Statement of Senator Bernard Sanders on the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund

I would like to thank Erhard Mahnke with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition for that kind introduction and many thanks to Sheila Crowley and the National Low Income Housing Coalition for this award.

I don't have to tell you that we have an affordable housing crisis in this country that has only gotten worse each and every year that President Bush has been in office.

In the richest country on the face of the earth it is simply unacceptable that millions of Americans are paying 50 to 60

I would like to thank Erhard Mahnke with the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition for that kind introduction and many thanks to Sheila Crowley and the National Low Income Housing Coalition for this award.I don't have to tell you that we have an affordable housing crisis in this country that has only gotten worse each and every year that President Bush has been in office.In the richest country on the face of the earth it is simply unacceptable that millions of Americans are paying 50 to 60 percent of their limited incomes on housing. It is even worse that millions of others are sleeping in their cars or out on the street because they cannot afford a roof over their heads.Since President Bush has been in office, an additional 5.4 million Americans have slipped into poverty. Not only does the United States have the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world, we also have the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world.In August and September of 2005, Hurricane Katrina put a national spotlight on poverty in America. Who will ever forget the faces of the grandmothers, fathers, women and children who were trapped outside of the Convention Center and Superdome in New Orleans? None of us should forget. Shortly after Katrina, the President told the nation that we would do "what it takes" to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.Yet, over a year and a half later, there are some 150,000 Americans from the Gulf Coast area who remain displaced today. As we continue to fight for affordable housing, Congress must turn the President's rhetoric into action by doing whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. When I was in the House of Representatives, I was delighted to work with you on legislation that I introduced to create a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Thanks to your efforts that bill garnered the endorsement of over 5,000 organizations from throughout the country. What was so important about this outpouring of support was that it was not just limited to affordable housing advocates, but included business leaders like the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group; religious groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; environmentalists like the Sierra Club's Campaign Against Sprawl; and banks like Bank One. In all my years in Congress and now in the Senate, I have rarely seen such a groundswell of grassroots support for a single piece of legislation, let alone one dealing with the issue of affordable housing.Unfortunately, despite this outstanding support, this bill was opposed by the Republican Leadership in Congress and the White House.Well, I am here to tell you that today is a brand new day for the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Instead of having a Chairman of the House Banking Committee who is opposed to the Trust Fund; we now have a new Chairman of the House Banking Committee, Barney Frank, who not only supports this bill, but will be its champion in the House.In the Senate, I will be actively working with Senator Kerry and others to advance the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund on the other side of the Capitol.While I am optimistic that this bill will pass the House, as I am quickly learning, it takes 60 votes to get just about anything done in the Senate. That means if we are to get the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund signed into law this Congress we will need your advocacy now more than ever.As you all know, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund would provide the resources necessary to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate at least 1.5 million affordable housing rental units over the next decade.Not only would this bill provide real solutions to the affordable housing crisis, it would also lead to the creation of about 1.8 million decent-paying new jobs and nearly $50 billion in new wages. In other words, this bill would not only help those struggling just to stay afloat, it would also put people to work at good paying jobs.Now, here is the biggest issue that we will face: how much will this bill cost? Good question. This bill will cost $5 billion per year or $50 billion over the next decade. Sounds like a lot of money. Well, guess what? The price of Bush's tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent is about $70 billion in 2008 alone. That means that if we rescinded Bush's tax breaks for the top one percent for just one year, we would have enough money to pay for the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the next ten years with $20 billion to spare.In my view it is immoral, it is a national disgrace to provide tax breaks to the people who need it the least, while allowing the affordable housing crisis to get worse and worse.Let me just give you one example of what I am talking about. If the President gets his way, the estate tax - a tax that only applies to the top two-tenths of one percent - would be completely repealed. Who would this benefit the most? The heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. If the estate tax was fully repealed, the Sam Walton family would receive a $32.7 billion tax break.One family in America would receive a $32.7 billion tax break, while millions of families cannot afford a decent place to live. To put this in perspective, $32.7 billion would be enough money to fully pay for the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund for over six years.So if your Member of Congress or your Senator tells you that they really want to support affordable housing, but we don't have enough money to pay for it, don't take no for an answer. Tell them to rescind the tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Tell them that the Sam Walton family, a family that pays its workers poverty level wages, a family worth over $80 billion, does not need another tax break.Tell them that it is more important to help the people who need it most.If, as a nation, we are serious about addressing the long neglected needs of the working people of this country and creating a more egalitarian society, we have got to invest more federal resources in affordable housing and other pressing needs including education, health care, environmental protection and sustainable energy as well as many other areas. Given that reality, Congress must develop the courage to stand up to the big money interests and roll-back the tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent, and demand that the wealthy and powerful rejoin American society. You have the power to give Congress that courage.Thank you very much.