she said.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said his rivals had all made good points, but added, “we are not talking about something going on all over America, which is gentrification.”

To address rising rents, he said, he would slash poverty by giving a tax credit to renters who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing.

Booker’s gentrification comment caught the attention of debate watchers, according to an online dictionary that reported a spike in searches for the word.