Housing advocates’ push to bring attention to affordability struggles fell short of the Iowa spotlight as the top five polling candidates caused the cancellation of a scheduled affordable housing debate this Friday.
Top-tier candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris couldn’t commit to what was supposed to be a candidate forum for discussing solutions to the affordable housing crisis this Friday, prompting the National Low Income Housing Coalition and its partners to scrap the event.
“We just couldn’t get confirmations from leading candidates by our cutoff date [Oct. 18] and decided not to go forward,” National Low Income Housing Coalition communications coordinator Lisa Marlow said.
Most of the candidates said they couldn’t commit to the event because of timing complications, said a spokesperson from the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, another organizer of the forum. The Iowa Democratic Party Liberty & Justice Dinner is scheduled for Friday night, along with adjacent rallies and events.
All candidates who qualified for the third Democratic National Committee-sponsored debate were invited to participate in the forum, moderated by CityLab Reporter Kriston Capps and Des Moines Register executive editor Carol Hunter.
Each candidate was expected to present for 30 minutes their solutions to the national housing crisis, followed by a moderated Q&A from the audience.
“While the expansive team of state and national co-sponsors are disappointed that we could not get the timing quite for this event, we’re not giving up on raising the issue of affordable housing and homelessness throughout this election cycle,” The Polk County Housing Trust Fund said in a statement. “Scheduling is tough! We are grateful that we were able to speak extensively with the campaigns that we reached out to and that we were able to bring together such a wide-ranging coalition of housing supporters to put on this event. While it’s not the result we expected, we’re encouraged by the continued release of policy proposals to end the affordable housing crisis in this country.”
The cancellation comes as housing advocates push for more coverage on the topic on the debate stage, stump and campaign trail.
Dave Knoup, executive officer for Home Builders Association of Des Moines, said he didn’t think the Democratic hopefuls were ready to speak about housing at length just yet.
“It has not been a topic that has been on the campaign trail,” Knoup said. “Probably part of that is it’s not something they’re real well-versed on … So they don’t have talking points prepared, they’re not going through that practice.”
Knoup said he spent last week with members of the National Home Builders Association, all of whom said their biggest problem was a lack of affordability in the new housing market and rising home costs.
Nearly all the candidates have comprehensive housing plans, but the issue should be highlighted more, Knoup said, so those in housing circles, like himself, can start vetting the proposals.
“Even if we do look at candidates that have platforms for housing, we need to start talking about how practical are they and are they positioned in a way that they can actually be implemented?” he said. “We don’t know [if candidates’ housing plans will work] until we start talking about them.”
Julian Castro was one of the candidates who did confirm for the housing forum before it was cancelled. Instead, he’ll spend the Friday afternoon before the Liberty & Justice Dinner touring Des Moines’ YMCA supportive housing campus.
By Isabella Murray