Housing Policy

Cory Booker Understands Restrictive Zoning Codes Are a Problem. How Much Will That Matter for His Presidential Run?

All three Senate Democrats running for president have distinctive housing reform proposals.


Sean Rayford/TNS/Newscom

Sen. Cory Booker's (D–New Jersey) announcement that he will be seeking his party's nomination for president has set off a flurry of speculation about the candidate's ideology, chances of success, and whether or not his drug dealer friend T-Bone was ever real. Less discussed is the senator's views on the increasingly salient issue of housing.

As rents and home prices continue to rise for likely Democratic primary voters in progressive, coastal cities, candidates for the party's nomination are increasingly expected to peddle some sort of solution.

All three sitting senators running for the Democratic 2020 nomination, including Booker, as well as Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), have introduced housing bills that provide a glimpse of how they'll approach the issue.

Booker's bill—the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity or (HOME) Act—was introduced back in August 2018, and would do two major things.

Firstly, it would offer renters making less than 80 percent of area median income (which usually qualifies one for affordable housing or federal housing assistance) and spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a tax credit worth whatever amount they are spending above that 30 percent threshold.

The tax credit would be refundable, meaning even those with no federal income tax burden could still benefit from it.

Booker's bill would also condition federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)—a federal housing grant program with a rather spotty track record—on localities adopting "inclusionary" land use policies designed to increase housing supply and access.

The HOME Act includes a laundry list of policies that might satisfy this requirement, including a lot of things libertarians could get behind like upzoning, eliminating off-street parking requirements, eliminating height requirements, streamlining permitting, and even making development "by-right" (meaning local bureaucrats wouldn't have the discretion to shoot down a code-conforming project).

Booker's bill would reward localities for adopting a number of more interventionist policies, including increasing the number of rent-controlled units, banning landlords from asking prospective tenant about their criminal history, and taxing vacant land.

A free marketer's dream bill it is not, but the focus on removing local restrictions on housing supply are welcome nonetheless says Nick Zaiac, commercial freedom fellow at the R Street Institute. Zaiac tells Reason "CDBG funds have been used for pretty nasty urban renewal type decisions in the past. Having more rules on them and how their used would probably be a good thing."

By threatening to take away funding from more restrictive municipalities, Booker's bill includes a lot more stick compared to his carrot-offering competitors in the Democratic primary, says Zaiac.

Warren's housing bill, also introduced last year, would have set up a $10 billion fund to reward communities that made development easier, but her bill did not threaten to take any federal funding away from cities that didn't play ball.

That blunted its effectiveness, making it on the whole less palatable than Booker's. That's particularly true when one considers that Warren's bill also called for an additional $500 billion in federal subsidies to affordable housing construction over ten years, nearly doubling current levels of federal housing spending.

Harris' housing bill, by contrast, totally punts on the question of local restrictions on development. Instead, the California senator's proposal would issue refundable tax credits to cost-burdened renters making as much as $125,000 a year. Rather than make housing more affordable, this approach would likely just raise costs for renters by subsidizing demand, while doing nothing to address restrictions on supply.

To be clear, there is little that the federal government could or even should do when it comes to housing policy, which remains largely in the control of state and local governments. It's also true that Booker's bill includes a lot of new spending and regulatory string-pulling.

Nevertheless, his housing bill shows that he has a keener sense of what is driving up rents and home prices than many in his party, and is more willing to rely on market mechanisms to bring housing costs down.

NEXT: Cory Booker Is Running for President. Must He Run Away from School Choice?

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  1. See.it is not about making housing available to all on an individual basis; it is about making everyone come beg to a bureaucrat to keep the rain off his head.

    1. Oh hey Dajjal, kinda OT but tell me again how wearing a particular embroidered ball cap is literally violence and evil?

  2. I hope Reason uses this same picture for every post about Booker for the next two years.

    1. +1

  3. Or how about it’s not your job to ‘provide’ housing and to dictate what people can build where when and how. That entire mindset is why SF is a shithole

  4. It won’t because he’s a dick

  5. Let’s see…

    1) This bill gives a REFUNDABLE tax credit to people if they live in an area where the fair market value of rent is over 30% of their income.

    2) Gives additional money to localities for the development of new housing if they enact a whole slew of reforms, a couple of which might actually increase supply, but the remainder of which just encourage the creation of liberal projects.

    How is this even close to a step in the right direction? Reason has rightfully had problems with the Mortgage Tax deduction for years, but at least it wasn’t a REFUNDABLE tax credit. This is literally a new form of welfare, and of course will go to people who are already paying little or not taxes already.

    It may be nice that one or two out of a dozen encouraged reforms are somewhat de-regulatory, but the net result is that we will be dumping more money into localities. So ultimately we are giving more money for Demand, and more money for supply. That isn’t going to reduce housing costs. The US is essentially doing the same thing for universities- giving easy money to students, and then giving grants to the colleges in return for all sorts of things, one or two of which might be considered market oriented. The net effect is that more money goes into the system, increasing costs.

  6. banning landlords from asking prospective tenant about their criminal history

    “Before we let you live in the White House, did you ever hang with a guy who calls himself T-Bone?”

  7. Since land use and other various police powers that are left to the states and to local governments under the COTUS are no business of the POTUS I honestly cannot see why Cory Booker’s views on these things should matter to voters, Unless, of course, Cory Booker somehow believes these are matters which he if he somehow ends up becoming POTUS should be concerned with, in which case I believe he is not someone who should be considered for the office.

    That said, the office of POTUS does have a certain “bully pulpit”.cache. If the POTUS wants to make his opinions known on certain issues that is fine. But those feelings should have no bearing on actual formulation of local and state policy.

  8. I sure hope after Booker gets done solving my housing problem he does something about the crabgrass in my lawn. And would it kill him to make me a sandwich?

  9. Spartacus 2020!!! Bring it on !!!

  10. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here….. http://www.mesalary.com

  11. Is it just me, or has the left already conceded 2020 to Trump? Which of these marxists will do better than Mondale in 1984?

    1. No. Trump is very, very unlikely to win PA or WI again. Complacency on the left helped him in 16, but that won’t happen again. He needs to find a couple of other states that he lost in close counts to focus on for 20. Only a Liawatha candidacy would increase Trump’s margin.

      1. Big picture. The left has been losing elections since Obama was elected. Their gains in the House in the midterms were small, and they lost ground in the Senate. Add Trump’s accomplishments, plus the widespread Derangement of the Left, and whatever version of Marx they run, and Trump wins easily. No moderate Dem could win the nomination.

  12. It won’t matter. At all. He will deny he ever supported the idea.

  13. Booker and T-Bone 2020

  14. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here….. http://www.mesalary.com

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