Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds campaign rally in Montpelier, Vermont, on Saturday, May 25, 2019. Ryan Mercer, Free Press Staff Writer
America needs millions of new affordable housing units, and ought to raise taxes on billionaires to help pay for it, two-time Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders told a Reno audience on Wednesday.
“When I talk about infrastructure, I’ll tell you what else I’m talking about: The need to build millions of new units of affordable housing,” Sanders said in front of a diverse crowd of more than 1,500 supporters gathered for a rally in City Plaza. “All over this country, you have people paying 40, 50, 60 percent of their limited incomes in housing.
“That is absurd. Let’s put people to work, with good wages, to build the affordable housing this country needs.”
Sanders was building on a brief introduction from Brooke Noble, who opened Wednesday’s rally with a plea for help to ease Nevada’s ongoing affordable housing crisis.
Noble made headlines this month after going public with a 45 percent rent hike slapped on her Midtown Reno apartment. Without major government intervention, she fears many more will be priced out of their homes.
“We’re seeing more and more people using housing as an investment tool, at the expense of people in Reno,” Noble said. “It’s nothing personal, they say, it’s just business. But their business means gentrification and displacement.
“At this rate, Nevada won’t have any Nevadans left in it.”
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in City Plaza in downtown Reno on May 29, 2019.
Sanders — who reached out to Noble after she was named in a Reno Gazette Journal investigation on rent spikes and no-cause evictions in the Biggest Little City — didn’t dwell on the details of his proposal to bolster affordable housing construction.
Instead, the 77-year-old self-described Democratic Socialist returned to the policy proposals he’s spent nearly three decades touting as a mayor, congressman and U.S. senator.
Sanders still wants to provide Medicare for all Americans, slash student debt and make college tuition-free. He hasn’t stopped inveighing against a “rigged economy” helmed by the “crooks” on Wall Street and in the pharmaceutical industry; and he remains firmly committed to raising taxes on those executives to help boost pre-kindergarten programs and pay for an ambitious, $1 trillion infrastructure reinvestment plan.
But the longtime Independent senator from Vermont has added a few new tweaks to his by-now familiar policy blueprint, including a recently unveiled effort to ban for-profit charter schools and put a moratorium on federal funding for all other charters.
Such ideas, Sanders said, are often derided as unrealistic — until they aren’t.
He then rattled off a laundry list of policy proposals — from a $15 per hour minimum wage to decriminalizing marijuana — that seemed to gain new footing after he promoted them on the campaign trail.
Some have gone on to become standard policy planks for his Democratic primary opponents, a feat Sanders credited to the people-powered “political revolution” that nearly carried him to a shock upset in 2016’s Democratic presidential primary race against Hillary Clinton.
“Real change in American history never, ever takes place from the top down,” he concluded. “Change always takes place when millions of people stand up and fight back.
“The 1 percent and the large corporations have incredible wealth and power, but at the end of the day, the 1 percent are 1 percent. … 99 percent is a hell of a lot more people than 1 percent.”
That’s not a new message, but it’s one that still resonates for Claudia Roman, a Reno nurse who liked Sanders’ promise to cut prescription drug prices in half. For Heather Renner, a future UNLV law student, his appeal stemmed from a pledge to reduce the national prison population.
Joanne Balella, a nurse and longtime Sanders supporter from Tahoe City, was partial to his plan to build more affordable housing.
She and her husband agreed the real estate market had turned into a game of Monopoly, with very few property owners holding most of the cards.
“I thought it was great,” Balella said of Wednesday’s rally. “There’s so many people who are working two jobs, who are making an income, but who can’t afford housing at all.”
Polls show Sanders is one of the front-runners in a deep field of nearly two dozen 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.
He placed a close second behind former Vice President Joe Biden in a March poll of hopefuls in the Silver State.
Sanders won Washoe County’s 2016 Democratic presidential caucus before dropping the statewide vote to Clinton, who ended up carrying Nevada in the general election.
Sanders has scheduled three stops in Las Vegas before moving on to California this weekend.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.