AOC, Sanders unveil ‘Green New Deal’ for housing

By: Eugene Daniels; Politico

With homeownership out of reach for many Americans, progressives will make new push to “reimagine and reinvigorate public housing in the United States,” says Ocasio-Cortez.

Progressives on Capitol Hill believe they have the answer to one of the most vexing policy challenges facing America: another “Green New Deal,” this time centering on housing.

Today, a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will gather to relaunch a so-called “Green New Deal for Public Housing.” The goal of the legislation, Ocasio-Cortez told POLITICO in an exclusive interview, is to “reimagine and reinvigorate public housing in the United States,” while addressing “many of the environmental injustices that public housing residents have faced.”

It’s the latest sign that Democrats across the ideological spectrum are zeroing in on housing as an under-addressed issue that could carry a huge upside politically. It comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in which he outlined a plan to lower housing costs that he’s now taking on the road.

But where Biden is addressing housing in general — the goal of homeownership has long been a centerpiece of the American dream, albeit one currently unattainable for many Americans — the progressives are zeroing in on public housing in particular.

Ocasio-Cortez sees this as a moment in which those old ways of thinking are becoming “unsustainable” and out of touch with the realities of modern life.

“For a long time, we could pass a tax incentive here or there and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a great housing policy,’” Ocasio-Cortez told POLITICO. “And everyday people … were supportive because there was still that dream and that idea that ‘I’m going to be buying a home soon … that’s within the horizon for me.’ Right now, we have an entire generation — that is ascending into becoming the most powerful electorate, the largest electorate — for which that is decades away.”

The bill’s single biggest policy change is that it would repeal the Faircloth Amendment, a rule that is little known to the broader public but familiar to policy wonks: Since its enactment in 1999, the amendment has effectively blocked the Department of Housing and Urban Development from funding new public housing.

Beyond that seismic shift, the bill’s latest version being unveiled today has some substantive changes from earlier drafts of the legislation, including directing more money to address the public housing backlog that affects millions of Americans and funding clean-energy improvements to public housing — including language to ensure that any jobs created are unionized.

Those policy aspirations face a firewall in Congress, where neither the House nor the Senate is likely to pass the legislation.

But as with the original Green New Deal, the goal isn’t simply to pass the legislation; it’s to have the fight and pull the Overton window to the left — reshaping the contours of the conversation about housing in America in the process.

“No housing conversation is complete without a conversation around public housing,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We in the United States have lived under the scourge of the Faircloth Amendment for decades, and that has helped precipitate — and contributed to — the housing crisis that we are living in today. A major part of our housing problem is a supply problem.”

Toward that end, dramatically increasing the availability of public housing could ease the overall housing market. And by pumping more resources into revitalizing public housing, the bill’s sponsors hope that the stigma of public housing can be shorn away.

“We have seen our counterparts, everywhere from Vienna to Singapore, engage in truly revolutionary public and social housing policies that have bettered the lives of working-class people,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And the stigma around public housing has prevented everyday Americans from understanding that we can actually really have incredible housing in the United States under a public model.”

Progressive groups on the left are already lining up to press their case on this. Analilia Mejia, co-director of the Center for Popular Democracy, told POLITICO that she hopes Biden will use the “power of the bully pulpit” to bring the issue home for Americans.

“I think he can be a game changer,” said Mejia. “I think it will cut through the noise for some people.”

Asked whether the Biden administration supports the Green New Deal for Public Housing, the White House was decidedly noncommittal.

“As he laid out in his State of the Union address and again this week in Nevada, President Biden is laser focused on lowering housing costs for owners and renters alike,” said White House deputy press secretary Michael Kikukawa. “We welcome ideas from members of Congress to build on our strong agenda.”

Still, Ocasio-Cortez is optimistic about what she’s seen lately from Biden on housing.

“We are starting to see them wade into these waters,” she said. “We saw the president mention housing during his State of the Union. They’re starting to do more events explicitly centered on this issue and [talking] about this issue more. I think that we are going to see the White House do more. And we’re going to have to do more.”