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During Nevada swing, Biden lays out housing agenda, draws contrast with Trump

The president met with Washoe County Democrats Tuesday morning before heading to Las Vegas to tout his plans to lower housing prices.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Carly Sauvageau
Carly Sauvageau
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024Government

President Joe Biden made two stops in Nevada on Tuesday to meet with supporters and give a campaign address on high housing prices, signifying the importance of both the Silver State and cost-of-living issues in the upcoming election.

Biden first stopped in Reno to rally his supporters as the campaign turns its focus from the sleepy primary to what will be a grueling general election. Then, he went to Las Vegas to talk about housing — an issue he hopes resonates particularly in Nevada, a critical swing state that has the worst affordable housing shortage in the country by several metrics.

“As more folks move to Nevada for good-paying jobs, we need housing that’s affordable,” Biden said.

Biden’s trip comes as part of a tour of Western swing states including Nevada and Arizona, and the campaign’s launch of an organizing program targeting Latino voters, a key bloc in Nevada. The president is campaigning in battleground states this month as he and Trump gear up for a rematch in November.

Biden won the state in 2020 by a margin of 2.5 percentage points, but currently trails Trump in state public polling by anywhere between 5 and 10 percentage points. Though it is the smallest battleground state, both presidential campaigns consider Nevada a key part of their 2024 goals.

Tuesday’s visit marks Biden’s third trip to Nevada in the past three months, while Trump this year made a pair of appearances in Las Vegas before his easy victory in the state’s February presidential caucus.

Housing speech

Speaking to a majority union crowd of around 200 people at a community center near downtown Las Vegas, Biden outlined his administration’s efforts to lower housing costs across the country and in Nevada, where people must make around $28 hourly to be able to afford a standard two-bedroom apartment.

Biden, who was preceded by Nevada’s three Democratic House members, made clear that he believes the best long-term solution to the affordable housing crisis is to “build, build, build.” He noted that single-family home construction starts and allocated permits are at their highest levels in about two years and called for the expansion and creation of tax credits to spur affordable housing development and renovation. 

But he also advocated for a series of both supply and demand-side interventions for homeowners and renters that he called for in his administration’s budget request for next year. Left unsaid was how unlikely it is that the Republican-run House of Representatives would take him up on his proposals and the fact that the bulk of the next fiscal year will take place after the election — meaning Biden’s housing agenda would require a second term and a friendlier Congress.

For homeowners, Biden is proposing a pair of $10,000 tax credits for middle-class buyers who are either buying their first home or selling a starter home. The credits would last for two years as an attempt to promote homeownership despite high mortgage rates. Mortgage rates more than doubled between 2021 and 2023, a result of the Federal Reserve’s continual interest rate hikes aimed at slowing inflation.

“For homeowners, inflation keeps coming down,” Biden said. “Mortgage rates are going to come down as well. But I'm not going to wait.”

He also spoke to the racial wealth gap in home valuations and called on Realtors to follow through on the National Association of Realtors’ recent settlement agreement that buyers can negotiate commissions lower than the traditional 6 percent of the sale price.

On the renter side, the president discussed using existing antitrust authority — meaning he would not need Congress — to go after corporate landlords and private equity companies for price fixing in the housing market.

“Landlords should be competing to give folks the best deal, not conspiring to charge them more,” he said.

He also called on Congress to expand the existing housing voucher program that provides rental assistance, including guaranteeing vouchers for youth aging out of foster care and low-income veterans.

Biden’s visit came the same day that Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo released a letter urging Biden to release more federal land to build more housing. The president didn’t address the governor’s letter or whether release of more public lands are the right solution to Nevada’s housing shortage, but he did praise Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) as a “driving force to cut red tape and build more affordable housing all across Nevada,” a reference to her legislation to eliminate a bureaucratic barrier for land appraisers to work across state lines on public land transactions.

Daniel Corona, the Northern Nevada deputy political and coalitions director for the Biden campaign, said in Reno that federal investment in infrastructure could help lower housing costs in Nevada, but was skeptical of using federal lands as a solution. 

“I don't know necessarily that the fix in Nevada is more houses on federal land,” Corona said. “We have tons of sprawl in the state of Nevada. There's a way to do it smarter; I don't know if the governor's ask of federal land is the smartest way to do so.”

Frank Gallardo, who attended Biden’s Las Vegas event, works for Chicanos Por La Causa, a Nevada community organization whose work includes providing housing assistance. 

He also was skeptical of Lombardo’s letter and ask for release of more public lands.

“Is it simply going to be more apartment complexes that unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be rent restrictions in place, that allow landlords to keep up the rents?” Gallardo said.

Housing stories

Biden framed his proposals for lowering costs of homeownership as borne out of his own middle-class childhood. Biden’s family left Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1953 as the economy crumbled and moved to Delaware, where they lived in a duplex that later became public housing.

“We weren't poor, but we never had anything at the end of the month,” Biden said.

It was an all-too-familiar story for some of the attendees at Biden’s Las Vegas event.

Maria Bajarano, 50, and Victor Cureño, 52, immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1990s. Since then, the couple had to rent apartments because of high housing costs, which also prevented them from spending money on other needs, such as replacing a damaged car.

But last month, the couple bought their first home thanks to a Nevada program that provides $15,000 in down payment assistance.

Bajarano called owning a house “a dream come true.”

“Now that we get the house, we have money to pay for a car or to go to Mexico,” she said.

Paul Vargas, 62, lived in California for 48 years before moving to Nevada a couple of years ago because of the housing costs. He called the move “traumatic.”

“My family’s there, my mother, my sisters, my kids,” Vargas said.

Even after moving to Nevada, Vargas said he had to scale down what kind of house they wanted because of costs.

“We didn’t know it would be this expensive,” he said.

Rallying supporters in Reno

Before his housing-focused visit to Las Vegas, Biden kicked off his Tuesday swing through Nevada with a visit to Democratic Party headquarters in Washoe County, the state’s second-largest county and one expected to be crucial once again to victory this cycle. 

Speaking to a room of about 50 Northern Nevada leaders and volunteers, including Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno) and Reno Councilman Devon Reese, Biden took aim at Trump, saying he would undo the progress on job creation, national security and drug pricing seen over the last four years and urging voters to take Trump’s incendiary comments at face value.

“I’ve never heard a president say the things that this guy has said,” Biden said, referring to reports that the former president privately maligned veterans. “But the difference is, he means it.”

Against a backdrop of checkerboarded blue and white Biden-Harris campaign signs in Reno, Biden focused on Trump — explicitly criticizing the former president’s promise to give large tax breaks for rich donors and increasing costs for health care, while saying Democrats had and will fight to keep prescription drug costs down. 

Biden also criticized Trump’s comments that he would remain committed to NATO if the European countries paid their “fair share” to defense costs.

“He said if a NATO member or European country doesn't pay their dues, come in, do whatever the hell you want,” Biden said. “He has no basis on understanding what American foreign policy is about, what national security is about.”

Corona, the former mayor of West Wendover, said that the Biden campaign plans to invest in a rural political director and invest in more organizers to be on the ground in remote areas of the Silver State.

Traditionally, Democrats’ strategy in statewide campaigns is to gain victory by large margins in Clark and relying on Reno to secure Washoe — a swingy county in a swingy state — while keeping losses in rural areas manageable. 

“This isn’t just a campaign about Washoe and Clark County,” he said. “This is a campaign about all of Nevada and we're not going to leave any stone left unturned in those communities.”

Updated on 3/19/24 at 4:54 p.m. to include information from Biden's event in Las Vegas.


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