Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker unveiled a housing plan Wednesday to address an “affordability crisis” in the US, shining a national spotlight on an issue that has been at the center of his political identity for more than two decades.
“Making sure all Americans have the right to good housing is very personal to me,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “I’m determined to tear down the barriers that stand in the way of every American being able to do for their families what my parents did for mine.”
Booker’s plan, modeled after legislation he previously introduced in the Senate, focuses on a renters’ credit that he says would lift 9.4 million people out of poverty. In that regard, his proposal is similar to a plan by his 2020 rival Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who has centered her own housing policy on a subsidy for low-income renters.
But Booker’s blueprint goes further than Harris’, with sweeping changes to restrictive zoning laws, coupled with federal incentives to build more affordable housing. Advocates have called for such changes in cities like Los Angeles, where homelessness has spiked sharply amid rising housing demand and prices.
Booker would also expand the right to counsel for low-income tenants fighting eviction, while targeting discriminatory and predatory housing market practices, and funding grants to combat homelessness.
Although this marks the first time he has highlighted these proposals as a presidential candidate, it’s far from a new policy push for Booker, who has homed in on the issue for decades.
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1997, Booker moved into a public housing complex in Newark called Brick Towers, where he began working as a tenant advocate taking on slumlords. He continued living there as he ran for City Council and later mayor, until shortly before the rundown building was demolished in 2007. He still lives in the same neighborhood today.
But as Booker often mentions on the campaign trail, housing was a personal issue for him even before he moved to Newark. When he was a baby, his parents integrated an affluent New Jersey suburb, enabling his brother and him to attend high-achieving public schools.
In his new plan, Booker would expand the Fair Housing Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Access to safe, affordable housing can be transformative in the trajectory of people’s lives,” Booker said. “My parents knew this when they moved my brother and me to a New Jersey town with good public schools in the face of racial discrimination. The tenants I represented against slumlords when I first moved to Newark knew it too. So did my neighbors in Brick Towers.”
In Booker’s plan, renters who spend more than 30% of their before-tax income on housing expenses would be eligible for a credit. His campaign cited a Columbia University study showing the policy would help more than 57 million people.
His proposal would seek to increase the supply of affordable housing with a carrot-and-stick approach, by tying federal infrastructure grants to demonstrated progress on the local level while committing $40 billion to building new units.
Booker also would incorporate an element of his criminal justice efforts into his housing plan by nixing a “one strike” eviction policy in public housing, in which a tenant and his family can be pushed out for a first-time offense, including drug use.