Bernie Sanders and AOC Release a Green New Plan for Public Housing

Image: Bloomberg News

Yesterday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that they plan to introduce the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, legislation that would give a green overhaul to the entirety of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units. As the Washington Post explained, the $172 billion policy proposal would:

  • Use seven grant programs to upgrade housing units into carbon-neutral communities with organic grocery stores, on-site childcare and community gardens.
  • Give residents of public housing preference in hiring to renovate those units.
  • Establish a grant program to build and expand recycling at public housing and repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which prohibits the expansion of the country’s stock of public housing.

The Plan: Earther summed it up well in saying that,

The Green New Deal for Public Housing focuses on fixing the current public housing that is spread across cities, rural areas, and tribal lands. That requires everything from updating wiring and appliances to plugging ventilation leaks, to installing renewable energy on-site. All that would improve efficiency and help cut down on building carbon pollution, addressing the central tenet of the Green New Deal to get the U.S. zero carbon-free energy by 2030.

The Politics of the Plan: The Housing Act would flesh out the Green New Deal resolution introduced earlier this year by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). Vox noted that by “starting with housing, the legislators appear to be trying to make inroads with a broad political base and avoid some of the more contentious aspects of the Green New Deal, like the transition away from fossil fuels. That issue in particular has divided labor unions because it would lead to the end of mining and drilling jobs.”

  • Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez  stated that “We need electrical workers. We need construction workers. And it doesn’t have to just be fossil fuel pipelines that create these kinds of jobs. … We can create millions of jobs in this country by actually rising to the challenge of addressing what this crisis is going to represent.”
  • Ensuring worker buy-in to this new plan will be key to its success.

Energy Efficiency: Estimates show that over one-third of energy in American residential and commercial buildings is wasted, therefore a mass effort to improve energy efficiency in public housing would not only help lower emissions but save costs for low-income residents. Low-income Americans pay twice as much of their income for energy costs as the median income households–meaning that for many, adequate heating and cooling is out of reach with the current state of public housing and poses a serious risk to human health.

Why This Matters: Housing along with climate change are two issues important for Democratic voters and while this plan stands little chance of becoming law in this administration, it could lay a blueprint for future administrations. Tying climate change to housing and social justice is a novel political play but an important one–not only does public housing currently trap families in poverty but it also can be a detriment to tenant health. Greening all buildings is key to decarbonizing our economy, helping Americans escape poverty while we’re at it seems like an idea worth exploring.

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