Cory Booker’s Housing Plan Offers Tax Credit to Millions of Renters

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Rachel Mummey for The New York Times

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey on Wednesday unveiled a plan to tackle affordable housing that would provide a tax credit for renters to ensure they would not spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent — a sweeping new entitlement program that his campaign estimated would reach 57 million Americans, including 17 million children.

The plan, which draws heavily from legislation Mr. Booker introduced last year, comes about three weeks ahead of the first Democratic debate of the 2020 presidential race, as candidates jostle to introduce innovative policies that will help them stand out in a crowd of nearly two dozen. Mr. Booker, who has been talked about as a potential presidential contender since his days as mayor of Newark, has been stuck polling around 2 percent in most surveys.

At the center of Mr. Booker’s proposal is the renters’ tax credit, which would cover the difference between 30 percent of a person’s income and the fair-market rent in his or her neighborhood. There would not be an income cap limiting who could qualify, according to the campaign, which said the median participating family would receive $4,800 per year.

His campaign estimated the program would cost $134 billion annually. It did not propose specifically how to pay for the plan beyond rolling back changes to the estate tax made by President Trump, which it said would raise about $25 billion annually. The remainder, the campaign said, would come from restoring various taxes that were cut in the Republican-led tax overhaul from 2017.

“Access to safe, affordable housing can be transformative in the trajectory of people’s lives,” Mr. Booker said in a statement. “My parents knew this when they moved my brother and me to a New Jersey town with good public schools in the face of racial discrimination. The tenants I represented against slumlords when I first moved to Newark knew it too.”

Mr. Booker has made the fact that he still lives in a poor neighborhood in Newark a key part of his pitch to understanding the struggles of working Americans, touting in his campaign’s announcement video that he is “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community.”

Mr. Booker’s housing plan has other elements, including more funding for rural housing and incentives for localities to provide lawyers for those facing eviction.

He has previously announced a proposal he calls “baby bonds,” which would give every child $1,000 in a bonded savings account at birth, with additional government contributions based upon income, in order to lift lower-income families up the ladder of economic mobility. That nest egg, Mr. Booker’s campaign has said, would help increase the number of people who could afford homeownership.

Over all, Mr. Booker’s housing plan is a grab bag of policy proposals that borrow from many of the ideas making their way through state capitols and high-price cities like New York and San Francisco. Like those plans, the ideas roughly fall into two categories: programs to protect tenants and make housing more affordable to renters, and regulatory reforms to flatten the various local zoning and land-use rules that, according to decades of economic studies, have conspired to make housing scarcer and more expensive.

The renters’ tax credit is an attempt to help people who in most cases have no protection from rising rents and are unable to write rent off their taxes; most homeowners have fixed mortgage rates and can deduct their mortgage interest.

The rising cost of rent has increasingly become a focal point for Democratic candidates, and it is a major political issue in California, which has gained newfound importance in the Democratic primary. Senator Kamala Harris of California has been pushing a similar renters’ tax credit for tenants making less than $125,000, while Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed investing more in affordable housing. Ms. Warren, like Mr. Booker, has also put forth ideas to streamline the local zoning and land-use laws.

Mr. Booker was not the only candidate to release a policy proposal on Wednesday.

Beto O’Rourke announced a plan to increase voter registration by 50 million and raise voter turnout to 65 percent. In 2016, about 56 percent of the voting-age population voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center.

The plan calls for same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration, both of which would require state legislation. The plan also calls for making Election Day a national holiday, extending vote-by-mail periods and dismantling voter ID laws.

Mr. O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, also said he would support a constitutional amendment for 12-year term limits for the House of Representatives and the Senate. He said he would press to abolish lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court, replacing them with 18-year terms, after which justices could serve on federal courts of appeals.