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Sanders, AOC introduce Green New Deal for public housing

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The bill would provide funding for energy retrofits of public housing and workforce development programs for residents

A brown public housing building rises among different residential buildings in New York City. Getty Images

The Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey in February, is a broad, aspirational sustainability framework that would reimagine much of American society—but it didn’t come with specific policy prescriptions.

That changed on Thursday as Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced legislation for a Green New Deal for public housing. The bill would create seven new grant programs directed toward renovating public housing developments into carbon-neutral communities, in addition to giving residents work opportunities in the process of upgrading the units.

The bill, aptly named the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, would also repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which bans any net increase in the number of public housing units funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We must build the political will to combat the affordable housing crisis and climate change, both of which severely harm the lowest-income people, people of color, seniors, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and others,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a statement supporting the bill.

The grants the bill would create target a number of aspects of public housing units. One would give public housing authorities (PHAs) funding for recycling and “zero-waste” programs. Others provide funds for energy retrofits, community energy generation that PHAs could use to build up its own funding, and upgrades to appliances that are compliant with Energy Star standards.

Other grants would provide funding for quality of life improvements and job training so residents could work on construction upgrades themselves. One would provide onsite child care centers, bicycles for every resident in addition to funding for bike lanes, and healthy food options.

Data for Progress, a liberal think tank, estimates that the program would require between $119 and $172 billion in federal investment over 10 years. It would decarbonize more than one million public housing units and create an estimated 240,000 jobs, including as many as 35,000 for public housing residents.

The sponsors of the bill, which also include Sen. Jeff Merkley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, believe it would not only help combat climate change and improve the quality of life for residents, but also help provide a pathway out of public housing altogether through the investments in workforce development.

The bill addresses two issues that have come to be central to Democrats going into the 2020 election—climate change and affordable housing. Candidates for president have released comprehensive plans for both housing and climate change, including Sanders’s $16 trillion plan to combat the climate crisis.

Public housing has been under attack for the duration of Donald Trump’s presidency, as the federal budgets proposed by the administration have defended the Public Housing Capital Fund, which is used to make improvements to public housing buildings. It has also proposed a 38 percent cut to the Public Housing Operating Fund, which is used to fund the day-to-day operations of public housing communities. While the 2020 budget has not been finalized, the administration’s previous attempts to make dramatic cuts to public housing have not passed Congress.