(CN) – For the better part of half a decade, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has brought the words “Medicare for All” from the political margins to the Democratic mainstream.
He now hopes to do the same with a $2.5 trillion plan that includes a decade-long affordable housing initiative, a trust fund dedicated to desegregating communities, and separate initiatives for rural development and Indian country.
“For too long the federal government has ignored the extraordinary housing crisis in our country,” Sanders said, vowing to buck that trend if elected. “My administration will be looking out for working families and tenants, not the billionaires who control Wall Street.”
Releasing the plan under the name “Housing for All,” Sanders’ plan is a sharp counterpoint to President Donald Trump’s remarks on homelessness.
Alluding vaguely to an “individual task force,” Trump’s anti-homeless rhetoric has led to speculation about a purge of indigent people fueled in part by loose talk by those in his administration.
“We’re not rounding people up or anything yet,” a Trump official recently told the Washington Post.
The Sanders plan aims at eliminating homelessness, not carting off the homeless.
“In the richest country on Earth, we will invest nearly $32 billion over the next five years to end homelessness in America,” Sanders’ plan declares, estimating that more than half a million in the United States live in the streets or in shelters.
By far, the largest expenditure of the senator’s plan involves a $1.48 trillion National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build, rehabilitate or preserve 7.4 million affordable housing units, a figure his campaign identifies as the country’s shortage for lowest-income renters. Another $400 billion will be earmarked for 2 million mixed-income housing units designed to various forms of integration: racial, economic and disability. The senator also called for passing the Equality Act to include sexual orientation and gender-identity protections in the Fair Housing Act.
Under the Sanders plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program devoted to rural areas would receive a $500 million flush of cash and the Indian Housing Block Grant Program would spike to $3 billion.
In March, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that the Trump administration proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development by $9.6 billion, which the group called an 18% drop.
Democratic presidential candidates have been paying closer attention to the U.S. housing crisis in the wake of Trump administration attacks on the homeless. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson paid a visit recently to Skid Row in Los Angeles, where he toured a homeless center last April. But the Trump administration refused federal help for the problem, instead using the issues to hammer the Golden State on sanctuary cities within their borders and spending on a social safety net.
In a reversal of that strategy, former Texas congressman and presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke on Tuesday visited the same site: Skid Row, where he announced a more modest $400 billion budget for low-income housing. Of the possible responses to the suffering there, O’Rourke told Fox News: “One of those paths cannot be using the police to sweep people off the streets, to warehouse people out of sight and out of mind.”
Sanders’ supporters on the left have pushed for the senator to do for the national housing conversation what he has done to health care, education and drinking water.
“Bernie Should Declare Housing a Human Right,” Jacobin, a democratic socialist magazine, titled one editorial a little more than a month ago.