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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) questions witnesses during a U.S. House Foreign Affairs' Committee's Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill May 16, 2019. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Omar's $1.2 Trillion 'Homes for All Act' Heralded as Ambitious Addition to Green New Deal Framework

The 10-year plan to build millions of sustainable, affordable housing units is called "a new mile marker in the progressive left's efforts to stake out a national housing agenda."

Jessica Corbett

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Thursday set a new bar for progressive proposals to establish accessible, affordable, safe, and sustainable housing as a human right in the United States with her introduction of the $1.2 trillion Homes for All Act.

"Across the nation, families are struggling with homelessness and housing insecurity. We need to treat the affordable housing shortage like the crisis that it is."
—Rep. Ilhan Omar

"Every American deserves access to a safe and stable place to live, but unfortunately, our current free-market housing system is not meeting the needs of working families," the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement.

Omar explained that "on a single night, over 10,000 people in Minnesota were homeless last year—the highest number ever recorded. 6,000 of them were youth—which means children are showing up at school without a place to go home to. And this does not include the thousands more who are behind on rent, or are looking for a permanent home after an eviction. And that's just Minnesota."

"Across the nation, families are struggling with homelessness and housing insecurity. We need to treat the affordable housing shortage like the crisis that it is," she added. "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."

Omar's Homes for All Act (pdf) features three key investments:

  • $800 billion over 10 years to build 9.5 million new public housing units;
  • $200 billion to the Housing Trust Fund to help communities build 2.5 million private, permanent affordable housing projects for low-income families; and
  • $200 billion to establish a Community Control and Anti-Displacement Fund at the Department of Housing and Urban Development "to protect families from gentrification, prevent displacement, and stabilize neighborhoods."

"Not only does the legislation create 12 million units of affordable housing, it also makes sure that all future funding needs are fully met so that public units do not fall into disrepair," noted Dianne Enriquez, a supporter of the bill and co-director of community dignity campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy. "This provision, plus wrap-around services for people experiencing homelessness, would help to end our housing crisis."

Center for American Progress senior housing policy analyst Michela Zonta praised Omar for putting forward a bill that, if implemented, "will be life-changing for millions of families."

Pointing to the continued failures of existing federal rental assistance programs to meet the needs of Americans, Zonta said that "by proposing a 'just build it' strategy, the Homes for All Act sets a bold marker for what it would take to ensure millions of Americans have a safe, affordable place to call home."

Additionally, as HuffPost reported late Wednesday after obtaining a draft of Omar's bill, the legislation "is arguably the most ambitious Green New Deal policy unveiled since the movement for a sweeping industrial plan to shrink climate-changing emissions and expand protections for the poor went mainstream a year ago."

Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth climate group Sunrise Movement, shared HuffPost's report on Twitter Thursday morning and wrote, "Affordable housing is key to stopping climate change."

According to a fact sheet (pdf) from Omar's office, the legislation "establishes a new vision of how 21st Century public and affordable housing should look and operate" by requiring that all new housing units built with the allocated funds:

  • Remain permanently affordable;
  • Be integrated, to the best possible extent with public transit and vehicle alternatives like walking and biking, while allowing for flexibility to accommodate the needs and resources of rural, metropolitan, and Tribal areas;
  • Be designed, built, and operated to the highest possible environmental standard, with a focus on minimizing energy costs and achieving carbon neutrality;
  • Prohibit any discrimination against residents based on sexual orientation, gender, criminal history, or immigration status;
  • Be located in communities that are in compliance with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule in order to ensure fair and equal access;
  • And provide residents with free, voluntary wrap-around services that help address the needs of those experiencing chronic homelessness or housing instability—like access to healthcare, employment, or education assistance, childcare, financial literacy class, and other community-based support services.

CityLab called Omar's bill "a new mile marker in the progressive left's efforts to stake out a national housing agenda."

Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign director at the national group People's Action, concurred, declaring that "this will be the new standard by which progressive housing policy is measured."

"The housing and homelessness crises are the direct and predictable result of treating housing as a commodity rather than a human right," said Raghuveer. "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."

Welcoming the congresswoman's proposed "systemic intervention" in the crisis, Raghuveer added that "Omar listens to movement demands and follows the leadership of directly impacted people."

Omar's legislative proposal came a week after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-V.t.)—whom Omar and Ocasio-Cortez endorsed for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—unveiled the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act (H.R.5185 and S.2876).

The Senate version of that bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of Sanders' rivals in the presidential primary, as well as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore). The Sanders-AOC proposal to invest in sustainable retrofits for about a million federal public housing units over decade would cost up to $172 billion, create more than 240,000 jobs per year, and improve the lives of nearly two million people, according to the think tank Data for Progress.

There is some overlap among the pair of new progressive housing bills. CityLab noted:

Like the Sanders-AOC bill, Omar's housing push features a critical but easy-to-overlook detail: It repeals the Faircloth Amendment. Back in 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform bill with a GOP rider attached that capped public housing at 1999 levels, making any new construction over this number illegal. Repealing this amendment is technically necessary to build even one more federal public housing unit beyond the limit set 20 years ago. Calls for the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment are evidence that progressives are undeterred by the failures of the past and determined to start a new social project.

However, as HuffPost put it, Omar's bill "goes further" than the proposal introduced last week by her some of her key congressional allies.

"It's the marquee proposal in a wave of anticipated bills from a half dozen House Democrats seeking to make high-quality, affordable housing a central plank of the alternative political vision they hope to pitch ahead of the 2020 election," reported HuffPost. "Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) are expected to introduce more proposals in the months to come."

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