Public housing could get a boost of $40 billion in funds from the federal government under President Joe Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan. But a group of Democrats, including freshman Rep. Ritchie Torres, want to see nearly double that—$70 billion—to repair the nation’s public housing stock.
“The number proposed in the American Jobs Plan falls woefully short of the actual need,” Torres told Gothamist in a phone interview on Sunday. “I’m not tinkering at the edges here. My view is, we have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
He hopes congressional Democrats take advantage of a large investment in public housing while Democrats hold the majority of seats in the House and Senate. “If we allow this opportunity to pass us by and lose the majority in a year and a half, then the cycle of disinvestment is going to continue, indefinitely,” Torres said.
Dozens of representatives and nine senators penned a letter on March 30th to President Joe Biden calling for $70 billion in public housing repairs funds in addition to $45 billion for a national housing trust fund every year.
Torres notes that the New York City Housing Authority’s repairs backlog amounts to at least $40 billion alone, the same amount that Biden’s massive American Jobs Plan proposes for the whole nation’s public housing stock. At least 400,000 people live in the city’s public housing complexes, though some estimates put that figure at 600,000. Nearly 1 million households in the U.S. are public housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It isn’t clear how much Biden’s plan would be distributed throughout localities’ public housing authorities. Torres would want to see a formula based on repair needs in order to split the funds.
Torres is “cautiously optimistic” that congressional leaders will back plans to increase public housing funds to the $70 billion request. He said the proposed investment under Biden’s plan for public housing is still a shift in how government spending is handled.
“We have finally broken the grip of austerity politics,” Torres said.
The American Jobs Plan includes a proposed $2 trillion in investments for public transit, highways and bridges, internet access, public schools, and housing. In addition to $40 billion for public housing repairs, Biden’s proposal includes $213 billion for building, preserving, or retrofitting two million homes.