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Housing proposal backed by AOC and the Squad takes aim at affordability crisis

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other representatives hint at forthcoming legislation

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on stage, speaking to constituents in the Bronx at a public meeting.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a public housing town hall at a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residence on August 29, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City. She was part of a group of progressive members of Congress who just backed a new housing proposal.
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“The Squad” is taking on the affordable housing crisis.

Four members of Congress, including three congresswomen from a group of representatives known as “The Squad,” have partnered with the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group, in its campaign to address the affordable housing crisis.

Called “A Home To Thrive,” the campaign is pushing a policy platform designed to protect low-income renters and public housing residents. Introduced during an event today in Washington, D.C. attended by dozens of tenants rights activists, the platform is currently a set of loosely defined goals that have become commonplace among Democratic representatives and candidates. A group of representatives—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Chuy Garcia, and Rashida Tlaib—suggested that a formal legislative proposal is in the works at a launch event earlier today.

“We need a complete overhaul of housing policy,” Ocasio-Cortez said earlier today.” We need to stop commodifying the housing market because it’s not a speculative good; it’s a human right. Everyone needs a home to thrive.”

During the actions organized earlier today to raise awareness of the “A Home To Thrive” campaign, activists delivered eviction notices to members of Congress such as Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).
Courtesy Center for Popular Democracy

The platform builds on a number of legislative proposals from Democratic candidates for president, most notably Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. Among the familiar goals in the platform are providing legal council to tenants facing evictions, “addressing” exclusionary zoning, increased funding for public housing, and prioritizing nonprofits and owner-occupants over business entities in the sale of assets from the Federal Housing Administration.

But a few of the platform’s goals are new. The group wants to “impose disclosure requirements for the nation’s largest national landlords,” no doubt a response to the rise of single-family rental companies like Invitation Homes and American Homes 4 Rent. At a minimum, the group wants these companies to make public lease agreements, eviction rates, median rents, and tenant turnovers (much of this information can be found in the companies’s various financial disclosures).

The group also calls for a national cap on annual rent increases, which echoes legislation recently passed in the state of Oregon that caps annual rent increases at 7 percent. Curbed’s Alissa Walker wrote after the bill passed in March that the new law could be used as a model for the nation. A specific cap is not proposed in this platform, however.

With affordability strained for low- and middle-income families alike, housing issues have become an election topic for the first time in decades. In aggregate, wages have simply not kept pace with the rise in rents, leaving almost half of all renters in America paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

But the affordable housing crisis has many facets. In coastal markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, soaring rents have made it difficult for even those who make a good salary to pay rent. In middle America, a housing shortage has pushed up the cost of homes, locking millions of families out of homeownership. And for those who depend on housing subsidies or live in public housing, the Trump administration has repeatedly proposed dramatic cuts to federal programs that provide housing assistance.

While this proposal from the Center for Popular Democracy isn’t specific enough to determine how much or not it would help to alleviate high housing costs, adding members of The Squad to the campaign will certainly raise the group’s profile and awareness of housing issues.