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Senators introduce bill to provide $70B in public housing funds

A coalition of Democratic and independent members of the U.S. Senate, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is expected to introduce a new bill on Monday that seeks to immediately renew a push for the funding of public housing to the tune of $70 billion.

“Expanding our supply of quality housing is the only way to dig ourselves out of this housing crisis,” Sen. Warren said in a statement provided exclusively to HousingWire. “I’m pushing for this bold investment in our public housing so that every family has a safe place to live — and to breathe new life into the countless public housing units we’ve lost to decades of neglect and disrepair.”

As chief sponsor, Warren is joined by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Alex Padilla (Calif.) and Tina Smith (Minn.). Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) also joined the Democrats in co-sponsoring the Public Housing Emergency Response Act.

It would “authorize additional monies to the Public Housing Capital Fund of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),” according to the text of the bill proposal reviewed by HousingWire.

“Sen. Warren is renewing the push for funding public housing with the reintroduction of the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, to make vital repairs to 1.2 million units of existing public housing,” according to a spokesperson for the senator.

For low-income Americans, estimates indicate that there are only 37 affordable and available homes for every 100 extremely low-income households, the spokesperson said.

The language of the bill states that housing quality is an important determining factor in public health, which can yield different outcomes on a range of public interest issues —including the spread of disease and the control or exacerbation of chronic health conditions.

Issues plaguing public housing including insect infestations, unreliable heating systems and lead exposure in older buildings, which could create serious challenges for residents already confronted with financial hardships.

“[O]ne leading study found that children living in public housing have higher odds of asthma than children living in all types of private housing, even after adjusting for individual risk factors, including ethnicity and race, living in a low-income household, and living in a low-income community,” the bill reads.

These issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. HUD’s “chronic underfunding” indicates that there is a $70 billion backlog of repairs needed for existing public housing stock, resulting in a loss of an estimated 10,000 units annually and leading “tens of thousands of residents [to] live in unsafe, unhealthy, and undignified conditions,” the spokesperson said.

Sen. Warren’s office also mentioned a list of organizations that support the bill, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIONational Low-Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Law Project.

While the bill could conceivably pass in the Democratically controlled Senate, getting it to the floor of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would be a significant undertaking considering the political realities of an election year and the narrow margins the political parties operate from in that chamber.

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