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Candidates talk housing issues at Democratic debate

Frontrunner Bernie Sanders was not among those to answer the question on affordable housing

In an otherwise bizarre Democratic debate that devolved into a discussion of “personal mottos,” candidates answered a rare question on how they plan to address housing affordability.

Though each of the candidates on the debate stage last night have released housing plans — including former Vice President Joe Biden, who released his on Monday — they offered scant details during a heated debate in Charleston, South Carolina. It was the final debate before Super Tuesday on March 3.

Bernie Sanders, the Democratic frontrunner, was not among those to answer the question, but earlier repeated his refrain that 500,000 people, including 30,000 veterans, sleep on the street each night. His campaign released a $2.5 trillion plan to end homelessness last year.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar promised to address a backlog of applicants for Section 8 housing and increase incentives for building affordable housing. She also cited “housing deserts” as a hindrance for businesses in rural areas.

A former federal regulator and law professor, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called attention to the federal government’s legacy of pursuing discriminatory, race-based housing policies, but did not detail her own plan to address affordable housing. But she had stern words for former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is widely regarded as pro-development.

“While Bloomberg was blaming the housing crash of 2008 on African Americans and Latinos, I was out there fighting for a consumer agency to make sure people never get cheated again on their mortgages,” Warren said, referring to remarks Bloomberg made in 2008 that pegged the financial crisis on the elimination of redlining.

Bloomberg, who upzoned 120 New York City neighborhoods, pioneered inclusionary housing and ended regular city funding for public housing, highlighted his own record, and said he fought against red-lining “before, during and after” the 2008 crisis.

“We created 175,000 units of affordable housing in NYC,” Bloomberg said, expressing frustration with partisan politics in Congress. “You have to learn how to work with both sides of the aisle, and then you can get it done. I did it in NYC.”

Biden struggled to articulate a clear vision to address housing affordability, but said his administration would offer first-time homebuyers a $15,000 tax credit for mortgages. He also said he would “go after people who are involved in gentrification,” but it is unclear what that would entail.

“What’s happening is we’re moving people out of neighborhoods in ways that make no sense,” Biden said, of the impact of gentrification on neighborhoods. “You cannot find a place to live.”

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer both punctuated their vague answers with topics unrelated to the question on affordable housing: criminal justice reform, wages and education. Steyer boasted of supporting 8,000 affordable housing units through a bank he started.

Buttigieg, who offered no specific policy measures, said that progress will be difficult “as long as black voices are systematically excluded from political participation.”

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