Senator Bernie Sanders outlined a sweeping affordable housing plan in his 2020 campaign for the presidency, calling for a national rent control policy and making Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers an entitlement. Speaking last week at a union hall in Las Vegas, Sanders also proposed funding to modernize public housing, combat homelessness, and strengthen fair housing protections.
The proposal calls for national rent control that would apply to all people, regardless of income. Annual rent increases would be capped at 1.5 times the rate of inflation, or 3%, whichever is higher. Sanders’ proposal follows on the heels of statewide rent control recently enacted by Oregon and California.
Many individual cities have had rent control for decades to help working households remain in their apartments. In announcing the need for capping rent increases, Senator Sanders contrasted his youth growing up in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn with the life of privilege President Trump experienced in his formative years.
“Unlike Donald Trump, I did not grow up in a wealthy family or live in some fancy house,” he said. He mentioned how his mother had wanted to move out of their small rent-controlled apartment. Although she died young and did not fulfill that dream, “at least our family could afford a roof over our heads, because we were living in a rent-controlled building, which meant that for our family and all the other families in our building, rents could not be arbitrarily raised.”
Sanders also proposes changing Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers into an entitlement. This would make rental assistance available to anyone whose income qualifies them for the program, like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Currently, funding for the Section 8 HCV program must be approved each year by Congress as part of the HUD appropriations bill. The funding has always been too little to meet the need, with federal housing assistance available for only one in five households that are eligible.
Senator Sanders’ plan also addresses the need to modernize our existing public housing stock, strengthen fair housing protections and end homelessness. His proposal includes $70 billion to rehabilitate existing public housing properties. He proposes $50 billion for community land trusts and would expand the National Housing Trust Fund. Expanding the NHTF would build, rehabilitate and preserve 7.4 million apartments for low-income senior and disabled residents.
Housing proposals that can assist all renters include constructing 2 million mixed-income apartments and providing $50 billion for community land trusts. Community land trusts involve creating permanently affordable rental or ownership housing by restricting the use of the land to this purpose forever.
Senator Sanders also sets a goal of ending homelessness. He proposes $32 billion over five years to combat homelessness. This funding includes support for outreach services to assist people who are chronically homeless.
The total plan will cost $2.5 trillion. It would be paid for with a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of 1% of American households. This will affect about 175,000 households. Although only limited details were provided in the Senator’s policy announcement, campaign staff said that a full plan will be released within a month.
Sanders joins a number of other candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential field with bold proposals for tackling America’s housing affordability crisis. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, along with former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, have all presented detailed affordable housing plans. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeg’s website has a plan, but with few details except for one component to address racial disparities in housing. To date, former Vice President Joe Biden has provided few details on how he would increase affordable housing.