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Michael Bloomberg brings California a housing plan

He proposes expanding the public-private partnership programme that has helped create affordable housing

Mr Bloomberg is also proposing to increase child tax credit, raise the minimum wage to US$15 an hour by 2025, and increase funding for federal housing assistance.

San Francisco

FORMER New York mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday used his first presidential campaign visit to the make-or-break state of California to offer his plan to address the problems of poverty and housing affordability plaguing the Golden State.

Mr Bloomberg is skipping the four initial nominating contests in February and focusing on California, Texas, North Carolina and the other delegate-rich states voting on March 3 on Super Tuesday and beyond.

California alone offers 495 delegates to the nominating convention next summer, a little over 10 per cent of the total.

California is struggling with a housing affordability crisis that is fuelling homelessness.

Mr Bloomberg released a proposal in Stockton to expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a public-private partnership that pairs federal funding with private investment, which he says could add hundreds of thousands of units over 10 years.

He would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, increase the child tax credit and raise the minimum wage to US$15 an hour by 2025.

"As president, my job will be to move all America ahead, and that includes committing our country to new and innovative ways to combat poverty," he said in Stockton, a city about 130km east of San Francisco where he accepted the endorsement of Mayor Michael Tubbs.

By proposing an expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, Mr Bloomberg appears to be adopting a programme that has helped create affordable housing and enjoys bipartisan support.

He is also proposing a US$10 billion competition to reward municipalities for opening up the most desirable neighbourhoods to affordable housing and nationalise homeless programmes he championed in New York.

He would also increase funding for federal housing assistance, but did not specify by how much.

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has financed more than 3 million apartments, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, an apartment industry trade group.

Mr Bloomberg did not put a price tag to taxpayers on his housing and poverty programme at his appearance in Stockton, nor describe how it would be funded. The campaign later said it did not have an estimated cost of the proposals yet.

The median house price in California is above US$600,000 - more than twice the national level - and the state has four of the country's five most expensive residential markets.

McKinsey & Co estimated in 2016 that California needed 3.5 million more homes by the middle of next decade - a figure that the new Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has made a central part of his administration's goals.

Other Democratic candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have also emphasised the need for more affordable housing, including supporting measures that would remove barriers to more dense development and advocating for more spending to build affordable new homes.

While Mr Bloomberg's rivals are focused on the early voting states, he will be campaigning in the states voting in March and April, when the majority of delegates needed for the nomination will be decided.

Still, some Democratic strategists are sceptical such an approach can overcome the momentum that the winners of the early state contests generate.

A survey released on Dec 5 by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California Berkeley found that Mr Bloomberg had 8 per cent support among California voters.

He also had the lowest favourability rating in the state of all the leading candidates among likely Democratic voters at 15 per cent, with 40 per cent saying unfavourable and 45 per cent having no opinion.

The poll was taken from Nov 21-27, just as Mr Bloomberg officially entered the race on Nov 24.

In Stockton, Mr Bloomberg again apologised for the stop-and-frisk anti-crime measure he used as mayor of New York. But on Wednesday, he added that he supported those measures because "people want results".

"It turned out we could have done something different, but people want results," he said. "I don't think there's anybody in California that doesn't think the objective of bringing down the murder rate - particularly in poor communities - is not a good idea." BLOOMBERG