Vermont senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders returned to Las Vegas on Saturday to unveil his plan to tackle affordable housing through a $2.5 trillion national rent control initiative and major investment for building new homes and updating public housing.
“I don’t have to tell anyone here today that we have an affordable housing crisis in Nevada, Vermont and all over this country that must be addressed,” Sanders told about 100 people at Plumbers, Pipefitters and Service Technicians Local 525. “This is a national emergency.”
Sanders’ proposal is perhaps the most ambitious — and costly — plan to address homelessness, rising rent costs and housing shortages yet put forward by any of the 2020 Democratic hopefuls.
He predicted his critics would attack the cost, particularly of the rent control initiative. It requires $2.5 trillion over the next decade, which Sanders said he would raise by taxing the top one-tenth of 1 percent of earners. He stressed that 99.9 percent of taxpayers would not see any increase as a result of this plan.
Sanders’ prediction was correct.
Before Sanders had left the stage, Nevada GOP spokesman Keith Schipper tweeted: “I thought that tax was gonna pay for health care? And reducing carbon? And a multitude of other socialist wish list items? Bernie is the Mickey Mouse of politics.”
Sanders noted that more than half of the states in the country limit or outlaw rent control initiatives, while only a handful have some sort of rent control laws on the books. Nevada has neither banned nor adapted a rent control law.
The proposal would cap rent increases at 3 percent or the current inflation rate, whichever is higher. He said this was necessary to stop the gentrification of low-income neighborhood and predatory rate increases from landlords and new developers.
There will be some flexibility, Sanders said, because he understands “Wyoming is not Seattle, West Virginia is not San Francisco.”
Sanders said that Nevadans have struggled as much as anyone during the housing crisis and in the rebuilding years since.
“Today, Nevada has the greatest shortage of affordable housing and the highest rate of homeless youth in the entire country,” Sanders said. “Last year, Las Vegas had just 10 affordable housing rental units available for every 100 low-income households. That has got to change.”
Sanders attacked President Donald Trump on the issue, saying the administration is not only failing to address affordable housing, it is working to cut federal housing programs by 18 percent.
A request for comment from Trump’s campaign was not successful.
In addition to rent control, Sanders is proposing $32 billion in investment over the next five years targeted at ending homelessness, and an additional $70 billion to repair and expand public housing. The plan would also bar landlords from denying housing to those on federal assistance programs.
The campaign did not release a written copy of the plan, but one should be available soon, Nevada campaign spokeswoman Bianca Recto said.
Sanders on Biden, the debate and health care
In an interview with the Review-Journal prior to his housing announcement, Sanders discussed the recent Democratic debates and an interesting moment from his Friday campaign stop in Reno.
On Friday, a Navy veteran with Huntington’s disease named John Wiegel showed Sanders a hospital bill for $139,000, which he received after somehow losing his military health care benefits. The moment became national news and spread through social media.
Sanders said Saturday that Wiegel’s story was a “painful” example of the need for Medicare for All, which he stressed would end surprise bills like Wiegel’s because no one would ever be without coverage.
The merits of Medicare for All were a hot topic Thursday during the third national Democratic primary debate, where front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed with Sanders and his ideological ally Sen. Elizabeth Warren for nearly 30 minutes to open a discussion meant for all 10 candidates present.
“Joe Biden — Joe is a friend of mine — was kind of parroting and echoing literally the talking points of the health care industry,” Sanders said. “We have the most wasteful, expensive and bureaucratic health care system in the world, and Joe’s proposal is not going to do anything significant to change that.”
Biden’s Nevada campaign spokesman Vedant Patel called Sanders’ characterization “flat-out wrong.”
“Joe Biden’s public option will give private health insurers the competitor they’ve needed and lower costs for working families, while still letting working Americans make the choice regarding what health care plan is best for them,” Patel said.
Sanders said most of the debate was constructive. However, while acknowledging the Democratic National Committee has a tough job fitting various discussion topics into a 10-person debate, Sanders said he is frustrated that affordable housing, child care costs and wealth inequality have not yet made it to the stage for substative debate.