Ilhan Omar Introduces Bill to Guarantee Housing as a Human Right

On Thursday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) introduced a bill that would get rid of a limit on the construction of public housing and take steps to guarantee affordable housing for all Americans.

The Homes for All Act would authorize the construction of 12 million public housing and affordable housing units, making a $1 trillion investment in construction projects over the next decade. The legislation would also make funding for maintenance and other expenses related to public housing mandatory, in order to ensure that public housing funding isn’t cut in the future.

Omar said that the bill, which is cosponsored by progressive Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), and others, is especially timely as the nation faces an urgent housing crisis.

“Since the eviction moratorium ended, we have seen an uptick in people being kicked out of their homes,” Omar said in a statement. “We need solutions that meet the scale of this crisis. We need Homes for All, my bill to invest in 12 million new housing units – vastly expanding the available affordable housing stock, driving down costs throughout the market and creating a new vision of what public housing looks like in the United States of America.”

The bill takes aim at a particular provision called the Faircloth Amendment, which has prevented the government from constructing mass amounts of new public housing units since 1999. The amendment, supported by Republicans in the ‘90s, specifically bars public housing agencies from using funds to build new housing, and locks in the amount of public housing units to the level they were at in 1999.

Housing advocates have long called for the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment, and several lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have introduced legislation that would get rid of the provision.

Last year, Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation specifically aimed at repealing the limit; she attached it to an early version of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill last year, but affordable housing provisions were ultimately negotiated out, and the social spending provisions were eventually nixed entirely thanks to conservative Democrats.

Omar has introduced the Homes for All Act before, in 2019. But this week’s bill comes as the nation faces a new crisis, fueled by pandemic-related economic instability and real estate firms that are buying up homes in order to turn them into investments in record numbers.

At the end of 2021, institutional and individual investors made up a quarter of home sales. A disproportionate amount of these investments are low- and mid-priced homes, meaning that homebuyers are being out-competed and forced to rent.

Meanwhile, corporate landlords are waging what seems like a coordinated effort to jack up rent prices, exploiting tenants who are already experiencing high inflation rates. According to Redfin, rents have risen by 14 percent on average; in some cities, like Austin, Texas, rents are being hiked up by an average of 40 percent, forcing people to reevaluate their finances or find somewhere else to live.

Housing advocates have praised the bill as timely and urgently needed. It has been endorsed by organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Working Families Party.

“Everyone living in the United States should have safe, accessible, sustainable, and permanently affordable housing: a Homes Guarantee. Right now, our country falls woefully short of delivering on this promise,” said Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign director for People’s Action, which also endorsed the bill. “The housing and homelessness crises are the direct and predictable result of treating housing as a commodity rather than a human right… This will be the new standard by which progressive housing policy is measured.”