“I think it’s very exemplary of what we try to do with the Green New Deal, where we have a front-line community that has historically gotten the short end of the stick with environmental justice,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in an interview.
The bill would cost between $119 billion and $172 billion over the next decade, according to estimates developed by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank. It would create up to 240,723 jobs a year, the group estimated.
That would provide a boost to the economy “showing how the climate crisis is not a jobs versus environment paradigm,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “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. ... We can create millions of jobs in this country by actually rising to the challenge of addressing what this crisis is going to represent."
The original Green New Deal framework, which covered multiple topics including the country’s energy grid and its food system, contained just a few lines about housing. Overhauling the economy, according to that resolution, meant “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.”
Republicans attacked that as unworkably expensive. House Republicans, citing conservative think tanks, pegged the cost at $1.6 trillion or more, and the president suggested that new regulations would hurt homeowners.
“They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home and put millions of Americans out of work,” Trump told supporters at a rally shortly after the resolution was released.
Some Democrats joined in the criticism. Rep. Max Rose (N.Y.) said that combating climate change did not require a “massive socialist economic policy platform.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) told climate activists who had gathered in her office that there was “no way to pay” for the Green New Deal.
Some labor unions also balked at a climate plan that would move the country away from fossil fuels, warning that it would disrupt the economy and cost construction jobs.
“It is difficult to take this unrealistic manifesto seriously, but the economic and social devastation it would cause if it moves forward is serious and real,” Terry O’Sullivan, the president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said after the text was released.
Ocasio-Cortez’s new legislation is far less expensive than an upgrade of all housing, or the other aspects of the Green New Deal that spooked Democrats. But it could meet resistance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has signaled she will adopt “pay-as-you-go” rules requiring that any new spending be paid for or offset. Progressive Democrats have objected to that requirement and said deficit spending is sometimes necessary.
“PAYGO is not an economically sound policy. I think it’s a political point and it’s a political point that doesn’t even decide elections,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Repealing the Republican 2017 tax cut would pay for this legislation and other progressive priorities, she said, adding that Democrats did themselves no favors by proposing small, deficit-neutral plans. “I refuse to allow Republicans to set a progressive policy to fail because they decided to run up a credit card to tax to give freebies to their friends,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
The bill comes nine months after Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) outlined the Green New Deal as a progressive proposal to dramatically tackle climate change over the next decade. The bill would establish a grant program to build and expand recycling at public housing and repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which prohibits the expansion of the country’s stock of public housing.
The country has about 1 million public housing units, many of which are deteriorating and in need repairs totaling billions of dollars, according to housing experts. “Congress has not allocated enough money to maintain them for a very long time, and the needs have been increasing over time as the buildings get older,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow and housing expert at the Urban Institute.
“They are complicated to fix; they are elevator buildings, they have boilers,” Popkin said of the older, larger buildings in some large cities.
The country hasn’t added new public housing in decades, and 42 percent of the current stock hasn’t been updated since 1975, according to the Urban Institute. About 15 percent of the stock is in 100- or 500-year floodplains, making it vulnerable to severe weather events, according to the D.C.-based think tank.
“Public housing is one area of our infrastructure that’s in immediate crisis that is actually threatening people’s lives,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s a perfect place for us to reimagine what a progressive economic agenda can do, particularly with a Green New Deal context.”