Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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GUEST COLUMN:

We cannot continue to ignore the crisis in affordable housing

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

The time is long overdue for the United States to have a government and an economy which represents the needs of working families, and not just the 1 percent and wealthy campaign contributors.

That is why I am fighting to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, make sure that women receive equal pay for equal work and make it easier for workers to join unions. It’s also why I’ve advocated for a $1 trillion investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure — our roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants and rail system.

And, let me be very clear: When I talk about infrastructure, I am talking about the need to address the crisis of affordable housing, a crisis which exists in Nevada, my state of Vermont and communities all across this country. It is not acceptable to me that over 500,000 men, women and children in our country are homeless on any given night — including many thousands in Nevada.

A decade ago, Nevada was the epicenter of a housing crisis that saw thousands of Americans thrown out of their homes and big banks bailed out by the government. Today, the Trump administration is rolling back Wall Street regulations, the banks are demanding weaker mortgage rules and Nevada is once again facing a housing crisis — this time in affordability.

Right now, Nevada has the fewest number of affordable rental units of any state in America. On average, there are only 19 affordable rental units for every 100 low-income Nevadans. At one point last year, only 39 out of 1,800 rental units in Clark County were reportedly accepting low-income housing vouchers. Meanwhile, home prices in places like North Las Vegas had more than doubled since the housing crisis 10 years ago, and in recent years, Southern Nevada has had among the highest homeless rates in the nation.

It is not acceptable that millions of our fellow citizens are spending 50 percent or more of their limited incomes to put a roof over their heads, leaving little money for food, transportation, health care or medicine. It is not acceptable that, in communities throughout the country, wealthy developers are gentrifying neighborhoods and forcing working families out of the homes and apartments where they have lived their entire lives.

We have an affordable housing crisis, and we must address it.

Unfortunately, we have a president who isn’t simply ignoring this crisis, he and his administration are actively making it worse. Instead of expanding federal housing programs, President Donald Trump is proposing an 18 percent cut to them. And instead of working to drastically decrease high rents, Trump is proposing to dramatically raise rents on low-income Americans who receive housing assistance. And instead of expanding affordable housing, Trump is proposing the elimination of the National Housing Trust Fund, which funds affordable housing and was based on legislation I spearheaded in Congress.

How do we address the affordable housing crisis? Here are several ideas.

First, we must significantly and permanently expand the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build housing that lower-income people can afford. Currently, we are spending $800 million a year on this program. This is far too little. By greatly expanding the trust fund, not only would this help build the affordable housing units we need, but it would create good-paying jobs to do it.

Second, we must raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a renter would need to earn $22.10 an hour to comfortably afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in the U.S. under the current housing market. Raising the minimum wage is an additional way we can close the wage-rent gap.

Third, we must adequately fund grants for cities and towns that wish to create community land trust housing. When I was mayor of Burlington, Vt., we were the first municipality in the country to implement this idea, something which is now being utilized successfully throughout the country. Land trust housing enables people to enjoy the advantages of homeownership while keeping housing perpetually affordable.

Fourth, we must make sure that communities can utilize tools, including rent control, that maintain rent stability. Landlords should not be able to simply raise rents to any level they want, any time they want. We must also make certain that communities have the option to mandate that developers include affordable housing in new developments. Creating fancy new housing may be fine, but it must include a decent percentage of affordable housing as well.

Fifth, we must commit to funding and repairing our existing public housing stock. There is an enormous amount of public housing that has been neglected for years and is in need of massive repair and refurbishment.

Sixth, we must aggressively defend and promote the legal protections of fair housing, and make sure that no one is denied housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender or disability. We must fight the modern-day redlining that subjects people of color to arduous loan processes and capricious denials.

Making these changes will not be easy. It will require a grassroots movement to defeat Trump and then create a government that represents all people. That is what we are doing in this presidential campaign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is serving his third term in the Senate after spending 16 years in the House. He announced in February that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.