Barack Obama likes to point out that he began his career as a community organizer. After college, he moved to Chicago and worked with a church-based group to improve conditions in the city's poor neighborhoods.
Obama didn't dramatically alter the South Side neighborhoods, but he says the experience changed him. He has called for fully funding the Community Development Block Grant program, saying he knows from his early work how critical these grants are.
The Democratic presidential nominee has mentioned the importance of affordable housing in various speeches, but with the exception of the subprime mortgage crisis and questions about the candidates' own residences, housing has largely been ignored this election season.
"We have to invest in housing again," Obama said in a 2007 speech to the National Conference of Black Mayors. "In too many communities low-income families are priced out of the housing market. In fact, there is not a single metropolitan area in the country where a family earning minimum wage can afford decent housing."
Here is a snapshot of Obama's housing positions:
Introduced the Stop Fraud Act to increase penalties for mortgage fraud in 2007. The bill, which was referred to Senate committee and not passed, called for $25 million for counseling.
Obama, who says he will crack down on lenders who commit fraud, pledges to create a 10 percent universal mortgage credit to provide tax relief to homeowners who do not itemize their tax returns. He says the credit will provide an average of $500 each to 10 million homeowners, the majority of whom earn less than $50,000 per year.
- Did not vote on the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 in July but issued a statement applauding its passage.
- Does not sit on any committees that directly deal with housing. o
- Introduced the Homes for Heroes Act in 2007. The bill called for expanding housing and rental assistance for homeless veterans, including establishing a $225 million assistance program for groups to purchase, build, or rehabilitate housing for lowincome vets. The House passed its version of the bill this year. o Supports the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
- Supports a one-for-one replacement rule for public housing redevelopment projects, according to a response submitted to the Granite State Organizing Project, a community group in New Hampshire, this year.
- Proposes establishing 20 "Promise Neighborhoods" in areas that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement in cities across the nation. These neighborhoods will be modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, which provides a full network of services, including early childhood education, youth violence prevention efforts, and after-school activities, according to Obama's Web site.
Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko, a Chicago businessman convicted of federal corruption charges, has plagued the candidate. Obama purchased a strip of land adjacent to his home from Rezko's wife when Rezko, who had raised funds for the candidate, was widely known to be under investigation. Rezko also has owned troubled lowincome housing properties. Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was disappointed Rezko did not keep the properties up.
The best thing that could be said about Sen. John McCain's policies on rental affordable housing is that they are still evolving.
“The campaign believes in tax incentives to encourage the production of affordable rental housing—though the campaign has not taken a position on the low-income housing tax credit program,” said a housing expert close to McCain's presidential campaign.
That marks a change for McCain, who as a senator rarely took any stand on housing issues, except occasionally to vote with his party against programs like the then-proposed Affordable Housing Trust Fund. McCain has also only gradually gotten comfortable with government intervention in the home loan foreclosure crisis.
Here is a snapshot of McCain's housing positions:
McCain initially opposed government help for borrowers facing foreclosure. “It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers,” he said in March.
By April, McCain had changed his tune and called for the government to help qualified homeowners to refinance subprime loans.
The 67-page 2008 policy platform of the Republican Party includes a half-page on housing under the heading “Rebuilding Homeownership.” Rental housing is briefly mentioned, and affordable rental housing doesn't come up.
“McCain doesn't have a housing policy up on his campaign Web site,” noted Linda Couch, deputy director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
According to experts close to the campaign, if elected the candidate plans to responsibly regulate the mortgage and finance markets to prevent future bubbles, reposition public housing to be more effective, and remove barriers to housing production.
McCain does not sit on any major Senate committees that make housing policy, so despite more than two decades on Capitol Hill, housing advocates have only found a handful of votes by McCain on bills that focus on affordable housing without mixing in other priorities. McCain joined his fellow Republicans on all of those votes.
”¢ He voted for the $200 million American Dream Downpayment Act, signed into law in 2003.
”¢ In 2000, he voted against an amendment to create a $5 billion National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to produce new affordable housing.
”¢ In 1995, McCain also voted with his party against an amendment that would have restored $360 million in homeless assistance funding, using excess public housing agency project reserves.
McCain has sponsored or co-sponsored 38 bills in the latest session of Congress. Nearly all of them focus on issues like foreign relations, the armed services, Indian affairs, and, in one case, boxing.
However, the list also includes a hint that McCain is not adverse to the fight for economic justice: In 2007, he sponsored a bill to study sites associated with revolutionary farmworker rights advocate Cesar Chavez for possible inclusion in the National Parks system. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) co-sponsored.