Democratic presidential candidates answer 3 hot housing questions

I thought it would be a super idea with Super Tuesday ahead to ask the Democratic presidential candidates how they would address three pressing housing issues many Californians face: affordable housing, homelessness and down payment assistance.

While three candidates responded to my emails, others did not. None of them offered substance on how they would pay for their suggested solutions.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, billionaire Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren provided answers. I did not get responses from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg or former Vice President Joe Biden, so I will provide what I found regarding their proposed housing solutions.

Question 1: If elected president, how will you address California’s affordable housing crisis?

Bloomberg said he would increase funding for federal housing vouchers and increase their fair market value. He would also increase federal funding for affordable housing programs including Community Development Block Grants. Bloomberg pointed out his ideas would complement many of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposals, including buying, building and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or ownership.

Steyer said he would invest more than $625 billion over 10 years in existing U.S. housing programs, creating more than 3.5 million units of affordable housing. He would invest $47 billion per year in affordable construction and renovation. He also would update the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) by increasing allocations by 50% over the next five years.  

Warren also pitched solutions on a national level, saying she would invest $500 billion in rehabilitating more than 3 million housing units and bring down rents by 10% nationwide. I asked Warren to provide the math on dropping rents by 10%, but she offered no response by press time.

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Buttigieg proposes investing $154 billion over 10 years in the National Housing Trust.

Biden proposes investing $640 billion over 10 years, $20 billion of which would go to the National Housing Trust.

Klobuchar proposes investing over $1 trillion in housing and poverty reduction.

Sanders proposes spending $2.5 trillion on national rent control, a community land trust and housing assistance entitlements.

Question 2: What will you do to solve California’s homelessness crisis?

Bloomberg, in part, would expand permanent supportive housing that would address matters like chronic homelessness and substance abuse. He also would make available funds to encourage rapid rehousing strategies like short-term rental assistance.

Steyer would pair stable, safe shelter with nutritional, health, work training and education programs. He also would expand funding for veterans’ support services.

Warren wants everyone to stop criminalizing the poor and suggested providing more resources toward LGBTQ, youth, transgender people and veterans.

Buttigieg proposes a multi-billion-dollar plan for rapid rehousing for youth, emergency funding for cities facing a homelessness crisis, and investments for permanent housing to adults facing chronic homelessness.

Klobuchar proposes a major investment in homeless assistance grants.

Question 3: What would you do to help bolster down payment assistance in California?

Bloomberg’s laundry list includes a pilot program targeting down payment assistance for new homes; federal matching funds for all residents of targeted communities; directing Community Development Financial Institutions to prioritize lending of cheaper homes; have Fannie and Freddie direct more of their taxpayer subsidies to lower-income households.

Steyer’s list includes a revolving fund to provide down payment assistance to public servants including first responders, doctors and nurses and teachers.

Warren’s suggested a first-of-its-kind down payment assistance program (specific details were not provided when asked in a follow-up question), and cancellation of student loan debt for 95% of people who have it.

Biden wants to offer a first-time homebuyer tax credit.

A footnote to readers: Pasadena Mayor Tom Tornek is the most expert person I’ve ever interviewed about the issues of homelessness, housing, community development and the like. He might make for a good HUD Secretary on these incredibly challenging issues.

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Jeff Lazerson - Mortgage Columnist since 2011