Presidential hopeful Booker releases sweeping affordable housing plan

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Cory Booker on Wednesday proposed a tax credit for renters who spend more than 30% of their income on housing, an ambitious program that his presidential campaign estimated would benefit 57 million Americans.

In addition to the tax benefit, the comprehensive housing plan calls for funding lawyers to defend lower-income tenants against eviction, reforming zoning laws, building affordable housing units and erecting new protections against discriminatory practices in the housing market, Booker said.

Booker, who is in a crowded field of two dozen Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, has long advocated for expanded affordable housing. He has been polling around 3%, putting him seventh among the Democratic contenders.

After graduating law school, Booker worked as a tenants’ lawyer and moved into a crime-ridden public housing complex in Newark known as Brick Towers, where he remained even after becoming mayor. On the campaign trail, he often notes he is the only candidate who lives in a low-income, inner-city neighborhood.

“Access to safe, affordable housing can be transformative in the trajectory of people’s lives,” Booker said in a statement. “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.”

The tax credit would make up the gap between 30% of a person’s before-tax income and the neighborhood fair market rent. The median credit for a family would be $4,800, the campaign said.

The campaign pegged the cost of the credit at $134 billion annually, which would be funded by rolling back some of the tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2017.

Booker has previously proposed “baby bonds,” a program that would give every American a government-funded savings account at birth, based on income level.

Together with the housing plan, his campaign said the programs would allow millions of low-income families to afford to rent or own homes without crippling them financially.

Other Democrats have also released their own housing plans, as the candidates jockey for traction ahead of the first debates later this month.

Like Booker, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris has called for a renters’ tax credit, while U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren – who has long advocated for fairer housing policies – has proposed investing $500 billion to build lower-income rental units and giving black families, who have suffered from historical discrimination, assistance with downpayments.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernadette Baum)