Bloomberg zeroes in on California housing crisis as he campaigns in Stockton, San Francisco

Michael Bloomberg is making housing affordability a focal point of his presidential campaign, and will roll out some general principles on housing policy during his first visit to California as a presidential candidate Wednesday, McClatchy has learned.


The billionaire executive and former New York City mayor is holding a round table discussion on housing and economic opportunity in Stockton Wednesday with Mayor Michael Tubbs, who is then going to endorse Bloomberg, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Bloomberg also is expected to attend an event in San Francisco.


As part of the trip, Bloomberg’s campaign is rolling out an initial plan to tackle housing affordability and homelessness — twin issues that have reached crisis levels in cities in California and across the West Coast.


While Bloomberg is best known for his efforts to fight climate change and gun violence, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns on those fronts, an aide to his nascent presidential campaign tells McClatchy that housing is another big issue the mayor plans to talk about regularly on the trail.


A handful of rival Democratic candidates have laid out comprehensive housing proposals, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. But it has not been a central issue in the primary campaign thus far.


Housing affordability first came up in a Democratic debate last month — the fifth debate of the primary. And in October, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and its partners were forced to cancel a candidate forum on the affordable housing crisis after top-tier candidates like Warren, Sanders, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t commit to attending.


Bloomberg is rolling out a housing proposal in the third week of his campaign, part of an unorthodox, long-shot bid to win the Democratic nomination by skipping campaigning in the early voting states and focusing on the more populous states that vote in March, including California, Washington, Texas, North Carolina and Florida.


Bloomberg, one of the richest men on earth, has already spent over $100 million on advertising in those and other states around the country since launching his campaign.


Housing is a particularly pressing issue in many of those states.


WHAT’S IN BLOOMBERG’S PLAN


As part of his proposal, Bloomberg is promising to ramp up pressure on cities and municipalities to loosen zoning laws, increase funding for affordable housing and housing assistance, and help cities get homeless people off the streets and into homes, not shelters.


Housing policy experts widely agree that restrictive zoning laws are a big reason why housing supply has not kept up with demand nationally.


That’s particularly true in California.


“Most of California’s most populous cities and most affluent suburbs are just not building up housing,” Brookings Institute Fellow Jenny Schuetz told McClatchy earlier this year. “They’ve been under-building housing for about 30 years now.”


To encourage cities to build more houses and apartments, Bloomberg is promising to set aside $10 billion in federal funds for a competition to reward municipalities that remove obstacles to the construction of affordable housing (like restrictive zoning laws) in neighborhoods with good schools, transportation and economic opportunities.


He’s also threatening to punish cities that don’t do so, for example by enforcing Department of Housing and Urban Development rules requiring cities to make progress in addressing segregation before they can receive federal grants.


Some housing experts have raised questions about whether tying federal grants to zoning reforms will have much of an impact. As Schuetz pointed out in a 2018 Brookings analysis, HUD’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are primarily targeted at larger, poorer communities.


“Few of the most exclusive communities receive CDBG entitlement funding,” she noted, meaning they would not be motivated to change their laws by threats to cut off that funding.


But in addition to targeting restrictions on building, Bloomberg also pledges to increase funding for the federal affordable housing programs and expand the Low Income Tax Credit, with conditions to ensure that more new construction is in low poverty areas. And he wants to increase funds for housing vouchers while making it easier for people to use them in a broader array of locations.


A NEW YORK APPROACH TO HOMELESSNESS


Bloomberg wants to take some of the homelessness programs he implemented in New York City and expand them on a national scale. That includes the Homebase program, which brought community groups, landlords, tenant associations and others together to keep at-risk families from becoming homeless, in the first place.


And he would expand permanent supportive housing programs for the chronically homeless and encourage “rapid rehousing strategies” for others who find themselves on the street or in shelters, although his plan doesn’t provide specifics on how he would do so. The campaign plans to flesh out more details on his housing platform as they move forward, an aide said.


Bloomberg’s own record on homelessness and housing affordability in New York is mixed. The city experienced historic levels of homelessness under his watch, a trend that has continued under his successor.


As with homelessness in the rest of the country, there are much larger economic and demographic forces behind New York’s homeless crisis. But Bloomberg also faced sharp criticism for trying to experiment with homeless assistance. In 2011, the Coalition for the Homeless slammed his administration for administering “flawed time-limited subsidies” rather using traditional federal public housing programs.


Bloomberg’s administration made significant strides in tackling street homelessness, and was credited with bringing an unprecedented focus and ambition to combat the problem. Some of his initiatives, like a homeless census to acquire data about the people lacking homes, have since been adopted nationally.


He also successfully championed zoning reforms and encouraged more affordable home building, although affordability was and remains a major problem in New York, particularly for its poorest residents.


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Our Homes, Our Votes: 2020

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