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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s latest legislation? Housing justice for all

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AOC’s “A Place to Prosper Act,” part of “A Just Society” proposal, seeks transparency, equity in housing

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stops to speak with reporters outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. 
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just released a multi-part legislative blueprint to build a more equitable and sustainable nation, what’s she’s calling “A Just Society.”
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also has a plan for that—many plans, in fact.

This morning, AOC will release a multi-part legislative blueprint to build a more equitable and sustainable nation, what’s she’s calling “A Just Society.” Comprised of six separate bills, including one focused on housing reform, it places Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive philosophy into sharp relief, offering detailed policy proposals to address the “extreme economic inequality and poverty plaguing our country, while providing a new era of shared prosperity for everyone.” One bill begins in part, by saying “Whereas the United States is, by many accounts, one of the world’s wealthiest countries; Whereas the United States is also a land of stark inequality.”

The suite of new legislation impacts a wide array of government programs with its provisions for updating the federal poverty line, expanding tenants rights, expanding labor rights, and compelling the U.S. to ratify the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, a landmark UN human rights treaty covering, among other topics, working conditions, health, education, social security, and housing.

It’s AOC’s entry in a season of big policy proposals, including detailed housing policy from Democratic presidential candidates, as well as proposals from progressive groups such as the Homes Guarantee platform and the ”A Home to Thrive” Campaign, developed by the Center for Popular Democracy, which collaborated with AOC on her housing bill.

“I am both energized and humbled to introduce legislation today to build upon the most transformative programs of the last century,” said Representative Ocasio-Cortez in a statement. “From the New Deal to the Great Society, we have shown time and again that our nation is capable of implementing big ideas and bold solutions that match the scale of the challenges we face. We must once again recognize the breadth and consequences of poverty in this country and work together to ensure a path forward to economic freedom for everyone.”

Addressing the nation’s housing crisis

Ocasio-Cortez’s housing bill, titled the “A Place to Prosper Act,” would seek to use new regulations, publicizing the performance of large landlords, and targeted investments in tenants’ rights to improve the affordability and accessibility of our housing system, and create a more equitable and stable rental housing market. In contrast to other recent housing proposals and bills, such as Bernie Sanders’s $2.5 trillion plan, the “A Place to Prosper Act” doesn’t focus on extensive capital expenditures or plan to put billions of dollars toward building (and rebuilding) our affordable housing stock.

Instead, as with the rest of the “A Just Society” bills, AOC’s housing proposal is focused on transparency, fairness, and justice. It appears to be about establishing new ground rules and codifying access to housing. Here are the main planks of the plan:

  • Establish national rent control, limiting annual rent increases to 3 percent of the average rent or the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is larger, for landlords with five or more units, and strengthening tenant protections against unjust evictions.
  • Provide money for the HUD Secretary to establish a grant program to fund state and local programs that would offer a right to counsel in tenant eviction proceedings, at a level of $6.5 billion annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2030.
  • Amend the 1968 Fair Housing Act to include a clause about source of income, barring landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on the use of housing vouchers, federal assistance, or any lawful source of income.
  • Appropriate $10 billion annually from 2020 through 2029 for the activities of the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Health Homes of HUD, a quarter of which will go to research, studies, testing, and outreach efforts.
  • Regulate large landlords via disclosure. Every so-called “covered” landlord who owns 100 or more united in a single market would need to disclose to HUD the following information, which would be available online: median rent charged, number and type of code violations, how many tenants have been evicted via court order, identity of the owner and three largest shareholders, total additional fees paid by tenants, and the most recent standard lease agreement.
  • Influence zoning codes by holding back highway funds for areas/jurisdictions not supporting equitable development, and increase them for those supporting equitable growth (defined as meeting affordable housing requirements, streamlining approval processes for affordable developments, and eliminating height restrictions on such developments, among other requirements). Areas that require parking minimums or lot sizes of more than half an acre for residential property, or prohibit multistory residential building, will be deemed not supportive of equitable growth and lose funding.
  • Eliminate restrictions on accessing housing assistance, most importantly those added in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the Clinton-era welfare reform which gave states more power to impose restrictions on public assistance.

Part of a broader focus on equity and justice

While the “A Place to Prosper Act” is the only part of the larger proposal specifically aimed at housing, the suite of bills impact housing and government assistance in complementary ways, making it easier for more Americans to access federal housing assistance.

The Recognizing Poverty Act, by proposing a new official poverty guideline that factors in geographic variation, health insurance, child care, and “new necessities” such as internet access, would change eligibility for different parts of the social safety net. The Mercy in Re-entry Act guarantees that no person is denied a federal benefit based solely on being convicted of a crime. The Embrace Act would ensure nobody is denied benefits solely due to their immigration status. In short, it’s a vision of streamlining existing policy, clarifying and expanding access to assistance, and making transparency a bigger part of our rental housing market.

“There is a housing crisis in this country,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, in a statement. “Too many people are without a home, and too many of us are living every second terrified that we’ll lose the struggle to keep a roof over our head. A just society is built on everyone having a safe, affordable and stable place to call home.”