Cory’s Plan To Provide Safe, Affordable Housing For All Americans

Cory Booker
9 min readJun 5, 2019

My dad was born poor in the segregated South to a mom with health problems and a family who could not care for him. A local family took him in, gave him a home, and raised him as their own. Because of that family and a community that refused to let him fail, my dad was able to move his family from poverty to the middle class within the span of a generation.

But when he was promoted at work and he and my mom were looking to move into a neighborhood in New Jersey with great public schools, real estate agents refused to sell us a home because of the color of our skin.

And that would have been that — except a group of activists came together to help my family. A young Black activist, who was the head of the Fair Housing Council, and a group of white volunteers and lawyers who had watched the courage of Civil Rights marchers in Selma during Bloody Sunday were inspired to help Black families own property in their community.

They stood up against the illegal housing discrimination that my parents faced — and they won.

This event changed the course of my entire life. Access to safe, affordable housing is a central theme in my life and my career in politics.

Over 20 years ago, I moved to the Central Ward of Newark to fight slumlords and help families stay in their homes. When I became mayor, we tackled the affordable housing crisis head on — doubling the rate of affordable housing production. Over 300 new homes and apartments were built for people with disabilities during my tenure.

All people deserve a chance to live without the worry of being homeless or keeping their families safe. That’s why it was important for my new housing plan to increase affordable units, end discrimination, help Americans pay their rent and give everyone a fair shot at homeownership.

Housing is a basic need and a basic right. And Americans shouldn’t have to face insurmountable financial challenges to put a roof over their heads. Add your name if you agree.

What’s In the Plan?

A Renters Credit to help cap rental costs at 30 percent of income for working and middle-class Americans:

While over 43 million U.S. households rent their homes, there isn’t a single county in America where a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair-market rent. And the problem is only getting worse: almost half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent; in 1960, it was 1 in 5. At the same time, homeownership is increasingly out of reach, with rates of ownership reaching historic lows in recent years. We spend $201 billion each year through the tax code subsidizing homeownership, overwhelmingly benefiting wealthy families.

This plan will provide a refundable renters tax credit that would offer relief for individuals and families who are working hard, but still struggling to cover rent at the end of the month. Anyone paying more than 30 percent of their before-tax income would be eligible for the credit, which would cover the difference between 30 percent of a beneficiary’s income and their rent (capped at the neighborhood fair market rent). According to researchers at Columbia University, the impact would be sweeping: the credit would benefit more than 57 million people, including nearly 17 million children, and lift 9.4 million Americans out of poverty. The median credit for a benefitting family would equal $4,800.

A fair shot at homeownership with Baby Bonds:

In America, wealth equals opportunity. But decades of discriminatory policy and an upside-down tax code have left millions behind. We’ll establish a new American birthright with “Baby Bonds,” creating a federally-funded savings account for every child at birth seeded with $1,000 and that could grow by up to $2,000 every year thereafter depending on family income.

By the age of 18, low-income account-holders would have access to nearly $50,000 in seed capital to do the kind of things that create wealth and change life trajectories, including putting a down payment on a home. This plan is fully paid for, funded by simply restoring 2009-era estate tax rules and closing loopholes that allow wealthy households to avoid paying taxes on investments held at death.

Greater supply of affordable housing through zoning reform and construction of new units:

Across the country, cities and towns implement land-use restrictions that make it harder and more expensive to build new affordable housing. The result is fewer units and higher costs for renters. It is estimated that restrictive land use regulations have lowered access to affordable housing by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009.

Building on the goals of the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule and the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity Act, we’ll incentivize localities to eliminate restrictive zoning rules in order to qualify for billions of dollars of designated federal loan and grant programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation.

Specifically, we’ll require that the more than $16 billion of current annual funding for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program; National Infrastructure Investments Program; Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program; Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program; Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program; and Community Development Block Grant Program be subject to local governments demonstrating progress towards reducing barriers to affordable housing.

Recognizing the chronic underinvestment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure and the lack of access to federal funding at the local level, we’ll also substantially increase funding for both discretionary and formula transportation programs and ensure that local governments that are demonstrating progress towards reducing barriers to affordable housing have greater direct access to federal transportation funding. Local strategies to create a more affordable, inclusive, and diverse housing supply could vary based on individual community circumstances, but may include reduced restrictions on lot size, fewer parking requirements, and allowance of accessory dwelling units and multi-family homes, among others.

Additionally, this plan will:

  • Fund construction of new units for low-income renters: Today, there is a severe housing shortage for extremely low-income individuals, as developers predominantly build higher-margin luxury units. More than 71 percent of extremely low-income households spend more than half of their income on rent. The plan will fully fund the Housing Trust Fund with $40 billion each year to build, rehabilitate, and operate rental housing for individuals earning less than the federal poverty level or 30 percent of the Area Median Income in neighborhoods with greater access to opportunity, including areas with transportation, healthy foods and more.
  • Invest in rural America and Indian Country: The problem of housing affordability isn’t limited to cities on the coasts; across rural America and Indian Country, stagnant job growth and flat wages have created an affordable housing crisis. While housing supply is more plentiful, it is often older; for example, an estimated 40 percent of housing on Indian reservations is considered substandard. The plan will properly fund the USDA 515 program, which provides loans to build apartments for low-income residents in rural areas, and the Housing Preservation and Revitalization Demonstration Program, which helps preserve and improve the availability of affordable rental units, and provide essential funding and technical assistance for tribal housing authorities. Finally, we’ll fight for manufactured and mobile homeowners, which make up 16 percent of owned units in rural areas, including by boosting protections for homeowners and incentivizing landlords to sell the underlying land to mobile park residents.

Combat discrimination and predatory practices in the housing market:

Evictions aren’t just a one-time event — they send individuals and families into cycles of financial and emotional distress that echo throughout their lives, resulting in ongoing struggles to find good housing, worsened employment prospects, mental health problems, and more.

This plan will propose:

  • A right to counsel for those who face eviction: While defendants in criminal proceedings have the right to legal representation, tenants facing eviction in most jurisdictions do not, leaving them ill-equipped to effectively defend themselves against unscrupulous landlords or to assert any viable defenses. The problem is worsened by a dramatic imbalance in representation: a recent study found that just 10 percent of tenants are represented by counsel in eviction court, compared to 90 percent of landlords. Lack of access to counsel is particularly problematic for low-income women, especially poor women of color, domestic violence victims, and families with children because they are among those with the highest risk for eviction. We’ll propose a national Eviction Right to Counsel Fund, which will provide funding to states and localities that commit to enacting a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction, following the model of places like New York City, Newark, and elsewhere that have already created such a right. States with tenant protections like just cause eviction laws and adequate notice periods would also be priorities for funding.
  • Protection for all Americans from housing discrimination: We’ll fight to pass the Equality Act, which would, among other things, amend the Fair Housing Act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ll strengthen federal protections and encourage more states to adopt laws to end “source of income” discrimination, whereby some landlords refuse to rent to individuals and families with housing vouchers.
  • Rolling back barriers to federal housing assistance programs to expand access to stable, decent, and affordable housing: We’ll reform the screening and eviction processes for federal housing assistance programs to end unfair barriers for individuals, families, and communities disproportionately impacted by the unequal criminal justice system like people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ Americans. We’ll advance policies, modeled on the Fair Chance at Housing Act, to provide individualized review and opportunities to provide mitigating evidence, eliminating “one strike” eviction policies, and allowing people with criminal records to visit families. We’ll also focus on ending discriminatory practices that make it harder for those with arrest records and the formerly incarcerated to find affordable housing. Nearly 80 percent of participants in a 2015 survey of formerly incarcerated people reported that they and their families were ineligible or denied housing because of their own or a loved one’s conviction history.
  • Reversing destructive Trump executive actions: Beginning Day 1 in office, we’ll restore the fair housing protections eliminated by the Trump Administration. We’ll start with the 2015 rulemaking on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, a central mandate of the 1968 Fair Housing Act “to take meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.”
  • Ending tenant blacklisting: Landlords often blacklist prospective renters who appear in a reporting database as having gone to landlord-tenant court — even if the renters won their cases. We’ll fight to pass legislation modeled on my Tenant Protection Act, which would prohibit consumer reporting agencies from using information from eviction courts if the tenant has won the case.

Eliminate homelessness:

On any given night in the United States, approximately 500,000 people are homeless. Three times that number will find themselves homeless at some point this year. The actual homelessness population is likely higher — many individuals who are without housing are living with relatives or friends. As the wealthiest nation in the world, we must do more. This plan would:

  • Fund anti-homelessness grants: Central to ending homelessness is HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program, which provides grants to communities to administer homelessness services. We will fund McKinney Vento at $6 billion annually — providing the resources necessary to find, keep safe, and move back into housing anyone in need.
  • Make the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness permanent: The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is a small agency with a large mission — to coordinate billions of dollars each year in federal funding with the aim of ending homelessness. Every year, the continuation of funding for the agency is uncertain. A permanent authorization of the Council will strengthen its ability to focus on its mission.

If you agree that everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live, join me by adding your name.