Prepared for the Roosevelt Institute by Bracken Hendricks, Kara Saul Rinaldi, Mark Wolfe, Cassandra Lovejoy, and Wes Gobar
RESTORING AMERICA’S HOUSING STOCK: SOLVING MANY PROBLEMS WITH ONE UNIFYING PROGRAM
The US’s initial failures in responding to the COVID-19 crisis have allowed previously underlying weaknesses in our economy to explode into full view—launching not only a public health emergency but mounting economic insecurity, evictions, utility shutoffs, and long-term dislocation.
As a result, there is now an even greater mandate for the Biden administration and the 117th Congress to deliver on a green recovery package that addresses unemployment, housing affordability, racial justice, public health, and rapid decarbonization. Because fossil fuel combustion in US residential and commercial buildings accounts for nearly 30 percent of all climate pollution (Leung 2018), one of the best ways to begin confronting these challenges is through a commitment to reduce energy usage, and costs, in US homes.
President Joe Biden ran and won on a historic climate plan that recognized the need to reduce energy use and decarbonize the economy, and to that end he committed to retrofit at least 4 million buildings and weatherize at least 2 million residential homes during his first term in office. This goal is well within reach, but the number represents only a down payment on the true potential of mobilizing a national transformation that could ultimately reach most of the 140 million homes across the US within the coming decade. Further, President Biden combined this pledge with a national commitment to reach 100 percent clean and carbon-free electricity by 2035 (Biden and Harris 2020).
A full generational investment in energy efficiency for buildings must be a centerpiece of this larger economic and energy transformation.
This paper offers a concrete plan for federal policy to rebuild housing stock, promote health, lower costs for homeowners, advance toward 100 percent clean and carbon-free energy, and protect the global environment: immediate and unifying action for the new president and Congress. The fruits of this plan would be broadly shared, benefiting red states and blue states, urban and rural communities, and union workers and small businesses; it would also improve housing affordability, enhance family purchasing power, and steward environmental health. The plan would particularly help those hit hardest by the COVID-19 economic downturn.