Affordable Housing Shouldn’t Be an Oxymoron

On Wednesday, President Biden announced and outlined the next priority on his legislative agenda: a climate-centered infrastructure bill.

At $2 trillion-plus, the American Jobs Plan is a far-reaching proposal to modernize and transform the built environment and infrastructure of the United States. The scope of it is impressive. The plan would, if passed, provided a total of $115 billion for roads and bridges, $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for passenger and freight rail and $111 billion for water infrastructure including $45 billion for lead abatement, to prevent another Flint, Mich., or Jackson, Miss.

It would also provide $174 billion in electric vehicle incentives, $100 billion in funding for electric grid and clean energy improvements, and more than $300 billion in funds to promote manufacturing in everything from climate technology to vaccines and semiconductors. “It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”

Part of what makes the American Jobs Plan so far-reaching, besides the cost, is its expansive definition of “infrastructure.” In addition to billions for transportation and manufacturing, the bill includes $400 billion for in-home caregiving for older and disabled Americans and better pay and benefits for the caregivers themselves.

I want to focus on one investment in particular. Biden wants $213 billion to “build, preserve and retrofit more than two million homes and commercial buildings,” according to the White House fact sheet on the plan. He would pair this with incentives and regulations to “eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws,” which raise the price of housing through strict limits on the amount of housing that can be built in the first place and the form homes take when they do get built. The plan also includes “project labor agreements with a free and fair choice to join a union and bargain collectively.”

Affordable Housing Shouldn’t Be an Oxymoron, Jamelle Bouie, New York Times, April 2, 2021, available here

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