BA: Senator, for many Americans, large public housing projects are sort of the emblem of the failure of government to provide services. People think of them as terrible places.The editorial board has written on the derelict state of many public housing projects, especially in New York; a federal monitor has reported widespread problems in city projects including rats, cockroaches and lead paint. The board has also criticized the Trump administration’s vague plans on tackling the housing crisis. You’ve suggested that new public housing construction would be part of your approach to increasing affordable housing.
BA: Why would it work better this time around?
Well, we’re not going to build these huge units that we’ve seen in Chicago where you’re segregating poor people by income and race. That public housing has got to be decentralized. But let me just be clear here, one of the issues that I learned — you know, when you run around the country, you actually learn something. And there is a major, major, major housing crisis in this country. That’s the fact.
And it is not just “affordable housing” of which there is a crisis, because 18 million people are paying half of their income for housing. It is not just gentrification, which is driving housing costs up, which we have to deal with. It is the fact that you got a half a million people tonight who are going to be sleeping out on the street or in emergency shelters. You know why? Because we have not built low-income housing. That’s why. That’s the simple truth. So do you want to build segregated housing? No. Do you want to build low-income housing so that every American, regardless of the income of the family has a place to live in safety? You damn well do. I do. Senator Sanders’s Housing for All plan would impose a national cap on annual rent increases, which some argue would reduce incentives for developers to provide new housing.
KK: But the United States has had public housing for decades, most of which has fallen into disrepair. How would your plan be different? How would you ——
Well, among other things, why has it fallen into disrepair? Because nobody was putting in money. Here in your city, I talked to [Mayor Bill] de Blasio, I think, what is it? Some huge amount of money, $15 billion in backlog.
MG: Seventeen billion.
Seventeen? Who’s counting?
MG: I’m counting. [LAUGHTER]
Good, somebody’s counting. All right. Why is that? Because you build a housing and then we do not maintain the housing. Now I introduced, by the way, just a month ago or so, with one of my favorite members of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, legislation just to deal with this. And it’s not just building new affordable and low-income housing, it is to repair that housing, and not only make it livable.
I’ve been around with members of the City Council here to projects where elevators are broken, old people can’t leave their house, rats, vermin are in the house. We’ve got to repair those homes. But when we repair them, we also want to make them energy-efficient. We also want to provide sustainable energy to them. We also want to create a system where the tenants have more impact over the decision-making than they currently have.
So look, we have a major housing crisis. It is a crisis that impacts low-income people severely. Everybody in this room and every American should be humiliated that we have a half a million people sleeping out on the street. That is a failure of public policy. And if somebody doesn’t have any money, I don’t know how you give them housing unless it is heavily subsidized housing. You’ve got a better idea? I’d love to hear it.
But if somebody is living on $10,000 a year, or $15,000 a year, they ain’t going to pay for affordable housing. It has to be built, and I intend to build that housing. We have a housing program which would build 10 million units of housing in this country, which would put a hell of a lot of people to work. When I talk about a crumbling infrastructure, I am talking about the housing crisis in America and the need to rebuild it.
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