NORTHRIDGE, Calif. (CN) – At a town hall on housing affordability Tuesday, presidential hopeful and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont told Southern California residents he would back a national bill on rent control and boost affordable housing construction if elected.
Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination for president, told hundreds of town hall attendees at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, California, that millions of Americans are languishing in housing markets that have become increasingly unaffordable or inaccessible.
“In terms of affordable housing, we have a major crisis, not just in California but in fact all over this country,” Sanders said. “Landlords shouldn’t be able to raise rents to any level they want. Communities should be able to include affordable housing in new developments.”
Sanders blasted the Trump administration’s budget cuts to national housing programs and said he would support public housing construction, tenant’s rights protections and expanded public housing voucher programs, including for seniors and those with disabilities.
Town hall participant Minerva Cruz described to Sanders the housing struggles she has faced.
“Even as a good tenant who had lived in my unit for over a decade, the owner of my building decided they would rather rent the unit for more money,” Cruz said. “They doubled our rent, and with no friends or family nearby it gets harder to stretch the few dollars that we have.”
In June, Los Angeles reported a 16% increase in the homeless population and nearly a third of LA renters spend more than half their income on rent.
Sanders said the housing crisis is exacerbated when workers earn wages that are too low to weather any rent increases, student loan burdens or dramatic spikes in health care costs.
“It’s unacceptable that there is no place, especially in California, where a full-time, minimum wage worker can afford a decent one-bedroom apartment,” Sanders said. “The right to health care for everyone is a fundamental right, so is the right to affordable housing.”
Sanders, whose progressive agenda includes student loan debt relief and a “Medicare for All” plan, has faced attacks from centrist Democratic candidates like former Maryland congressman John Delaney.
A poll released last week after the Democratic candidate debates in Detroit revealed that 48% of independent voters think Democratic politics are leaning too far to the left.
Twenty percent of Democrats polled agreed, while 68% of Republicans felt the same way, according to the Hill-HarrisX poll.
Moses Unah, a resident of the neighboring Granada Hills community, told Courthouse News he appreciates Sanders’ positions on housing and health care.
Unah said that after a weekend filled with deadly mass shootings, he expected Sanders to speak about solutions to ending gun violence in the nation.
During the town hall, the crowd inside frequently broke into chants of “Bernie, Bernie.”
As the event wrapped, Sanders directed his staff to collect information from residents who said they were fighting unfair rent increases or trying to transition from sleeping in their cars to finding shelter.
“The more people speak about their experiences, the more they understand they’re not alone in this struggle, means more people will be able to stand up and fight back,” Sanders said.