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AOC and Bernie Are Teaming Up on a Green New Deal for Housing. Here's Why It Matters.

The plan marks an attempt to marry environmental legislation with an overhaul of the country’s infrastructure.

by Morgan Baskin
Nov 14 2019, 3:57pm

The Green New Deal finally has some details.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took their first stab at rolling out specifics on their landmark Green New Deal proposal, introducing legislation in both chambers of Congress to rehabilitate public housing communities that have seen years of neglect.

Their effort, dubbed the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, would cost anywhere from $119 billion to $172 billion over the course of a decade, according to an estimate by the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress.

In the process, it would make significant upgrades to the country’s stock of public housing, leveraging seven different grant programs to replace their energy systems and make the country’s public housing carbon-neutral within 10 years.

There are over 1.2 million units of federally-subsidized housing units across the country, and much of it hasn’t been meaningfully repaired or upgraded in decades.

The plan marks the defining effort on the left to marry environmental legislation with an overhaul of the country’s infrastructure.

“I think it’s very exemplary of what we try to do with the Green New Deal, where we have a front-line community that has historically gotten the short end of the stick with environmental justice,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post in an interview.

Here’s what it aims to do.

Rehabilitate communities

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act aims to turn federally-owned public housing properties into more functional communities, by building in healthier grocery stores, community gardens, and child care centers.

It would prioritize hiring residents from those neighborhoods to help revitalize them, an effort that would create over 240,000 new jobs a year, Data for Progress also found.

Fix broken infrastructure

In Ocasio-Cortez’s home state of New York, the New York City Housing Authority — which houses 400,000 people — buildings are so dilapidated that residents routinely go weeks in the winter without heat or running water, among numerous other problems.

AOC’s bill would provide funding for basic capital needs, like appliance and electrification upgrades, all of which would have to comply with energy standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also provide funding to replace the old pipes that leach lead into public housing residents’ drinking water, a problem that disproportionately harms children in low-income communities of color.

Make buildings more climate resilient

When natural disasters strike, it takes years for the government to repair public housing that was damaged. Of the 33 public housing buildings damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, only one rebuild is complete.

One of the grants funded by the bill is earmarked for natural disaster preparedness: everything from retrofitting old buildings to prevent serious damage from storms to emergency disaster response.

Encourage investment in renewable energy

If enacted, the program would distribute money to public housing authorities that want to generate their own renewable energy.

Under the bill, those authorities could keep 90 percent of the profits they make from generating and selling that energy, and it includes a clause that requires the authority to give residents a say in how they use that profit.

The bill also includes a number of protections for workers on these projects, including that employers can’t cut corners by classifying workers as independent contractors.

The bill’s title refers to the environmental and economic plan that Ocasio-Cortez has championed during her time in office: a so-called Green New Deal, which broadly aims to enact policy that would help the U.S. achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

To do that, the framework emphasizes relying on renewable energy, upgrading the country’s power grid, and retrofitting the country’s infrastructure with more climate-friendly technology.

Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution in February that urges the federal government to adopt a Green New Deal, though that plan only contains a brief mention of housing’s role in making the U.S. more environmentally friendly. The bill has 95 Democratic co-sponsors.

The specificity of the plan released on Thursday could also help stave off criticism, even from the left, that Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is too vague for Congress to consider.

“Faced with the global crisis of climate change, the United States must lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy,” Sanders said in a statement. “This bill shows that we can address our climate and affordable housing crises by making public housing a model of efficiency, sustainability and resiliency.”

Ocasio-Cortez announced last month that she is endorsing Sanders’ bid for the presidency, and has worked closely with him in the weeks since.

Last weekend, the two held a series of rallies in Iowa where attendance topped 2,000 people at each stop.

Cover: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is joined on stage by Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the Climate Crisis Summit at Drake University on November 9, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Tagged:
Bernie Sanders
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Green New Deal