Substantive discussion on housing policy (or most any other type of policy) is not material that makes its way into speeches at national political conventions. Indeed, at the Democratic convention this week, speaker after speaker at the convention referenced the foreclosure crisis or other housing issues, but rarely did they do any more than give the subject brief mention.
But hidden away in the weeklong liquor-soaked political and media festivals is, surprisingly, a somewhat lengthy discussion of policy. Both the Democrats and Republicans use the conventions to approve their party platforms for the next four years, each of which devote attention to a huge array of issues, offering the outline of a policy agenda for the party.
So as attention shifts toward the Republican National Convention in St. Paul next week, we thought we’d take a look at the urban development and housing policy portions of the platform approved by Democrats Monday and a draft Republican platform up for approval in coming days.
Generally, the Democrats were slightly more specific in their outline than the Republicans, calling for a number of new regulations, increased funding and new programs, whereas the G.O.P. expressed support for home-ownership incentives and policy that encourages vibrant economic development.
The Democrats, with far more registered voters living in urban areas than the suburban and rurally concentrated Republicans and a nominee who worked as a community activist in urban Chicago, devote considerably more attention to urban economic development in the platform than does the G.O.P.
The Democrats, who write that the Bush administration “has ignored urban areas,” say they would boost funding for an array of programs that give grants and other assistance to cities and urban organizations. The platform also calls for a “Homebuyer’s Bill of Rights” that would establish new lending standards.
And in two pledges that would likely please City Hall in New York, the party says it would further support affordable rental housing and restore cuts to public housing. The city’s housing authority has had to undergo substantial budget cuts with less federal funding in recent years, there is a long list of private developers seeking tax-free bonds for below-market rate housing due to a federal cap on the bonds.
The Republicans, by contrast, focus on encouraging homeownership in their draft, which could see changes next week. However, likely an acknowledgement that the recent mortgage crisis came as a result of too many people buying homes that could not afford, the platform declares that “government action must not implicitly encourage anyone to borrow more than they can afford to repay.” The party also calls for voucher programs for homebuyers and “urban homesteading,” a program that gives vacant housing to poor families at cheap rates.
Of course, all is not to say that the party platform is by any means a binding document. Rather, it is a broad outline for each party to follow; and, in the case of the Democrats, is closely linked with the agenda of Senator Barack Obama. The Republican plaftorm differs from the agenda of Senator John McCain on a number of issues.