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Rep. Ilhan Omar unveiled a massive legislative plan to invest $1 trillion in expanding affordable housing just hours after candidates in Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate also addressed the subject.
Omar’s proposal, called the “Homes For All Act,” would authorize spending to create 12 million new homes — primarily in public housing, which has been historically underfunded, since new units haven’t been built in decades — over the next 10 years.
“Housing is a fundamental human right. It’s time we as a nation acted like it and end the housing crisis once and for all,” the Minnesota congresswoman said in a statement.
It’s the second major housing plan to be introduced in recent days by a progressive member of the so-called “squad” of freshman congresswomen of color. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the “Green New Deal for Public Housing” legislation last week, also stipulating major investments in the nation’s existing stock of 1.2 million public housing units.
Similarly, Omar’s plan would also invest in the maintenance and upkeep of existing public housing units by making capital and operating expenses part of the nation’s mandatory spending. That’d be coupled with the assurance of new units, which would help drive down overall housing costs by increasing the supply of places people can live.
More cash would also be directed to the federal Housing Trust Fund in Omar’s plan, which helps build private affordable housing for the poorest Americans through a program created in part by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Sanders also introduced the Green New Deal housing policy with Ocasio-Cortez last week, and as a presidential candidate, he’s called for national rent control.) Both Omar and Ocasio-Cortez’s bills have little chance of surviving in a Republican-controlled Senate, but they effectively help set the progressives’ platform for addressing the issue.
“Housing-for-All” plans are becoming something of a litmus test for the ultra-progressives, and Omar’s plan — which also seeks to address gentrification and lackluster investments in minority communities — is among the most sweeping. Many of the plans introduced by Democratic presidential candidates or legislators mirror some or all of the Homes Guarantee package first laid out by People’s Action, a national group of community organizers. The group expressed its support for Omar’s bill in a statement Thursday.
“The housing and homelessness crises are the direct and predictable result of treating housing as a commodity rather than a human right,” Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign Director for People’s Action, said in a statement. “Representative Omar's groundbreaking new legislation will, for the first time in a century, address the scale of the housing crisis and prioritize people's needs over corporations' profits.”
Right now, there are few places in the country where a minimum-wage worker can make rent on a standard one-bedroom apartment. Nearly 18 million households spend more than half of their income on rent. And stagnant wages coupled with massive student loan debt is shutting millions of people out of home ownership. That’s problematic because housing is one major way families build wealth and earn economic security, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted from the debate stage Wednesday night.
Warren, along with California businessman Tom Steyer and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, all weighed in on the issue, in the first time it's come up in the 2020 Democratic debates.
Cover: Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, flanked by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., left, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., introduces the Zero Waste Act that would create a federal grant program to help local governments invest in waste reduction initiatives, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)