Presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have unveiled a public housing plan that puts meat on the bones of a Green New Deal, the label applied to broad-sweeping decarbonization proposals.
The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would, according to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, rehabilitate and retrofit the nation’s one million public housing units with green technology to eliminate carbon emissions, while creating jobs and improving the quality of life for public housing residents.
“The Green New Deal is not just about climate change,” Sanders said in a statement. “It is an economic plan to create millions of good-paying jobs, strengthen our infrastructure, and invest in our country’s frontline and vulnerable communities.”
“This bill shows that we can address our climate and affordable housing crises by making public housing a model of efficiency, sustainability and resiliency,”
The proposal underlines renewed interest on the left in public housing — whose expansion is highly restricted under federal law — as one way to improve housing affordability. It also shows how progressives hope to use the Green New Deal as a vehicle for promoting their visions of social justice.
The plan would serve as a model for green-ifying the country’s stock of residential and commercial real estate, which account for about 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to one estimate.
It would invest up to $180 billion over 10 years in public housing retrofits that “include all needed repairs, vastly improved health, safety and comfort, and eliminate carbon emissions in our federal public housing,” according to a press release.
It also provides funding “to electrify all buildings, add solar panels, and secure renewable energy sources for all public housing energy needs. The bill is designed to “dramatically improves living conditions for nearly 2 million people living in roughly 1 million public homes.”
The legislation is also expected to create “nearly 250,000 good-paying, union jobs per year,” while reducing public housing costs by 30 percent ($97 million), and energy costs by 70 percent ($613 million).
The bill would be administered through a federal-state partnership. It also calls for building new childcare and senior centers, community gardens and other community amenities.
Calls for tackling the housing affordability crisis are reaching a fever pitch — amplified by the Democratic presidential primary.
Some states, including California, have taken action by passing rent control. Real estate agent and landlord lobbies generally oppose such measures, arguing that rent control backfires by discouraging new housing construction. They generally advocate for deregulation instead, such as loosening restrictive zoning laws.
Some progressives also support easing zoning laws, but sometimes with stipulations designed to protect low-income residents from gentrification. (This sometimes results from luxury housing development in freshly rezoned areas.)
Progressives are also increasingly arguing that another effective way to increase the supply of rentals and for-sale homes is to expand public and “social” housing.
Proponents cite a number of cases widely regarded as success stories. One common example is the wealthy city-state of Singapore — where the Economist reports about 80 percent of residents live in subsidized units built by the government, most as owner-occupiers. Another is Vienna, whose “social housing system is known as an effective and innovative model for providing superior, affordable housing to the city’s residents,” reads a research article on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development‘s website.
In Vienna, one-quarter of the city’s housing stock is owned and managed by the government, while a little under a quarter is owned by “limited-profit private developers” and is developed under a city-regulated process, the HUD article said.
A separate presidential policy proposal that Sanders released in September calls for building two million “mixed-income social housing units” with $400 billion in funding.