Policy Perspectives on Infrastructure

The release of Biden’s American Jobs Plan presented an opportunity for faculty from the School of Architecture and Planning to engage with the new administration, and provide expertise and ideas that could help shape infrastructure policy. In spring 2021, MIT’s Washington Office had reached out to the various schools at MIT to encourage faculty to develop policy briefs that provide expert input on infrastructure policy as it relates to the many varied aspects included in the American Jobs Plan. Over the summer, the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism coordinated SA+P Policy Perspectives on Infrastructure, for faculty to respond to the American Jobs Plan. Given the extensive inclusion of issues of transportation, architecture, landscape, and urbanism within the bill, this presented an opportunity to inject the expertise and insight of faculty into policy, to help shape the future of US infrastructure.

The policy responses are included below, and you can watch their policy pitches at the MIT Infrastructure Lighting Talks.

Building America’s Care Infrastructure Through Care-Based Co-Housing
By Marisa Morán Jahn and Rafi Segal

Care-based co-housing (CBCH) is a new model in which older and disabled adults along with caregivers and their families live together in the same building. All residents have independent units clustered around communal spaces in order to share care, meals, activities, and mutual support. CBCH aims to (a) ensure consistent, quality, and proactive care for older adults, enabling them to thrive (b) provide affordable housing, healthy food, and secure jobs for caregivers and share these benefits with their families. These outcomes in turn reduce the cost and strain on our nation’s health and housing infrastructure.


Housing at Cost: Moving Beyond Subsidies and Profit
By Susanne Schindler

U.S. housing policy is caught between two contradictory goals: the goal of building wealth through appreciation and ensuring that housing remains affordable. This has resulted in a “two-tiered” (Radford) system: market-based home ownership for some, income- and price-restricted rental housing for others. I argue that the time is ripe to scale a third form of housing for all Americans, regardless of income: the limited-equity (or nonprofit) cooperative. Cooperatives have certain benefits of homeownership, namely stability and resident control. At the same time, they realize the promise of long-term affordability by precluding the appreciation of real estate. In the film, I explain the social, financial, and architectural benefits of nonprofit cooperatives by drawing on U.S. and international examples; how new federal support of this model would build on the broad enthusiasm for decommodified forms of land stewardship, including community land trusts (CLTs); and how this could build on existing HUD programs (e.g., Section 213: Mortgage Insurance for Cooperative Housing).


Incentives for Communities to Remove Exclusionary Barriers to Housing Production
By Jeffrey Levine

Looking at human infrastructure, the United States is facing a widening housing supply gap. To address this issue, the American Jobs Plan should dedicate $100 million per year to provide incentives for communities to create locally designed approaches to increase housing production. The Plan should also dedicate $1 billion per year to fund additional housing rehabilitation and production through existing federal programs. These funds should be provided to communities interested in revising their local zoning codes to remove outdated requirements, and for federally funded research on best practices that can be applied to these efforts. In addition, as the Biden administration resumes the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirements, the regulations should be updated to make the rules more effective at removing exclusionary housing policies.

Supporting Energy Efficiency and Accelerating Heat Pump Retrofits for American Homes
By Zachary Berzolla, Christoph Reinhart, John Reilly, Henry Jacoby, and Cassia Schuler

Our goal is to retrofit the entire U.S. single family home building stock to be more energy efficient and utilize electrified heating sources by 2050. To do so, we will need to get the national retrofitting rate to 4% by 2031. This will require a deliberate large-scale injection of funding to support wide-scale retrofitting and the creation of a quarter million green tech jobs across the U.S. We therefore advocate for the expansion of tax credits for home energy efficiency retrofits from the current 10% to 40%. This refundable credit would require a projected 45% energy savings at each participating household.  As with the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits, this credit would be refundable -- paid out to all eligible households -- including the 44% that have no tax liability. The proposed tax credit would complement and expand the current weatherization assistance program that supports approximately 20% of U.S. households. In addition, we envision the Department of Energy (DoE) leading the development of comprehensive education and training for the green tech workforce needed to realize the impact of these credits.

Modernizing design and construction culture for the transportation infrastructure of the 21st century
By John Ochsendorf, Caitlin Mueller, Keith Lee, and Alena Titova

The need to repair, replace, and add to our nation’s transportation infrastructure provides an extraordinary opportunity to rethink and modernize the standard approach to design and construction. Built infrastructure embodies substantial carbon emissions through inefficient material use and stagnated construction processes. Our simultaneous need to build more and use less requires designing and constructing for extended lifetimes, ease of maintenance, and the efficient use of materials. We propose a competition-based procurement process with a modernized holistic measure of design excellence to achieve a resilient infrastructure future. By providing a non-prescriptive request for high performing infrastructure, engineers, architects, and contractors can leverage emerging technologies such as embodied carbon quantification, design optimization, and advanced manufacturing to achieve these goals.


Launching a Successful Civilian Climate Corps
By Nicholas de Monchaux, Christopher Zegras, Lisbeth Shepherd, Bahij Chancey, and Winn Costantini
As Congress debates how to address climate change, one proposal should have widespread, bipartisan support – creating a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). Properly organized, a CCC can simultaneously help make our nation’s infrastructure more resilient, provide meaningful job training for young people and help create a more equitable society. And a 21st Century CCC would build on successful existing efforts around the country.
Today, roughly 20,000 Americans participate annually in conservation corps groups, a third of them through the federal AmeriCorps program. Expanding that number to 200,000, and eventually to millions can be accomplished by building on existing corps with their decades of relevant experience in urban and rural settings. Three steps are needed to expand existing programs into a coherent and effective CCC. First, corps member pay should be increased above the level usually provided by AmeriCorps. This is needed to diversify the population of participants and to recruit more members. Second, Congress should ensure that a CCC provides true job training and a viable pathway to a career, not just tasks for the moment. This requires lifting training limits and making sure a CCC aligns skill building with industry needs. Third, the CCC needs to pick its projects well. These should be visible and impactful efforts with measurable outcomes for communities.


[Image credit: Freeway construction by Levkr]

Spring 2021