Affordable housing lies in the underpinnings of Cory Booker’s presidential run.
The 2020 candidate’s campaign said the issue is integral to his purpose as a public servant. A housing rights attorney before running for public office, the New Jersey senator’s stump speech even mentions his past living situation in Newark’s housing projects and the story of his parents’ struggle to find housing as African Americans.
Though his proposed affordable housing policies weren’t a direct talking point at recent events on a four-day swing through Iowa, Booker often laced discussions on topics like health care, income inequality and veterans’ rights with the issue.
At an event last Sunday in Decorah, Booker explained to a room of more than 200 his initial motivation in public service — to give back to a community that fought for his parents’ housing rights, leading to his later success.
“After Oxford and Stanford and Yale,” he said, “I went and moved into the inner city of Newark, New Jersey, where I still live today and began to fight as a tenants’ rights lawyer. Because people fought for my housing rights. I was gonna fight for other folks.”
Affordable housing as an issue has been novelly rolled out in some presidential candidates’ slate of plans during the 2020 campaign cycle. Booker’s event attendees from his recent trip to the state were privy to housing’s recent emergence on the national stage.
Steve Wendt is a retiree from West Des Moines. At a Booker event Tuesday in Clive, Wendt mentioned housing was one of his top issues in this election cycle.
“What’s most important to me is wages for working people, issues like minimum wage — that has to be raised so people have a livable income and can afford housing. I’m concerned about housing,” he said.
A Tenet Of Booker’s Campaign
Of course, the central story in Booker’s stump speech is a description of how his parents, when moving to New Jersey, had a difficult time finding housing as African American professionals.
Booker engages in the tale of Cary and Carolyn Booker trying to move into a neighborhood with good public schools. The real estate agent refused to sell the couple a home, so local activists orchestrated a small-scale sting operation against housing discrimination.
“The house I grew up in, my parents were told it was sold,” Booker said, at the Deborah event. “But a white couple found out it was still for sale and put a bid on the house. The bid was accepted, papers were drawn up, and the closing was set up in the real estate agent’s office, and on the day of the closing, the white couple didn’t show up — it was my father and a volunteer lawyer.”
The candidate is sometimes directly asked about his housing policies during events.
A central theme of his housing plan, Booker was outright asked about his income equalizing strategy, “baby bonds,” during at the Clive event.
“Can you talk about baby bonds?” an attendee asked.
The government-run savings program for children would give every child $1,000 at birth in bonded savings— subject to additional contributions based on income. Children from lower-income families would receive more aid in order to shift them up the economic ladder.
Booker said this “nest egg” would help with wealth growth strategies, like homeownership.
Housing As An Underlying Motivator
But Booker also wove the concept of affordable housing into different topics at other events on his trip.
At a shelter park Tuesday afternoon in Boone, Booker addressed rural housing after being asked by Boone City Council candidate Carrie Galvan about the shut-down of hospitals in the area.
“For me, you have to have a rural vision,” Booker said. “There is a rural housing crisis. I’ve created a rural housing plan, which includes renter tax credits, to provide a refundable tax credit for the amount of money you’re spending over a third of your income in rent.”
And at Sunday’s Deborah event, the candidate was asked how he would help veterans get on their feet again after service.
Booker referenced his time as mayor of Newark when he took “aggressive action” to help veterans, especially when it came to housing.
“Housing was a massive issue, and we created some of our first veterans’ housing, built from the ground up. And in the middle of a housing crisis, I got it done,” Booker said, “I said we’re going to find a way or make a way, and we just did whatever it took to build veteran’s housing.”
By Isabella Murray
Photo by Julie Fleming