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To Solve Multiple Crises at Once, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Unveil 'Green New Deal for Public Housing'

"This bill shows that we can address our climate and affordable housing crises by making public housing a model of efficiency, sustainability, and resiliency."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) field questions from audience members at the Climate Crisis Summit at Drake University on November 9, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Framing the climate crisis as both an existential threat and a "tremendous opportunity" to fundamentally transform American society, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday unveiled a Green New Deal for Public Housing that would eliminate carbon emissions from federal housing, invest $180 billion over ten years in retrofitting and repairs, and create nearly 250,000 decent-paying union jobs per year.

"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, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement.

"We can create millions of jobs in this country by actually rising to the challenge of addressing what this crisis is going to represent."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

"The Green New Deal is not just about climate change," the Vermont senator added. "It is an economic plan to create millions of good-paying jobs, strengthen our infrastructure, and invest in our country's frontline and vulnerable communities. This bill shows that we can address our climate and affordable housing crises by making public housing a model of efficiency, sustainability, and resiliency."

The 54-page Green New Deal for Public Housing Act (pdf), which Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will introduce at a press conference Thursday afternoon, was co-sponsored in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and endorsed by more than 50 climate and affordable housing organizations.

Natalie Mebane, associate director of policy at 350 Action, said the sweeping plan is "exactly the kind of legislation we need to combat both the climate crisis and economic injustice."

"Communities living in America's under-resourced public housing deserve to be centered in our just transition to renewable energy," Mebane said. "By investing in energy efficiency upgrades in America's public housing units, we will save energy, reduce carbon pollution, and help to create more sustainable homes."

In an interview with the Washington Post Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez said the bill demonstrates that fighting the climate crisis "is not a jobs versus environment paradigm."

"We need electrical workers. We need construction workers. And it doesn't have to just be fossil fuel pipelines that create these kinds of jobs," said the New York Democrat. "We can create millions of jobs in this country by actually rising to the challenge of addressing what this crisis is going to represent."

According to a summary (pdf) released by Sanders' office, the legislation would:

  • Transition the entire public housing stock of the United States, as swiftly and seamlessly as possible, into zero-carbon, highly energy-efficient developments that produce on-site renewable energy;
  • Address the substantial public housing capital backlog by ensuring all public housing is brought up to safe and sanitary condition;
  • Expand federal programs to provide residents with meaningful work investing in their communities;
  • Expand resident councils so that public housing residents have a seat at the table for important decisions regarding their homes; and
  • Repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which limits the construction of new public housing developments.

HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman called the bill "one of the boldest efforts yet to legislate the Green New Deal movement that, since its debut in mainstream politics with a series of protests a year ago, has reframed the global climate policy debate, providing a popular alternative to the market-friendly dogma that's dominated Western politics for decades."

According to a Data for Progress analysis released Thursday, the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act "would retrofit over 1 million public housing units, vastly improving the living conditions of nearly 2 million residents and creating over 240,000 jobs per year across the United States."

"These green retrofits would cut 5.6 million tons of annual carbon emissions—the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road," Data for Progress found. "Retrofits and jobs would benefit communities on the frontlines of climate change, poverty, and pollution and the country as a whole. Our analysis shows the legislation would create 32,552 jobs per year in New York City alone."

In a statement, Ocasio-Cortez said the legislation would "improve the quality of life" for all public housing residents.
 
"I am proud to begin the hard work of codifying the Green New Deal into law with my friend and colleague, Senator Bernie Sanders," Ocasio-Cortez added.

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