Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Where's housing (and other urban issues) in the presidential campaign?

If you live in New York, there seems to be an enormous disconnect between issues facing New Yorkers and those stressed by the national media as the presidential campaign heats up in the heartland state of Iowa. Are the major issues (index from the New York Times) really limited to health care, abortion, climate change, immigration, Iraq, and Iran?

That absence extends to the rhetoric most often used in candidates' advertising, as shown in the sample word cloud from a New York Times graphic. Fortunately, City Limits has tried to right the balance, canvassing a range of New York experts regarding housing, and sending the questions to the candidates.

"Tried" is the operative words, since no answers were forthcoming. Still, City Limits, in an article yesterday headlined HOUSING 300 MILLION WELL: WHAT DO CANDIDATES PROPOSE?, tries to tease out some of their positions, noting:
While no candidate is emphasizing his or her housing agenda, several do have one. Sen. Barack Obama wants, among other housing ideas, to fully fund the Community Development Block Grant. Former Sen. John Edwards is proposing the creation of a million new Section 8 vouchers. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wants to lower the down payment requirement for Federal Housing Administration loans.


A housing trust fund?

The federal government could become, as it once was, the source of significant money for subsidized housing. The article states:
The National Housing Trust Fund would use a portion of the profits from government-sponsored mortgage businesses like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fund state and local housing initiatives. The goal is to build or preserve 1.5 million units of housing over the next 10 years – a target that backers say will require federal funding of $5 billion a year.

Only fringe Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich is apparently a full supporter of this measure, though other Democrats support some smaller versions of a trust fund.

Is this a good idea? It certainly should be part of the presidential debate. On the one hand, many Americans on both sides of the party divide do not support an increased federal role in such housing support.

On the other, a debate might remind everyone that the single largest housing subsidy available is the mortgage-interest deduction. And that subsidy, as Roger Lowenstein explained in the 3/5/06 New York Times Magazine essay headlined Who Needs the Mortgage-Interest Deduction?, is quite regressive.

Maybe if New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg enters the race the discussion of issues would be broadened.

2 comments:

  1. Hey, no better way to generate support for an idea than to call the only candidate who favors it a "fringe candidate." That same tactic is used against Atlantic Yards opponents, isnt' it?

    Where are urban issues? Well, they're in Kucinich's speeches. As the former mayor of Cleveland, Kucinich talks the most about urban issues of any candidate. It's very disingenuous for the papers to complain that nobody's focusing on urban issues and then ignore Kucinich.

    Yes, everyone in the media says he can't win because, well, everyone in the media says he can't win. The way to reverse this is to start taking him seriously, and bloggers are the media, so you can be one to start.

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  2. Point taken. I was using "fringe" as a synonym for "very dark horse" (which I should've used) but that is, I acknowledge, a value judgment as well.

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