Our Plan to Support Homeownership, Increase Affordable and Sustainable Housing, Address the Legacy of Redlining, and End Homelessness in America

Beto O'Rourke
16 min readOct 11, 2019

Housing is a basic human right.

And yet, every night, more than half a million Americans go to sleep without a home — including 180,000 people in families with children. 11 million Americans spend more than half their income on housing, which means they have limited resources left to pay for groceries, health care, transportation, and education. In total, 38 million households are cost-burdened by housing prices, and as is true across our economy, people of color bear the brunt of this crisis.

Half a century after the Fair Housing Act was signed into law, America’s neighborhoods remain highly segregated. Black Americans — still suffering the consequences of redlining, racial steering, discrimination, and the predatory loans that led to The Great Recession — have a larger gap in homeownership with white Americans than they did when the Fair Housing Act was enacted. Latinx Americans also face significant barriers to housing. And with the United States losing 2.5 million units of affordable housing between 1990 and 2016, low-income families from all backgrounds are struggling to find affordable housing.

But this is about more than just a home. Unable to live in communities with good schools, high-paying jobs, and short commutes, tens of millions of low-income Americans — especially those of color — are locked out of opportunity. And segregation, in turn, becomes a vicious cycle, perpetuated by wealth inequality, housing discrimination, and restrictive zoning laws.

Beto believes we need to reach out to those who are facing the challenges of homelessness every day and bring them into our nation’s solutions, so we can truly address these inequities plaguing communities across America. That’s why Beto visited Skid Row in Los Angeles, where he met with women struggling with homelessness and discussed solutions to the daily obstacles they face. It’s why Beto spoke with students last week who are dealing with the dual challenges of supporting themselves through college while also facing rising housing and rent prices. And through these conversations, Beto has not only incorporated the experiences of Americans of all ages and backgrounds experiencing homelessness into this campaign, but their experiences have inspired his bold solutions to radically transform housing in America.

Beto believes we need to radically transform housing in America — not only building 6 million new housing units over the next decade, helping more families achieve homeownership through “Kickstart Savings Accounts,” and eliminating homelessness, but also ending the legacy of redlining in America once and for all so every American can choose what neighborhood they live in, no matter what they look like or who they are.

As President, Beto will:

I. Help more families, especially millennials and people of color, achieve homeownership. Homeownership in America — which is the way that most families build wealth — continues to suffer. In the wake of more than nine million foreclosures, the homeownership rate is down considerably from the pre-crisis years, especially for people of color. Homeownership is also down among millennials compared to previous generations. Black communities, which were targeted for predatory loans and suffered the worst during the foreclosure crisis, are facing a homeownership rate that is virtually the same as it was it was in 1968 — the year that housing discrimination became illegal with the passage of The Fair Housing Act. Latinx Americans — who represent 63 percent of homeownership gains over the last decade — still face significant barriers to closing their own homeownership gap with whites, in part because they are the group most likely to be “credit invisible.”

  • Support every family’s opportunity to build wealth with “Kickstart Savings Accounts,” a matched savings program to help Americans save for a down payment or other asset building activity. Through this savings tool, a family could afford a down payment on the median priced home after three years of saving.
  • Beto would start by offering checking and savings accounts to all Americans through the U.S. Postal Service. This would address millions of Americans’ lack of access to affordable financial services: a quarter of households are un- or under-banked so do not have a bank account or need to rely on expensive financial services. Accounts would pay interest, charge no fees, and require no minimum account balances.
  • The Postal Service would also offer “Kickstart Savings Accounts” to help Americans meet medium- and long-term savings goals. The federal government would provide a 2–1 match on up to $1,000 of savings an adult places in an account ($2,000 for married couples) per year. These matches would only be available for adults below the full Social Security retirement age who are not homeowners and make less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line ($103,000 for a family of four in 2019). Each American can receive a total of $10,000 of matches over their lifetime ($20,000 for married couples).
  • Consider the following example to see how Kickstart savings accounts could make homeownership a reality. A married couple with three kids wants to save for a down payment. They earn $45,000 and save $2,000 each year out of their tax refund to obtain the full $4,000 match. After three years of saving, they will have accumulated $18,000 in their Kickstart savings account. They would be able to purchase the median priced home ($250,000) with an FHA loan (3.5% down payment or $8,750) and cover the closing costs ($8,750).
  • The proposal would also narrow the gap in racial wealth. While about a third of non-elderly households (32 million households) would qualify for Kickstart Savings Account matches, about half of non-elderly Latinx (5 million) and Black households (8 million) would qualify. We estimate that it could increase the median wealth of non-white, non-elderly households by 70 percent (from $20,000 to $33,000).
  • The figures are even more impressive among millennials: over half of 35-and-under households would qualify for Kickstart savings account matches (15 million), over 60 percent of Latinx 35-and-under households (2 million) would qualify and three quarters of black 35-and-under households (3 million) would qualify. We estimate that it would more than triple the median wealth of non-white, under-35 households (from $7,000 to $23,000). The gap in median wealth among white and non-white 35-and-under households would close by more than 40 percent.
  • Establish a Public Credit Reporting Agency to Make Access to Credit Fairer and More Equitable. When Americans try to buy a home, banks use credit reports to determine whether to offer them a loan and at what interest rate. Credit reports are currently issued by three major, private companies (one of which is Equifax, a company that faces a $700 million settlement for a data breach that exposed the records of over almost 150 million Americans). Yet, they not only frequently contain errors, but also deepen racial disparities in credit access since people of color have worse credit scores and are more likely to not have enough credit history to generate a credit score. This leaves millions of Americans — especially people of color — “credit invisible”.

Beto would address this problem by housing a public credit reporting agency in the CFPB as he proposed in his small business plan. It would provide accurate credit reports to lenders while minimizing racial disparities. Its publicly available algorithms would, with consumers’ permission, draw on alternative data sources such as rental payments and bank accounts. The agency would study innovative ways to increase both the predictiveness of credit scores and expand access to credit.

  • Empower Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to increase their mortgage lending activity in low-income communities. CDFIs are mission-driven financial institutions that provide critical access to capital in low-income communities. To encourage them to further spur homeownership, Beto would provide $100 million in annual funding for their mortgage lending activities through the CDFI Fund. This is on top of the $250 million he proposed in his small business plan.
  • Give the Federal Housing Administration the resources it needs to be an engine of opportunity for first-time homebuyers and people of color. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is one of America’s oldest housing agencies and helped create the racial wealth gap by supporting “redlining” that excluded non-whites from homeownership access and financing. Today, the FHA is a force for equity: nearly 1 in 2 black or Latinx homebuyers do so with an FHA-insured mortgage. It accomplishes this by insuring mortgages that require buyers to put as little as 3.5 percent down.

The FHA lacks the resources and flexibility it needs to do its job well, which is especially disturbing given that it disproportionately lends to people of color. Beto will allow the FHA to retain a portion of the proceeds of its lending to fund its activities while creating a one-time infusion of resources to create an “innovation fund” allowing FHA to embark on longer-term modernization projects such as an update to its outdated technology.

Beto will also immediately reverse a Trump Administration decision making Dreamers ineligible for FHA loans and refine the rules of its Distressed Asset Stabilization Program to prevent borrowers from wrongly losing their FHA protections.

II. Bring down rent by building 6 million housing units and rehabilitating existing public housing. Rental costs are at an all-time high with 11 million renting households spending more than half of their incomes on housing. There is a shortage of nearly 7.2 million available rental homes for extremely low income families and affordable rentals are disappearing: more than 2.5 million units that were affordable to families making less than $32,000 were lost between 1990 and 2016.

  • Create 3 million homes with a $400 billion investment in the National Housing Trust Fund over ten years. This investment will build, preserve, and rehabilitate affordable, accessible, resilient and integrated rental housing in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories, in urban and rural communities, putting a roof over millions over 3 million families’ heads while bringing down rents for everyone else. States would receive additional funding to support housing in high-opportunity areas where low-income children are likely to thrive or in communities with comprehensive community revitalization plans. New, preserved, and rehabilitated units would be required to be accessible to Americans with disabilities and meet sustainability goals. This investment, when combined with innovation to bring down the price of housing construction and zoning reform, will generate 3 million homes over the next decade.
  • Create 3 million homes with a $60 billion investment in the Capital Magnet Fund. The Capital Magnet Fund offers competitive grants to CDFIs and non-profit housing developers to finance affordable housing. Every dollar of grant resulting in $20 of investment. Beto would invest $60 billion in the Capital Magnet Fund over the next decade, with the goal of creating 3 million homes.
  • Invest $50 billion to rehabilitate public housing that provides a home to 2.6 million Americans. Chronic underfunding of public housing repairs has resulted in the country losing 10,000 to 15,000 public housing apartments each year. Continuing to allow the nation’s affordable public housing stock to deteriorate will further contribute to the homelessness crisis, drive up rents, and put American families in unsafe living conditions. Funds could be also used to ensure accessibility and sustainability of housing.
  • Ensure Robust Funding to Repair Rural Housing Stock. Beto will provide increased funding for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Housing Service Multi-Family Housing Program, providing $10 billion over 10 years to address the needed capital repairs, including affordable rental housing properties, and constructing new property.
  • Create a New Agency Focused on Investing in Breakthrough Technology that Lowers the Economic and Social Costs of Building. As part of his Climate Plan, Beto committed to launching a new constellation of DARPA-style efforts to spur the innovation we need to tackle climate change and grow our economy. In Iowa, he announced ARPA-Grow, which is focused on spurring that innovation in the agriculture sector.

Beto will now add to that by creating ARPA-Build, a new agency focused on breakthroughs in building. Tackling climate change and the need for affordable housing will require new approaches to building structures, including creating new, superior materials that help meet climate goals such as sustainable steel and carbon-sequestering cement. It will require process innovations in manufacturing and assembly, with research into machine learning and 3-D printing applications. And it demands innovation that lowers the lifetime costs of ownership, including research, development, and commercialization of technologies that boost resilience, efficiency, durability, and livability. To advance these research aims, ARPA-Build will bring together the best minds across government, industry, and academia. These innovations will not only help meet our climate goals but will also reduce the cost of homebuilding.

These investments, combined with zoning reforms, will dramatically reduce the price of building new housing units.

III. Eliminate homelessness in America

  • End the housing affordability crisis for very low-income families by fully funding Housing Choice Vouchers. Housing Choice Vouchers help 2 million low-income households make ends meet by limiting the rent they pay to an affordable amount. Yet, three quarters of households that qualify for Housing Choice Vouchers do not receive them because there is not enough funding. Beto would fund Housing Choice Vouchers so every family making less than 50 percent of the median income in their area can receive one.
  • Institute and Support Rapid Rehousing. Based on the Housing First model, which, unlike the status quo, provides housing as a foundation upon which individuals can improve their lives (for example, combating addiction, finding employment, or tackling debt), instead of first requiring them to receive treatment or address other aspects of their lives A 2015 study also found that permanent supportive housing can save taxpayers money. In Denver, these interventions saved the city $15,733 per year, per person in public costs for shelter, criminal justice, health care, emergency room, and behavioral health costs. The savings were enough that they not only offset the cost of housing, but save taxpayers money. The State of Utah, after implementing the Housing First model, saw a 72% reduction in homelessness, housing 1,393 persons. Beto will direct his Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand federal assistance for short-term, rapid re-housing and long-term, permanent supportive housing, to meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness. Rapid re-housing has been shown to have long-term impacts, with 75 percent to 91 percent remaining housed a year later. Rapid re-housing also benefits children, providing needed stability for them to attend school and develop routines.
  • Triple the funding of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, providing $50 billion over ten years. Further, as stated in his plan to care for our veterans, Beto will also increase funding for transitional housing, rapid re-housing, and homelessness prevention through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to $400 million; and invest $250 million in the collaborative Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program to ensure permanent supportive housing is available to those who have been homeless the longest.
  • Utilize Technology to Support Individuals Experiencing Homelessness. Localities across the country have been able to better support homeless populations by allowing groups who interact with these populations to share data. Beto will ensure robust funding for the national Homelessness Management Information System, and extend grants through HUD to incentivize localities to develop data sharing programs. Beto will also instruct his Chief Technology Officer to lift up successful models, encouraging collaboration across localities.

Ensure we are meeting the needs of homeless individuals and those at risk of homelessness:

  • Provide access to mental health care with increased funding to local organizations through the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) grants. Triple the size of PATH funding (to approximately $194 million) to increase outreach capacity, screening, community mental health services, and treatment for substance use disorders. PATH currently supports 500 local organizations who, in 2017, served nearly 140,000 individuals.
  • Support New Mothers at Risk for Homelessness. According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, mothers experiencing postpartum depression during the first year after birth are at higher risk for homelessness. Beto will provide additional support for new mothers, expanding maternal home visits through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.
  • Provide Schools with Additional Resources including Social Workers and Counselors to Better Serve Homeless Children. The increased investment in McKinney-Vento grants will provide needed supports to homeless children in and out of school. In addition, Beto has proposed dramatic increase in federal funding through a Permanent Fund on Equity and Excellence, a $500 billion fund to reduce disparities in race and income that will provide schools with additional resources for serving high need students, including homeless students. Beto has also proposed relieving the outstanding debt through accelerated loan forgiveness for professionals working in schools, including social workers and counselors.
  • Guarantee Support to LGBTQ+ Youth Experiencing Homelessness. According to a survey of organizations serving homeless youth, approximately 40% of their clients identify as LGBTQ+. To support the needs of this population, Beto will not only reinstate Department of Education guidance and enforcement efforts designed to protect LGBTQ+ students in public schools, but also ensure federally funded shelters cannot refuse services to individuals based on their sexual orientation, and provides housing according to their gender identity. Beto will also direct the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to offer recommendations and set goals for ending LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Beto will increase funding for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking Prevention Act to ensure transitional living programs, particularly for youth who are aging out of the foster system. Beto will also work with states to remove barriers for accessing ID documents, absent fees or parental consent.
  • Prevent Homelessness Among Formerly Incarcerated Individuals: Beto will establish a goal of ensuring that 100% of formerly incarcerated individuals who are equipped to find housing, obtain it upon release and implement transitional programs that support individuals on conditional release with pre-employment services and placement, registration with social services agencies, life-skills development, and a housing plan upon the end of their sentence.
  • Extend Protections to Victims of Domestic Violence at Risk of Homelessness. Individuals fleeing domestic violence, be they adults or children, deserve safe, accessible shelter. According to a 2015 statistic, on one day, 31,500 individuals fleeing domestic violence sought emergency shelter and transitional housing. But too many needs are going unmet. 38% of victims of domestic violence will experience homelessness in their lifetimes. Beto will increase grants for shelters providing counseling services to adults and children coping with the trauma of domestic violence and homelessness. Beto will also work with Congress to ensure the continued funding for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program and encourage the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in the Senate.

IV. Allow every American family to join the community of their choice.

One of the biggest challenges to widespread prosperity and opportunity in America are the forces that prevent low-income Americans from moving to communities with good schools, high-paying jobs, and short commutes. Part of this is the barriers of wealth inequality and housing discrimination, but it is also includes restrictive zoning laws that prevent construction in some of America’s most productive regions. One study found that these laws reduced U.S. economic growth by more than a third over the last fifty years.

  • Use the leverage of the federal government to discourage state and local exclusionary zoning laws. Restrictive single-family zoning and other types of state and local exclusionary zoning laws lock millions of working Americans out of communities that are close to good jobs and good schools, fueling income, wealth, and racial inequality. Beto would use every tool at his disposal to encourage communities to abandon these laws. The principle is that federal tax dollars should go to communities that are open to every American, regardless of race, income, or wealth.
  • Direct HUD to develop a model set of zoning and land use policies while providing state and local governments data and technical assistance to identify their barriers to housing production.
  • Provide federal funding to communities that do not use exclusionary zoning and land use policies. The Community and Development Block Grant (CDBG) provides $3 billion in annual funding that communities can use for housing, transportation, and other needs. Beto would double the size of the CDBG, providing new grants to communities that do not have exclusionary zoning laws and to help communities to be more inclusive.
  • Factor exclusionary zoning laws into federal infrastructure funding. Beto will enact a $1 trillion infrastructure package to repair and build roads, highways, bridges, and more. These programs will provide incentives for eliminating exclusionary zoning laws.
  • Only allow additional state and local tax deductions for those living in areas without exclusionary zoning laws. The Trump Tax Law sharply curtailed the ability of Americans to deduct state and local taxes (“SALT”) by imposing a $10,000 cap on SALT deductions. Beto would allow Americans to deduct additional SALT, but only if they live in areas without restrictive zoning laws.
  • Help low-income families receiving Housing Choice Vouchers to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Research shows that growing up in certain high-opportunity neighborhoods can actually cause low-income children to earn more as adults. A recent experiment in Seattle showed that providing low-income families receiving Housing Choice Vouchers customized search assistance, landlord engagement, and short-term financial assistance can dramatically increase the odds that they move to these high-opportunity neighborhoods. Beto would provide these same mobility services to families with children receiving Housing Choice Vouchers, helping them move to high-opportunity areas and boosting their life chances.
  • Prevent taxpayer-financed housing from becoming gentrified. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit subsidizes developers building low-income housing but the units are eligible to return to market rate after 15 or 30 years. The investors, therefore, get the tax credit while taxpayers subsidize construction of units that could become market rate or condos in the long run. Beto would require that all new developments receiving the more generous 9 percent credit be permanently affordable.
  • Strengthen the ability of the federal government to attack discrimination and segregation. Beto would use every tool at his disposal to integrate American communities, fight discrimination, and strenghten tenants’ legal rights while reversing deliberate Trump Administration efforts to weaken them. This includes:
  • Protecting the use of disparate impact in federal housing law. Conservative Supreme Court justices and the Trump Administration threaten the use of disparate impact, which allows the federal government to bring cases against lenders when their actions have a discriminatory effect. Beto would amend the Fair Housing and Equal Credit Opportunity Acts to clarify that the federal government can use disparate impact as well as dedicating more government resources to enforcing disparate impact housing cases.
  • Reinstating the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which requires communities to submit plans on their efforts to fight segregation. The Trump Administration suspended this rule in 2018.
  • Restoring the CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending and Opportunity enforcement and oversight powers, reversing a decision by former Trump Administration acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney.
  • Banning landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of income source, veteran status, military status, criminal record, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or use of Housing Choice Vouchers.
  • Expanding Medicare to cover high-quality long-term support and services (LTSS) as part of Beto’s health plan, Medicare for America. Ending the bias against home-based care and putting it on equal footing with institutional care will enable people with disabilities to live at home and in the community.
  • Strengthening HUD’s Fair Housing Initiative Programs by $17 million to better fight against fair housing and fair lending discrimination. Currently, the program is severely underfunded, leading to long backlogs and a real lack of preventative investigations.
  • Enact a National Right to Counsel for Americans facing eviction. In 2016, nearly 900,000 evictions occurred, but many of those tenants unnecessarily lose their homes even when they have defense to the eviction because they lack legal representation. Beto will fund a National Right to Counsel to ensure that no tenant lacks legal representation.