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A pedestrian walks past tents and trash

A pedestrian walks past tents and trash on a sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles on May 30, 2019. The city agreed to allow homeless people on Skid Row to keep their property and not have it seized, providing the items are not bulky or hazardous. (Photo: Frederic J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Day After Trump Denigrates Homeless, Sanders Unveils $2.5 Trillion #HousingForAll Plan to Address Crisis

"My administration will be looking out for working families and tenants, not the billionaires who control Wall Street."

Jessica Corbett

In the wake of "abhorrent" comments made by President Donald Trump about homeless people, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday unveiled his $2.5 trillion "Housing for All" plan, which calls for building millions of affordable housing units and providing billions of dollars in rental assistance over a decade.

"In the richest country in the history of the world, every American must have a safe, decent, accessible, and affordable home as a fundamental right."
—Bernie Sanders campaign
"In the richest country in the history of the world, every American must have a safe, decent, accessible, and affordable home as a fundamental right," the Sanders campaign declares in the plan, which will be paid for by a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of the one percent.

After teasing his housing plan at an event Saturday, the Independent senator from Vermont said in a statement Wednesday: "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, this is unacceptable."

"For too long the federal government has ignored the extraordinary housing crisis in our country," he added. "That will end when I am president."

Billy Gendell, a Sanders campaign policy staffer, highlighted some of the plan's proposals in a tweet:

One of the key proposals, the Sanders campaign explains, stems from a bill the senator put forth in the U.S. House nearly two decades ago:

In 2001, Bernie first introduced legislation to create the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, based largely on the success of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund. After a 15-year effort, in 2016, a modest version of Bernie's legislation became the first new federal affordable housing program funded in several decades. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it is funded through a small percentage of revenues from the government-sponsored housing agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Over the past four years, this program has invested $905 million on the construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable housing throughout the country—but unfortunately that is not nearly enough compared to the demand.

Sanders proposes investing $1.48 trillion in the trust over 10 years "to build, rehabilitate, and preserve the 7.4 million quality, affordable and accessible housing units." He further proposes spending $400 billion on building two million mixed-income social housing units, expanding a U.S. Department of Agriculture program by $500 million for new developments in rural areas, and boosting funds for the Indian Housing Block Grant Program to $3 billion.

During the first year of his presidency, Sanders would prioritize 25,000 National Affordable Housing Trust units to house people who are homeless. He would also double McKinney-Vento homelessness assistance grants to more than $26 billion over five years and provide $500 million for states and localities' outreach programs.

In contrast, Trump was lambasted after he claimed during a rally in California Tuesday night that homeless people are ruining the "prestige" of major U.S. cities. Progressives, meanwhile, praised Sanders' understanding of the crisis and his bold proposals to address it.

The plan claims that "most public housing is in desperate need of reconstruction and rehabilitation" and calls for a $70 million investment to improve accessibility and provide access to high-speed broadband in such units. Sanders also promises to "ensure that public housing has high-quality, shared community spaces."

Decrying the federal government's failures to provide adequate housing assistance to low-income people, the campaign says that "today, 7.7 million families in America are forced to pay more than half of their limited incomes on rent because they are eligible for Section 8 rental assistance but do not receive it because of a lack of federal resources. As a result, many of these families are forced to choose between paying rent or buying the food, medicine, or prescription drugs they need."

Sanders calls for fully funding Section 8 assistance at $410 billion over the next decade as well as strengthening the Fair Housing Act and implementing a Section 8 non-discrimination law.

The Housing for All plan also proposes various tenant protections—including a national cap on annual rent increases at no more than 3 percent or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index, a "just-cause" requirement for evictions, and a guarantee of renters' right to form tenants unions. Sanders further proposes creating an independent National Fair Housing Agency similar to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and an office within that agency for mobile home residents.

Sanders' housing plan incorporates various existing pieces of legislation that the senator supports—calling for the passage of the Equality Act to include LGBTQ+ people in the Fair Housing Act as well as the Green New Deal to fully transition to sustainable energy nationwide by 2030. Sanders proposes decarbonizing all public housing through the Green New Deal and providing grants to low- and moderate-income families so they can weatherize and retrofit homes and invest in cheaper energy.

The housing plan is designed to help out not only people who are homeless and renters, but also first-time homebuyers. Sanders proposes investing $2 billion at the USDA and $6 billion at HUD to create an assistance program for first-time buyers and making pre-purchase housing counseling available to all potential buyers.

The plan also proposes "a 25 percent House Flipping tax on speculators who sell a non-owner-occupied property, if sold for more than it was purchased within five years of purchase" as well as "a 2 percent Empty Homes tax on the property value of vacant, owned homes to bring more units into the market and curb the use of housing as speculative investment."

Sanders vowed in his statement Wednesday that if he secures the Democratic nomination for president and wins the 2020 election, "my administration will be looking out for working families and tenants, not the billionaires who control Wall Street." In a campaign newsletter, Sanders staffer David Sirota explained a proposal designed to do just that:

One of the major planks in Bernie's plan is a proposal to finally end the mass sale of mortgages to Wall Street firms and crack down on predatory practices of Wall Street landlords. That includes the firm run by Donald Trump's billionaire adviser, Steve Schwarzman—the financier who throws himself multimillion-dollar birthday parties and bankrolls the GOP, while his firm fuels a housing crisis and traps tenants in a cycle of squalor, predatory fees and evictions.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the federal government helped private equity giants like Schwarzman's firm Blackstone buy up foreclosed homes, and then convert them into rental properties. The Atlantic reports that between 2011 and 2017, these giants gained control of more than 200,000 homes. This has been great for Blackstone, which has been cashing in on the scheme—but it hasn't been great for everyone else.

The Housing for All plan, Sirota concluded, "will crack down on corporate landlords that are destroying too many communities throughout America."

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