Building on the momentum of the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment in the House last year, the two legislators seek to increase investment in housing infrastructure.
GND 4 PH would improve living conditions for nearly 2 million – lowering utility costs, reducing environmental hazards like lead and water poisoning.
The bill would also create nearly quarter of a million good-paying, union jobs.
On April 19, 2021, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced the introduction of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act in partnership with public housing residents, affordable housing advocates, and climate change activists. The sweeping legislation aims to strengthen public housing communities, improve living conditions for residents, and create jobs by addressing the housing and climate crises through the retrofitting, rehabilitating, and decarbonizing of the nation’s entire public housing stock.
As the United States faces a deepening climate and housing crisis, public housing is burdened by government neglect, racial injustice, and chronic disrepair, including a $70 billion maintenance backlog. Residents of public housing routinely suffer worse health outcomes due to mold infestations, lead contamination, poor indoor air quality, and unsafe temperatures. Low-income households on average spend 16.3 percent of their total income on energy costs compared to 3.5 percent for other households, often forcing the choice between paying energy bills or other essential expenses like health care, medicine, groceries, and childcare.
Additionally, about 17.6 million American households are severely cost-burdened from paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing; there are currently no states in the country where a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment; and on a single night in December 2020 over 580,000 Americans were homeless.
The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act invests up to $172 billion over ten years in sustainable retrofits, dramatically improving living conditions for nearly 2 million people living in over 950,000 public housing homes. This legislation reduces public housing water bills by up to 30 percent per year, or $97 million, and energy bills by up to 70 percent per year, or $613 million. The bill also creates up to 240,000 good-paying, union jobs per year across the country while reducing annual carbon emissions by roughly 5.6 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking over 1.2 million cars off the road.
“At this time of unprecedented crisis, we must move forward to boldly address the systemic and existential threats facing us today and that includes combating climate change and making sure that every American has a safe and decent place to live,” said Sen. Sanders. “It is unacceptable that over half a million people in America, the richest country on Earth, are homeless. It is unacceptable that for so many working people it is incredibly hard to find affordable housing. It is unacceptable that our nation’s public housing is in a state of chronic disrepair and energy inefficiency after generations of government neglect. This legislation addresses our climate and affordable housing crises together in a way that transforms our energy system, rebuilds public housing, and creates hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs in low-income and working class communities.”
“The Green New Deal for Public Housing would increase affordable housing, reduce the cost of utility bills and eliminate environmental hazards like lead poisoning – all while creating nearly a quarter of a million good paying jobs,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “With America facing an affordable housing crisis and the perils of climate change, we must invest in our housing infrastructure now. We also must be honest about the scale of the problem. Just to address the backlog of critical maintenance repairs in NYCHA and nowhere else – chipping lead paint, broken heating systems, failing gas utilities – would require $40M, what is currently in the American Jobs Plan. This bill would invest up to $172 billion over ten years, improving the lives of nearly 2 million individuals and securing the long term future of the nation’s public housing stock.”
The Green New Deal for Public Housing would transition the entire public housing stock of the United States, as swiftly and seamlessly as possible, into zero-carbon, highly energy-efficient communities that produce on-site renewable energy, while ensuring all public housing is brought up to safe and sanitary conditions, and workforce capacity, family self-sufficiency programs, and community development are expanded.
In 2019, about 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption was attributable to residential and commercial buildings. With its focus on transforming nearly 1 million units of public housing, the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act will spur economies of scale for weatherization, retrofitting, and renewable energy, making them more cost effective and livable throughout the country. The legislation also provides funding to electrify all buildings, add solar panels, and secure renewable energy sources for all public housing energy needs.
The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would expand federal programs to provide residents with meaningful work investing in their communities, facilitate resident-owned and operated businesses, and allow for the participation in the management of public housing. The bill would expand resident councils so that public housing residents have a seat at the table for important decisions regarding their homes. The bill would also repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which limits the construction of new public housing developments, an important step toward providing affordable housing for all.
The bill also helps support families and sustainable communities by building new childcare and senior centers, expanding access to clean transportation, and creating community gardens and other community investments. Under the legislation, public housing will receive deep energy retrofits, community-generated renewable electricity, and upgrades to unsafe and unsanitary infrastructure, including buildings’ water and electrical systems.
The legislation envisions a federal-state partnership, creating new grant programs to swiftly and efficiently transition public housing, tribal housing, and Native Hawaiian housing to zero-carbon, energy efficient housing.
The bill also requires that the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by this investment be high-road, family-sustaining jobs by requiring strong labor standards, prevailing wages, and “Buy America” requirements. Public housing residents will lead the decision-making process for these investments and receive jobs training for the newly created jobs from this legislation.
The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and endorsed by 20 organizations.