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Bernie Sanders lays out an ambitious plan on affordable housing

Sen. Bernie Sanders said he will pay for the policy by establishing a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of 1 percent — or, according to his estimate, the wealthiest 175,000 families.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said he will pay for the policy by establishing a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of 1 percent — or, according to his estimate, the wealthiest 175,000 families. (Jason Bean/AP)
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LAS VEGAS — A few days after reports surfaced that President Trump is considering a crackdown on homelessness, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued an unofficial rebuttal, outlining his national housing plan in an address to a crowd of 100 at the local chapter of a plumbers and pipe fitters union.

Sanders railed against Trump’s housing policies and explained his own plan, which calls for federal investment of $2.5 trillion over the next decade and a national rent control standard. He said he will pay for the policy by establishing a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of 1 percent — or, according to his estimate, the wealthiest 175,000 families.

“Instead of expanding federal housing programs, Trump is proposing to cut them by $9.6 billion or 18 percent,” Sanders said. “Instead of working to substantially reduce the outrageously high price of housing, Trump is proposing to triple what some of the poorest senior citizens and persons with disabilities in America are paying for rent today.”

The Sanders campaign said a full outline of the plan will “be released in the coming weeks,” but Sanders did provide some details Saturday. He proposed a national rent control standard that would cap rent increases at no more 1½ times the rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is higher. He promised to promote legal protections for fair housing and take steps to eliminate racial discrimination in loan practices.

Sanders also said he would expand the National Housing Trust Fund, which allocates money to states to build and maintain affordable housing for low-income Americans. Trump’s budget proposal called for drastic cuts to that fund.

Sanders said he will fully fund Section 8 rental assistance program — or the Housing Choice Voucher Program — which subsidizes private landlords to rent properties to low-income families at fair market value. He told those in attendance Saturday that his plan will eliminate some of the lengthy wait times that plague people seeking those vouchers.

He also proposed $70 billion of investment to repair existing housing units and $50 billion in grants “for states, cities and towns to establish community land trusts that will enable over a million households to purchase affordable homes over the next 25 years.” Land trusts allows local jurisdictions to hold title to land, therefore keeping prices down for housing on that land.

“It is unacceptable to me that over 18 million families in America today are paying more than 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable to me that there is virtually no place in America where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a decent two bedroom apartment, at a time when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Sanders proposed a federal investment of $32 billion over five years “to end homelessness in America and provide critical outreach services to those who are experiencing chronic homelessness.” His remarks did not include further detail on exactly how that money will be allocated.

Many of Sanders’s opponents for the Democratic nomination have proposed housing plans of their own. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) centered her housing policy on the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, a bill she introduced in the Senate that calls for $500 billion over 10 years in building and maintaining affordable housing units. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has proposed the Rent Relief Act, which would provide a monthly tax credit to families spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Former vice president Joe Biden called for eliminating barriers to housing for the formerly incarcerated. Warren and Harris have also promised down-payment assistance programs for minority families and those living in redlined communities, programs they say will diminish the racial wealth gap in the United States.

“I have no doubt that five minutes after this speech is made public my critics will be jumping up and down, as is usually the case,” said Sanders, who called his plan “expensive” and acknowledged that taxes will have to increase for the highest earners to pay for it.

“If you are working 40 hours a week and if you are working hard, you deserve a safe place in which to live,” he said. “It is not a radical demand.”

Sanders spent much of the day talking around cough drops and struggling to make his voice less hoarse. Later in the afternoon, his campaign announced it would be canceling events in South Carolina on Monday and Tuesday so Sanders could “rest his voice.” A campaign spokesman said Sanders lost his voice during a trip to Colorado this past week.

Sanders, who is 78, also joined Biden and Warren in committing to release his medical records before any primary votes are cast, a vow he had not made before.

“I think it’s the right thing to do. The American people have the right to know whether the person they are going to be voting for is healthy,” Sanders told NBC in an interview Saturday. Asked when he might do so, Sanders said he needs to visit a doctor for “a series of tests” first, but that it “will certainly be before the first votes are cast.”