November 15, 2019

Lawmakers Introduce the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act

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A house under construction being fitted with solar panels

Yesterday, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) announced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. The bill calls for an investment of up to $180 billion over 10 years to sustainably retrofit, rehabilitate and decarbonize public housing.

In a press release issued by his office, Senator Sanders estimates that the proposal would create nearly 250,000 jobs while simultaneously reducing the annual operating costs for the government. According to Sanders, public housing costs would be “reduced by $97 million per year, or 30 percent, and energy costs would be slashed by $613 million, or 70 percent.”  

The legislation would work as a series of federal-state partnerships, creating new grant programs to fund rehabilitation efforts across the many existing federal and state housing programs. These programs target the nation’s public housing stock, tribal housing, and Native Hawaiian housing, upgrading their energy efficiency and community amenities. Grant funds would be awarded for the construction of “community centers and other shared community spaces” and the installation of publicly owned highspeed internet with a stated goal of achieving “universal internet access” for public housing residents.

The bill would also make available funds for climate resiliency and disaster response. Grants would fund the construction of disaster relief centers that would provide safe locations for public housing residents to shelter in the event of an emergency or disaster. Funds are also allocated to create backup energy infrastructure to ensure that properties have energy backups of “not less than 48 hours.” These changes will improve the preparedness of public housing properties, improving safety for residents.  

Enterprise has long been engaged with work promoting energy efficiency and disaster resilience in public housing. Funding up front investments into green energy will reduce long-term costs for operators and residents alike. The Enterprise Green Communities team has worked hard to find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of affordable housing in an economically efficient manner. 

In an interview with Multifamily Housing News, Enterprise Senior Director of Initiatives Krista Egger explained that “we think a development cannot be truly affordable without being green…building a green home increases the cost by around two percent compared to a standard home, with a simple payback from utility bill savings alone in less than 7 years.” Investments into greening public housing energy infrastructure will recover the federal government’s costs over time, and promise positive externalities for residents and neighbors of these developments by reducing the carbon footprint of public housing.
 
Furthermore, ensuring that public housing residents are prepared for climate emergencies and natural disasters is a critical part of equitable resilience. The costs of natural disasters fall disproportionally on the least fortunate among us—those who cannot afford to evacuate and lack the savings on hand to recover quickly. It is a critical principle of climate reliance policy to ensure that adequate resources are available to the low-income communities most vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change.

Enterprise applauds the attention to green energy and climate resiliency from members of Congress and Presidential candidates. For more information on green communities, disaster resilience, and the housing policies of 2020 candidates, sign up for our daily newsletter Today in Housing and our more in-depth biweekly update Capitol Express.
 

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