After drawing record crowds during a successful Iowa trip earlier this month, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez again have joined together to introduce a new version of Green New Deal legislation, focused on public housing.
The legislators’ climate-focused, early November trip to the state came before Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez on Nov. 14 unveiled a new bill to invest billions of dollars to retrofit federally owned homes. The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act proposes the government commit up to $170 billion over 10 years to improve energy efficiency in over a million units of the nation’s public housing.
“Bernie’s Green New Deal is [a] transformational vision of both what must be done and what should be done. The Green New Deal will create beautiful, livable, and economically just communities,” Sanders’ Senior Policy Advisor Alex Jacquez told Starting Line.
About 40% of U.S. energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. The newly proposed legislation aims to replace lead-leaching pipes and convert oil-burning furnaces and gas-run stoves to renewable, electric alternatives, reducing annual public housing costs by $97 million and cutting energy costs by $613 million.
Another Iowa frontrunner, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“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, of Vermont, said in a statement.
Sanders has set his sights on becoming the “climate candidate” of the 2020 race. The GND for public housing is meant to bring a larger, climate-centered vision to addressing the nation’s dilapidated housing stock and affordable housing needs.
“Climate change factors into literally every single aspect of our policy making, from immigration to housing.” said Billy Gendell, a Bernie Sanders’ deputy policy director. “That’s a directive from him to make sure that climate change is worked into every single proposal that we do.”
On the trail, Sanders will continue to run on his existing housing and climate proposals, according to his campaign.
“This policy is included in what we’ve sketched out in both our housing plans, which has a strong green new deal tie-in, and our green new deal campaign plan, which has a strong housing tie-in,” Gendell said.
Iowa has 4,076 public housing units, according to a report from the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, trailing far behind cities like New York or Chicago. But the state may see the benefits of this bill in other ways, like job creation.
The bill would bring the state an estimated 371,000 on-site construction and maintenance jobs per year.
“In all the polling we’ve done, housing retrofits are the most popular in rural areas [in this bill],” said Daniel Aldana Cohen, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative. Aldana Cohen also authored the report and was consulted on the bill, working with Ocasio-Cortez to calculate the economic impact of the legislation.
“And apprenticeship programs I think are really important,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that’s not going to be such a tough sell in places like Iowa. And overall, by a margin of 20,000, far more jobs are going to be created in red states than blue states. Something like 25-45,000.”
Iowa has seen the market shift to green solutions before.
In the 1990s, when the New York Power Authority aimed to reduce electricity use in refrigerators in New York City Housing Authority units, the utility company spearheaded a competition between the nation’s top appliance makers.
Newton, Iowa-based Maytag was awarded a contract to produce energy-efficient models, which used around half the power of older refrigerators.
Aldana Cohen said the closest practice to the proposed bill was weatherizing homes — a Department of Energy low-income program to improve energy efficiency in homes by reducing heating and cooling costs.
But weatherizing programs often struggle to relay these cost-saving benefits to renters in multi-family units. Weatherizing is dependent on subsidies for the homeowner to make changes so they reap the benefits of lower energy costs. A landlord, however, may see no incentive in the program.
At the latest count, Iowa had 1,200 homes weatherized in 2017, while 128,000 Iowa renters currently pay more than half their income on housing.
“There’s nothing like [the GND for public housing] in terms of an ambitious green retrofit program,” Aldana Cohen said. “So this bill is obviously targeting public housing specifically, for simplicity sake, but there really is, I think, going to develop techniques and skills that will then spill over and make it much easier down the line to enforce and mandate in all multi-family buildings.”
By Isabella Murray