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How would Trump or Biden approach housing and homelessness?

A tent encampment under the 101 Freeway on Alvarado Street near Echo Park.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, cities across the nation were confronting a historic surge in homelessness as hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves unable to afford rising rents.

Now, some of the millions who lost their jobs as businesses shut down to slow the contagion are in danger of eviction or foreclosure. Regardless of whether Congress and President Trump agree on a new relief package, which appears unlikely, the housing crisis is sure to remain severe in the months ahead.

In the primaries, former Vice President Joe Biden and his Democratic rivals released sweeping and costly housing proposals reflecting heightened voter concern about higher rents and the spread of homelessness, especially on the West Coast.

Trump has taken no major steps to relieve homelessness or expand the supply of low-cost housing. A White House spokesman said the president deserved credit for revitalizing urban communities in part by “building the most inclusive economy in American history.”

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President Trump

Trump’s signature housing initiative has been the repeal of a rule requiring communities to build low-cost units in neighborhoods where it can relieve racial segregation in housing. The rule, “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” was issued under President Obama to enforce the Fair Housing Act, one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s.

Trump hopes to appeal to white suburban voters by playing on long-standing fears around race. He hasn’t changed, but suburbs have.

“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” Trump tweeted in July. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down.”

Trump picked up the theme again in August, warning “suburban housewife” voters that housing for the poor would “invade their neighborhood” under a Biden presidency.

The Trump administration also threatened last year to “crack down” on homelessness in California by tearing down encampments and sheltering the homeless in government facilities. Nothing came of it.

But Trump has approved increases in federal homeless assistance grants. The White House spokesman said Trump was also removing regulatory barriers that hinder construction of low-cost housing.

Trump’s 2017 tax cut included incentives to encourage developers to build projects in low-income neighborhoods known as “opportunity zones.” The projects have included luxury housing. Among the applicants for the tax breaks are well-connected developers and investors such as former White House aide Anthony Scaramucci and the family of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

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Trump’s campaign website includes no proposals on housing or homelessness that he would pursue during a second term, only a section on “promises kept.”

President Donald Trump’s signature tax overhaul has created more than 8,700 opportunity zones across the country. The idea is to spur investments in areas left behind. But thanks to some odd loopholes, the rules about what businesses qualify can seem arbitrary.

Joe Biden

Biden has promised to reinstate the fair housing rule scrapped by Trump.

He has also pledged emergency housing support for tenants threatened with eviction during the pandemic, saying Trump’s order putting a moratorium on evictions was “woefully inadequate to deal with the emerging housing crisis.”

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“Without a comprehensive plan to help our American families make rent, they will leave this crisis months behind on their payments while many landlords teeter on the verge of bankruptcy,” Biden said in August.

For the long term, Biden has pledged a sharp increase in Section 8 rent subsidies to ensure they’re available to all Americans whose income is low enough to qualify. He would allocate $5 billion for a tax credit to ensure that no family that is eligible for the subsidies would have to spend more than 30% of the household’s income on rent.

Biden would establish a $100-billion affordable housing fund to finance the upgrading of housing for low-income Americans. He vowed to put $10 billion into tax incentives that encourage developers to build affordable housing in communities that need it the most.

Biden would also condition federal grants to localities on the elimination of zoning restrictions that limit development near public-transit centers or encourage suburban sprawl.

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Biden has pledged $13 billion in spending to combat homelessness. His criminal justice proposals include a goal of ensuring housing for all formerly incarcerated individuals upon release from prison.

Get informed on the latest news and statistics on housing and homelessness in L.A., California, and throughout the U.S.


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