Fighting for Affordable Housing

From the time Sen. Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, he has made affordable housing a top priority. One of his proudest achievements as mayor was creating the first municipally-funded housing trust in the nation, which continues to create homeownership opportunities for moderate income families who had been shut out of the market. And in Congress, he is proud to have been – along with California Congresswoman Barbara Lee – the original House sponsor of the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act, which became law in 2008.

While the housing market has improved since the worst days of the housing meltdown and recession, millions of Americans remain underwater with their mortgages and millions more can’t get a loan to buy a house. On the rental side, more than 7 million households lack access to adequate affordable housing, with many facing a daily choice between housing, food, and healthcare. Meanwhile, many working families, veterans, the mentally ill and the poor are living in their cars, in homeless shelters, or simply out on the street. That is unacceptable.

Working together, this is what we need to do to address the affordable housing crisis.

Expand Affordable Housing

It is no secret that millions of families are struggling economically. Meanwhile, decent and affordable rental apartments are hard to come by, and millions of households are spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 7.1 million American households cannot find affordable housing. That is unacceptable.

Sen. Sanders will fight to:

Expand the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Sen. Sanders is proud to have authored the original National Affordable Housing Trust Fund bill in the House of Representatives in 2001 that became law in 2008. This is the first new federal housing production program in almost three decades, and the first ever designed to build rental housing for extremely low-income households. Sen. Sanders will fight to increase funding for the housing trust fund to at least $5 billion a year in order to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate at least 3.5 million affordable housing rental units over the next decade. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create millions of good paying jobs in the process.

Raise the minimum wage. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a renter would need to earn a wage of $19.35 per hour in order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in the U.S. One way to start closing the wage/rent gap is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

Reinvigorate federal housing production programs. Over the past decade, the federal programs that build affordable housing for families, for the elderly and for the disabled have been decimated. Nobody disagrees that we need to address the deficit, but it is absurd to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. We must return to pre-2010 funding levels by ending sequestration and invest more, not less, in affordable housing.

Defend Fair Housing. The sordid history of housing discrimination is a stain on our collective conscious, and for fifty years the Fair Housing Act has provided critically important legal protection from discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or disability. And yet, Republicans have tried over and over again to defund efforts to affirmatively promote fair housing. We must push back, defend and strengthen the law, and make sure we never again tacitly condone housing discrimination.

Demand more from Affordable Housing Developers. Housing that is built with government subsidies should remain affordable much longer than the 10, 15 or 20 years typically required by federal housing programs. In my state of Vermont, we require affordable housing to remain affordable permanently. In my view, once we subsidize rental housing, we shouldn’t have to pay again and again simply to “preserve” it.

Repair Public Housing. We need sufficient funding for public housing operating and capital costs, and we need to reduce the unacceptable backlog of public housing capital needs.

Protect Rental Assistance. We need to provide full funding to all existing project based rental assistance contracts.

Expand Housing Choice Initiative. We need to increase funding for the housing choice voucher program to target families who need support the most and to provide greater economic stability to the more than 3 million households struggling to remain in safe, secure and affordable housing today.

Promoting Homeownership

Owning a home remains one of the best ways for families to build wealth and enter the middle class. However, for decades, wages have not kept up with the median costs of homes, putting homeownership out of reach for millions of families. The housing crisis that began in 2007 wiped-out the entire household wealth of millions of families, particularly African-American and Latino families who were disproportionately targeted with sub-prime mortgages and had most of their wealth in their homes – the net worth of African-American households fell by more than 50 percent and Latino families by more than 65 percent. We must take aggressive steps to make homeownership more attainable for first time homebuyers, as well as for the millions of families across the country who lost their homes to foreclosure.

Sen. Sanders will fight to:

Support First Time Homebuyers. We should expand the Department of Housing and Urban Development and USDA Rural Development assistance programs for first time homeownership, particularly through down payment assistance, loan guarantees and direct loans.

Expand Pre-purchase Housing Counseling. Study after study shows that people who receive counseling before buying a home are more likely to succeed at homeownership. Housing counseling is a good investment in families and communities.

Implement Credit Score Reform. The credit scores of millions of families have been ruined because of foreclosures or other financial hardships from the economic meltdown. At the same time, a prime score before the crisis was 640. It currently hovers around 740. If we want to rebuild the lost wealth of working families, we need real credit score reform to make the banking and credit industries work for borrowers and not just lenders.

Prevent Predatory Lending. In the 2000s Sen. Sanders called on Congress to clean up the subprime market by cracking down on predatory lenders. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Incredibly, Republicans now want to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created to protect families against fraudulent, deceptive, and abusive lending practices that caused the crisis. By requiring that all mortgage costs are clear, risks are visible, and nothing is buried in fine print, the CFBP makes sure consumers have the information they need to make good financial decisions.

Protect Homeowner Mortgage Interest Benefits. Sen. Sanders strongly supports tax policies that promote homeownership, and opposes any reform that would negatively impact middle and low-income homeowners. We need to close the second home and yacht loophole, as there is simply no compelling public interest in subsidizing second homes and yachts. We also need to expand homeowner mortgage interest benefits to the 19 million otherwise eligible homeowners who do not itemize their taxes.

Helping Underwater Homeowners

For millions of American families, and for many hard hit communities, the housing crisis is not over. According to the real estate firm CoreLogic, 4.3 million homeowners still owe more than their houses are worth. While the taxpayers of this country, against my strong opposition, bailed out the largest financial institutions in this country with no strings attached, we have never provided an adequate lifeline to underwater homeowners. While Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program has helped more than 1.5 million homeowners avoid foreclosure, and the Hardest Hit Fund has assisted another 250,000 ‎homeowners, these are a fraction of the households that were, or are, underwater.

Sen. Sanders will fight to:

Reinvigorate HARP. The Home Affordable Refinance Program was designed to assist homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments but owe more than their home is worth, by allowing them to refinance their underwater mortgages at lower interest rates. While the average homeowner saves about $2,500 per year, many people who theoretically qualify have not benefited because of various barriers and inadequate outreach. Sen. Sanders co-sponsored legislation to reduce up-front fees, eliminate appraisal costs for borrowers, streamline the application process and launch a national effort to educate homeowners about the program.

Expand Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling. Just as pre-purchase homeownership counseling works for prospective homebuyers, we need to expand National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling programs to help underwater homeowners. Studies have shown that underwater homeowners who receive counselling are far more likely to cure a serious delinquency or foreclosure, and stay current after obtaining a cure. The best solution is to keep homeowners in their homes.

Preventing Homelessness

We have made some important strides toward reducing homelessness, but it is a national disgrace that on a given night, almost 565,000 people are homeless in the United States. It is especially distressing that so many are children living in families.

Just as we must build more housing that is affordable to low income renters, we must reinvigorate our homeless assistance programs. Recognizing that one size does not fit all, we must address the unique housing needs of homeless veterans, victims of domestic abuse, and runaway and homeless youth. We must address family homelessness through rapid re-housing where families are quickly connected with permanent housing and their lives returned to relative stability. We must explore new ways to address the more than 83,000 chronically homeless individuals with policies that provide permanent supportive housing first.

And we must address the underlying economic conditions that lead to homelessness, including the fact that a disproportionate number of homeless families are headed by single women.

Sen. Sanders will fight to:

Prevent Homelessness and Reduce Recidivism. Sen. Sanders strongly supports efforts to house people coming out of prison. In November, he announced a pilot program to reduce recidivism and prevent homelessness by making sure former inmates do not cycle between the criminal justice and homeless service systems. This is a good investment in people leaving prison, and a smart way to prevent homelessness.

End Chronic Homelessness. Sen. Sanders will fight for sufficient funding to end chronic homelessness.

Getting lead out of our homes

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control lowered its blood lead threshold for children from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, after research showed that even minute lead levels can significantly impact a child’s brain development and result in behavioral problems and learning disabilities. The CDC estimates that 535,000 American children under six years of age are affected by lead poisoning. This preventable tragedy traps families in poverty and robs children of their opportunity to succeed.

Sen. Sanders will fight to:

Make HUD-assisted housing lead-free. Sen. Sanders recently joined several colleagues in urging HUD Secretary Julian Castro to do more to prevent lead poisoning in HUD assisted housing. Not only has HUD failed to adopt the new CDC threshold for purposes of requiring landlords to mitigate lead in apartments with children, but HUD has not updated its blood lead level standard since 1999. In fact, HUD allows children’s blood lead levels to be three to four times higher than the new CDC standard before it requires landlords to abate lead. That is unacceptable.

Addressing Housing and Environmental Justice

Homes are not just places to live, they are the building blocks of our communities. Yet, some communities – usually low-income and communities of color – experience a daily assault on their health and environment. They are the hardest hit by air and water pollution from industrial factories, power plants, incinerators, chemical waste and lead contamination from old pipes and paint.

Black children are five times more likely to have lead poisoning. Low-income Latino immigrants are more likely to live in areas with high levels of hazardous air pollution than anyone else; the odds of a Latino immigrant neighborhood being located in an area of high toxic pollution is one in three. At the same time, communities of color lack access to parks, gardens and other recreational green space.

In addition to building homes, we must build communities. Federal agencies must develop and implement clear, strategic plans to achieve environmental justice and provide targeted action where the needs are greatest. Sen. Sanders will work to ensure that all Americans are able to live in safe, secure, healthy, and affordable housing.