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AOC and Squad’s People’s Housing Platform: Tenant rights, tax credits, and more

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Broad set of seven laws also tackle homelessness, public housing, replacing Opportunity Zones program

A row of mid-height apartment buildings in Brooklyn.
The People’s Housing Platform is designed to tackle different aspects of the nationwide housing affordability crisis.

The members of the progressive Democratic congressional coalition known as “The Squad”—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib—are set to join today in Washington D.C. with other legislators and housing advocates to propose a sweeping series of housing policy bills.

Hinted at by the legislators last fall, the collection of seven different proposals, known as The People’s Housing Platform, is designed to tackle different aspects of the nationwide housing affordability crisis, including tenant rights, homelessness, the deterioration of the nation’s public housing stock, and the role speculation plays in rising housing costs.

The proposals come as housing is becoming an increasingly bigger issue in the 2020 election, with most of the Democratic field releasing detailed housing plans. Dianne Enriquez, co-director of community dignity campaigns for the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups endorsing the People’s Housing Platform, said that its proposals draw on “tenant organizing across the country,” reflecting a goal for grassroots organizers to provide more legal support to renters, as well as invest federal money in expanding housing assistance.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on stage, speaking to constituents in the Bronx at a public meeting.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s A Place to Prosper Act is part of the larger People’s Housing Platform.
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The package has been in the works since last spring, with legislators and advocates from the Center for Popular Democracy and People’s Action, backed by a national coalition of housing activists including the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, collaborating on a comprehensive package of laws that approach the housing issue from multiple angles.

“Housing policy for the most part isn’t discussed in the halls of Congress or among the general public, and what is discussed is pretty incrementalist or reformist in nature and not really systemic,” Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign director for People’s Action, tells Curbed. “We see the first order of business is showing that we can treat housing as a public good, as opposed to a commodity. In order to do that effectively, we in the field, as well as the legislators, felt the need to go deep on a set of distinct priorities, instead of throwing them into one big omnibus bill, where pieces get lost.”

The seven planks of the platform include:

  • New York Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s already-introduced “A Place to Prosper Act,” which would reform existing housing laws and regulations to expand assistance, strengthen tenant rights, invest $10 billion in lead abatement, and tie highway funding to equitable development practices
  • A proposal by Massachusetts Rep. Pressley that would create a massive investment in the public housing stock through the Housing Trust Fund, increase tenant input through strengthened resident councils, and link transit and infrastructure spending to a reform of exclusionary zoning policies (municipalities must get rid of height restrictions, for instance, to qualify for funding)
  • Minneapolis Rep. Ilhan Omar’s previously introduced Homes for All Act, which would allocate new funding for the construction of 10 million new public housing units and create a $200 billion community control and anti-displacement fund to fight gentrification; it has an estimated $1 trillion price tag
  • Michigan Rep. Tlaib’s proposal to replace the Opportunity Zone program with a Community Benefits Fund that would provide grants for community land trusts, land banks, and nonprofits working in underinvested communities, all funded by the repeal of Opportunity Zones (in other words, arguing that the tax revenue that was expected to be lost from that program could be redirected to other spending)
  • Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s proposal to combat homelessness, the Housing is a Human Right Act, by increasing funding for a range of support services including medical and mental health treatment, and aims to ensure homelessness services are available to all who need them
  • Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s proposal to offer a refundable monthly tax credit for renters and tax credits to help potential first-time homebuyers
  • A bill fighting real estate speculation that Illinois Rep. Chuy Garcia is currently finalizing (details will be released later this year)

The collection of bills doesn’t have a total price tag, nor any analysis suggesting how many people it would impact in total. It arguably could rival, or exceed, Bernie Sanders’s $2.5 trillion housing plan in terms of cost.

San Francisco-based housing advocate Randy Shaw says that it’s great to see a broad group of legislators and advocacy groups make this an issue at the federal level, but it’ll also take extensive work on the state and local level to pass significant housing reform.

“The question is whether housing will be a priority,” he says. “Everyone is for housing reform, but they’re also for healthcare and education. These are multi-issue groups and lawmakers. It’s great to have these policies out there, but it’ll take mobilizing constituencies to make it a real priority in 2021. If this is the big priority, let’s see it, we need it.”

According a public poll commissioned commissioned by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) last fall, 85 percent of Americans believe that ensuring everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a “top national priority,” and 8 in 10 people in America believe that Congress should “take major action” to make housing more affordable for low-income people.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the NLIHC, says proposals like the People’s Housing Platform show that “political will is growing” for investing in “proven solutions at the scale necessary.”

“Leaders in Congress—like those introducing today’s bills—recognize the need and are responding by introducing bold, ambitious, and much-needed housing bills, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the NLIHC.

While there’s little chance the package of bills would pass the Senate this term, its proponents believe it’s important to put down markers for where progressive housing policy should go. Raghuveer believes it could take years of collective action and pressuring lawmakers to make this not just Democratic party policy, but something that can be passed into law.

“The reality is, this is also a way for us to demonstrate that there are leaders and champions within Congress ready to take action now, and it’s a call to action now to the rest of our legislators to stand up and be brave and put the needs of their constituents above corporations,” Enriquez tells Curbed. “These are key progressive lawmakers taking a stand. If [these laws] don’t pass soon, that doesn’t mean we won’t be building political power on a state and local level to eventually pass these laws.”