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Decrying Policies That Serve the Powerful, Ocasio-Cortez Demands Housing Be 'Legislated as a Human Right'

The New York congresswoman joined state Democratic lawmakers at a town hall in the Bronx

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), then a congresswoman-elect, spoke at a rally on Oct. 1, 2018 in Boston. (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at a town hall in the Bronx Thursday night, discussed the need "to make sure that housing is being legislated as a human right."

"Our access and our ability and our guarantee to having a home comes before someone else's privilege to earn a profit."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

"What does that mean?" the New York congresswoman continued. "What it means is that our access and our ability and our guarantee to having a home comes before someone else's privilege to earn a profit."

Speaking in one of the New York boroughs she represents, Ocasio-Cortez—who garnered national attention for defeating a 10-term congressman in the 2018 Democratic primary—recognized the need to reform housing policies at all levels of government.

"Housing is one of the most complicated policy issues that we have, period," she said. "Because you have everything from city council, from how things are zoned, to state rent laws, to federal tax breaks, and all of it comes together to make a picture that all too often enriches people who are already powerful and impoverishes people who are already vulnerable, and we cannot allow that to happen anymore."

To address housing issues at the federal level, Ocasio-Cortez plans to re-introduce the Fair Chance at Housing Act and pointed out how housing policies relate to one of her landmark legislative proposals: the Green New Deal she unveiled in February with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a sweeping resolution on the global environment and U.S. economy.

"When we talk about our right to a clean home, when we talk about retrofitting buildings, what we're talking about is cleaning our air and cleaning our water," the congresswoman said Thursday, noting that a significant portion of asthma cases are tied to home environmental issues.

"We have been conditioned [to believe] that basic rights are a luxury and a privilege when they are not."
—Ocasio-Cortez

"Because when we talk about what housing as a right means, it doesn't mean that you have a right to four crumbling walls and dirty floor," she said. "What it means is that we all have a right to dignified housing, good heat, responsible structures, low noise, clean air, and clean water—that's at an affordable price."

Ocasio-Cortez recalled her recent tour of an affordable housing unit in Queens—which the congresswoman said resembled her Washington, D.C. apartment in a "luxury" building with a rooftop garden.

"We do not have to be price gauged to live in a building with cockroaches and dirty air and that endanger our kids with lead in the paint. Another world is possible," she said. "We have been conditioned [to believe] that basic rights are a luxury and a privilege when they are not."

The town hall was hosted by Housing Justice for All, a campaign led by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, a coalition of tenants, homeless people, manufactured housing residents, and advocates in New York. Other participants in the town hall included New York state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Jamaal Bailey and Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, all Democrats.

The event came as part of the alliance's ongoing effort to pressure New York state legislators into passing a package of nine housing bills "that would supercharge rent protections in New York" by making rent control universal statewide, before current laws that affect millions of New York City residents expire on June 15.

Housing Justice for All livestreamed the town hall on Facebook. Watch:

The first paragraph of this post has been updated to clarify Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's statements Thursday.

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