Our Green New Deal for Public Housing is a Win-Win-Win for America

By Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; MSNBC

This legislation addresses four crises facing the country.

It’s no secret that we as a country are facing enormous challenges. We have a national housing crisis. We’re experiencing the existential threat of climate change. Our health care system is broken and dysfunctional. And while the very rich get richer, more than 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

We’re proud to tell you that, as progressive members of Congress, we have introduced legislation in the House and the Senate that, when passed, would be a major step forward in addressing all of these issues. It’s called the Green New Deal for Public Housing.

The U.S. has lost 1 in 4 public housing units to privatization, demolition and underfunding over the last decade.

Let’s start with the climate crisis. The last 10 years have been the 10 hottest on record, 2023 was by far the hottest year in recorded history, and 2024 so far has been even warmer. Global deaths due to extreme heat are expected to increase by 370% in the next decade if no action is taken, according to a study published in the Lancet. The United States Forest Service predicts that sea level rise due to climate change will destroy 70 million homes worldwide over the next 30 years. 


As the world’s largest historical contributor to carbon emissions, the United States must be a leader in tackling climate change. This bill would electrify all public housing in this country — over 900,000 units — and eliminate public housing’s carbon pollution. This investment would slash annual carbon emissions by 5.7 million metric tons — the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road — while developing the skills and technology needed to decarbonize all housing in our country. By retrofitting the energy systems of public housing, we would also deliver energy cost savings of up to 70 percent, cutting residents’ bills by up to $613 million a year.

We are also in the midst of a housing crisis. In America today, more than 650,000 Americans are homeless and there is virtually no county or state where a working-class family can afford a decent, two-bedroom apartment. We have a housing shortage of approximately 7.3 million rental homes for low-income renters. As a result, over 12 million families spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Meanwhile, private investment firms are buying up homes in working-class neighborhoods as they make record-breaking profits.

Further, our public housing stock is badly in need of reinvestment. The U.S. has lost 1 in 4 public housing units to privatization, demolition and underfunding over the last decade. The public housing infrastructure that remains has a maintenance backlog of tens-of-billions of dollars. And to make a bad situation even worse, a little-known provision from the 1990s known as the Faircloth Amendment effectively prevents the construction of any new public housing in the United States.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing addresses the severe shortage of low-income and affordable housing by building and rehabilitating millions of units of public housing. This is housing for low-income and working-class Americans, senior citizens and people with disabilities — some of the most vulnerable people in the nation. We would invest up to $234 billion over a 10-year period to rebuild our public housing stock, creating safe, comfortable homes for 1.7 million Americans and spurring investments in housing across the country.

We do not have to accept the status quo, where millions of families across this country are on the brink of eviction.

Low-income communities also face a variety of health issues because of pollutants in or near their housing. Low-income residents are more likely to live near pollution sources like chemical plants or incinerators and have far higher rates of asthma due to pest infestations, deteriorated asbestos, lead hazards, mold, inadequate ventilation and temperature control, or overcrowded conditions. The Green New Deal for Public Housing repairs public housing to eliminate major pollutants like mold, lead, dust and gas, and it invests in new on-site health clinics and services for public housing residents. In New York City alone, this proposal would cut asthma rates by an estimated 18 to 30 percent.

If these crises weren’t enough, we are also dealing with a failed economic system. Three people own more wealth than the bottom half of our population. Even as per capita productivity has exploded, the average American worker today makes about $50 a week less than he or she did some 50 years ago after adjusting for inflation. Young people in particular struggle to find good-paying jobs. This legislation creates some 280,000 good-paying, union jobs over the next decade, jobs primarily designed to go to the young people and the working people who live in public housing. These workers would receive valuable job training not only to fix up public housing, but to be productive workers all over our economy. The bill would also create union apprenticeship programs for public housing residents, allowing them to gain the skills for high-paying, unionized careers in green energy.

This legislation makes massive investments in cutting carbon emissions, protecting our climate, improving the lives of nearly 2 million people, saving public housing authorities substantial sums of money and creating over a quarter of a million jobs. This is a win-win-win bill. 

We do not have to accept the status quo, where millions of families across this country are on the brink of eviction and affordable social and public housing remains out of reach. We do not have to accept the fact that in the richest nation in the history of the world, more than 650,000 people go to sleep each night without a roof over their heads.

We can imagine a better world, where housing is plentiful, affordable and sustainable — where all Americans have a place to call home, where public housing has community centers for our seniors, playgrounds for our children and energy sources that don’t filling up our lungs with pollution.

This better world is possible. All it requires is the necessary political will.