SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Flexing his muscle as the former head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro shifted his focus Monday to a familiar issue: housing challenges facing Americans that he says have worsened under President Donald Trump.
“We need a president who will match the urgency of this issue with concrete, bold plans,” Castro said in a statement announcing the first installment of a three-part approach that includes ways to end homelessness and make housing more affordable.
The former Obama cabinet official and San Antonio mayor is making affordable housing a key part of his campaign, offering Iowa voters a preview of what he called his “comprehensive” housing policy during a swing through the state on Friday.
Part one of Castro’s plan aims to provide solutions for families struggling with rising rental costs and ways to end homelessness, particularly among veterans and young people.
It calls for an expansion to the housing choice voucher program for low-income residents, and creates a refundable renter’s tax credit for middle-class Americans who typically wouldn’t qualify for housing assistance. The renter’s tax credit, a new approach that Castro says he’s glad to see other Democratic candidates embracing, creates a refundable tax credit for portions of rent payments that exceed 30% of a person’s income.
“What we’ve seen in this country in the last several years is that rents are rising,” Castro said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We believe this would be one powerful tool to address the rise in rent.”
Castro’s housing plan also offers ways to end veteran homelessness, as well as child, family and youth homelessness by the end of his first term. He said that between 2010 and 2016, veteran homelessness went down by 47% because of policies initiated under the Obama administration.
“This was an example of Washington working the way it should,” said Castro, who served as housing secretary from 2014 to 2017. “Since then it’s gone up.”
Under his plan, Castro would triple current funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, invest in programs for homeless individuals, decriminalize homelessness, and work with Congress to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived housing status. The plan also calls for the construction of affordable housing units, and upgrades to all public housing with capital improvements totaling $5 billion a year for 10 years.
He said funding for his plan would come by repealing and replacing the Trump tax cuts and by raising the top marginal tax rate.
“This is not an insignificant thing,” Castro said. “Obviously this is an issue I care a lot about.”
Castro’s housing proposal is the latest set of policy reforms the Texas Democrat has released as he tries to distinguish himself from the packed field of almost two dozen Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. He has also rolled out broad plans to address immigration, policing, education and the elimination of lead exposure that has devastated communities like Flint, Michigan.
Part two and three of Castro’s housing plan will be released Tuesday and Wednesday and will include ways to combat housing displacement, and addresses gentrification and environmental concerns as well as homeownership and Wall Street.
“Ours is a more nuanced, more comprehensive plan than anything that has been released. This is a huge endeavor,” Castro said.
A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Monday in Castro’s home state shows that 50% of Texas voters said they will not vote to re-elect President Trump, including 60% of Independents.