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Julián Castro wants to transform housing assistance for poor, give renters tax credits

Only 25 percent of those eligible for housing vouchers get them, said the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under Obama.
U.S. 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks during a rally in San Antonio
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro at a rally in San Antonio, Texas, on April 10.Callaghan O'Hare / Reuters file

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro would transform and expand a housing assistance program for the poor and give renters a tax credit in a housing plan he unveiled Monday.

“People are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, whether they live in a red or blue community, whether they are white or black. This rental affordability touches the lives of so many,” said Castro, who served as President Barack Obama’s housing secretary, in unveiling the first installment of his three-part housing plan.

Just 25 percent of people eligible for the housing subsidies actually get vouchers, Castro said, and he wants to transform the housing assistance program, known as Section 8, into a fully funded entitlement program — a reference to federal safety net programs such as Social Security.

In addition, Castro called for a refundable tax credit for low- and middle-income renters if their rent exceeds 30 percent of their income.

It would be a progressive tax credit that would give priority to low-income individuals and cover families earning 50 to 100 percent of the area median income. The credit would be paid monthly and participants could direct their credits to a tax-advantaged savings account to use for a down payment on a mortgage.

Castro said housing affordability is an issue that affects seniors on a fixed income, young adults trying to save for their first home, renters in gentrifying neighborhoods and mobile home owners who rent the land under their homes. He plans to release plans later on how he'll pay for these and other policy proposals he's announced.

Castro also seeks to increase the supply of affordable housing with investments in construction of additional public housing, in upgrades of public housing and through the expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

“Housing is a human right,” Castro stated in his plan.

He set lofty goals for housing should he be elected. He said he would end veteran, child and youth homelessness by the end of his first term and end chronic homelessness by the end of 2028.

Castro had planned to release his housing platform Monday at the Poor People’s Campaign presidential forum in Washington, but a canceled flight kept him from getting to the forum in time. The Poor People’s Campaign serves low-income people, and the forum was intended for allow members to hear from Democratic candidates on their plans to combat systemic racism and poverty.

“I’m committed to working toward prosperity for every single American no matter their background,” Castro told NBC News on Monday. “The fact is in our nation’s history, poverty and racism have been so intertwined that we need to address both at the same time.”

Castro grew up in a poor area of San Antonio, Texas, and is the only Latino candidate in the race. He has yet to break into the upper ranks of the crowded Democratic field but did qualify for the Democratic debates in Miami on June 26 and 27. He'll appear on the first night.

The remaining installments of his housing platform were to be released Tuesday and Wednesday.