WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced ambitious new legislation Thursday that would invest up to $180 billion over a decade into retrofitting America’s public housing, including upgrades to structures to withstand intense storms and climate catastrophes.
On the lawn outside the Capitol Thursday afternoon, surrounded by more than 100 people, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez said their bill — the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act — could stimulate the economy while addressing climate change.
The extensive proposal aims to ensure all federal public housing is repaired and brought up to date. It would also make public housing stock energy efficient and energy independent with on-site renewable energy — solar, geothermal and small-scale wind — and battery storage for self-sufficiency during power outages.
“The plant Earth is in severe danger and we are facing a global crisis,” Sanders said. “We must listen in this country and around the world to the scientists, and the Green New Deal that the congresswoman and I are fighting for is the only program out there that does that.”
The bill would set up grants to help pay for home weatherization and the replacement of fossil fuel reliant household appliances, such as gas stoves and hot water heaters, with electric equivalents.
Sanders said the legislation would create 250,000 union jobs for workers who would renovate and revamp the nation’s 1 million public housing units.
“This is how we show that tackling the climate crisis is an opportunity for us to create an economic stimulus, an economic boon not just for Wall Street but for working people,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
The bill sets strict guidelines for who is allowed to work on the projects and what companies the federal government can contract with. Construction firms receiving grant funds can only use materials “substantially manufactured, mined and produced” in the U.S.
The proposal also includes language that would require, to the “greatest extent practicable,” contractors and subcontractors to hire employees who are public housing residents who live no more than 50 miles from the job site.
Sanders says renovating and retrofitting federal housing will reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. on the scale of removing 1.2 million cars from the roads over the next decade. The Vermont senator also says that the cost of public housing would be reduced by $97 million a year, while energy costs would be cut by $613 million annually.
“In other words we are going to save the public housing authority money, and it will pay for itself,” Sanders said.
Sanders went on to say the housing plan is one part of the larger Green New Deal initiative which calls for a total overhaul of the country’s infrastructure and investing in green technologies while creating millions of jobs.
Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Sanders for president in October, weeks after he suffered a heart attack. They also just returned to Washington, D.C., after campaigning together in Iowa where they held a number of climate change town halls.
The congresswoman from Queens also teamed up with Sanders in June for his college debt forgiveness legislation.
While Sanders’ Senate office took the lead on organizing the event, the relationship to his presidential bid were clear. As the lawmakers spoke, Faiz Shakir, the Vermont senator’s campaign manager, was hovering just outside of the scrum of media and the public, keeping an eye on the duo.
Sanders’ close rival in the 2020 Democratic race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is a co-sponsor of the measure, but was not at the event Thursday.
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on politics. And in case you can't get enough of the Statehouse, sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.