Torres leads 120-plus lawmakers in call to shield billions for public housing

Article originally written by Kevin Frey for NY1

A New York Democrat is leading a push in Congress to demand that tens of billions of dollars for public housing and rental assistance be included in the final version of the president’s domestic spending bill now being negotiated. 

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer obtained by NY1, more than 120 lawmakers warned that as negotiations continue, “any cuts to funding for these priority programs means fewer people safely and affordably housed.” 

Bronx Congressman Ritchie Torres spearheaded the letter, which was also co-signed by 15 Democrats from across New York, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velazquez, Jerry Nadler, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Paul Tonko. 

A preliminary version of the bill backed by a House panel in September included $80 billion to address public housing repairs nationwide. New York City lawmakers say that could be a boon for NYCHA, potentially erasing its $40 billion capital backlog. 

That iteration of the bill also includes tens of billions of dollars for building affordable housing and rental assistance. 

Taken together, the lawmakers say that “these investments could effectively end homelessness in the United States.” 

The letter states that nationwide, there is a shortage of 7 million homes that are “affordable and available to renters with extremely low incomes.” 

Democrats are currently working to pare down the overall social safety net bill. While progressives are pushing for roughly $3.5 trillion in spending, a handful of centrists are pointing toward $1.5 trillion. 

In cutting the bill down, lawmakers will have to make decisions on how to balance funding for climate investments, healthcare, pre-K education, and public housing, among other things. 

In an interview, Torres said he is concerned that as the plan is scaled down, housing could become the “sacrificial lamb.” Torres grew up in a public housing project in New York. 

Why prioritize housing? Torres said, “Housing is foundational to the rest of the social contract that we’re seeking to create … You need a home to access child care. You need home to access paid leave. You need a home to access homecare.” 

Torres has previously threatened to withhold his vote on the social spending plan over housing funding. 

“It cannot be a drop in the bucket,” he said last week. 

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