© 2021 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge On The Efforts To Avert Pandemic Housing Crisis

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Biden administration is facing multiple crises right now, from the latest COVID surges to the fallout from the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan. But one of these crises literally hits people where they live. Millions of Americans are facing the end of the eviction moratorium and, as well, supplemental federal unemployment benefits, key financial supports put in place to help people get through the pandemic.

We wanted to hear more about how the Biden administration is planning to address what could be a looming financial catastrophe, and we also want to hear more about the administration's long-term plans for addressing housing affordability. For this, we called one of the key people tasked with addressing that, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge.

Madam Secretary, thanks so much for joining us once again.

MARCIA FUDGE: Oh, thank you for having me. It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So first of all, we've just seen both the federal eviction moratorium and enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits expire within days of each other. I mean, states were encouraged to use other funds to keep those going. Few have. And as you know, the pandemic is not over. Do you agree with the language that I'm using here right now, that this is a crisis? How bad do you think it could be?

FUDGE: Well, certainly, I do think it's a crisis. I mean, I think that there are concerns that we all have - certainly disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court. And it has put us in a position where, as you have said, that people are not only losing their unemployment benefits, but many of them, as well, are going to lose their homes or their places, whether it's a rental or home. And so we are concerned, but we're doing an awful lot to make sure that we can abate some of those issues.

We're looking at, right now, still having resources in the field, some $40-plus billion to assist people with their rent. And, Michel, it can even go forward, not just arrears. But we can pay in advance some of these mortgage - some of these payments. And so that is being helpful.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit more about some of the long-term plans. But focusing on housing, again, as you just pointed out, there is money out there. There is substantial rental assistance funds available that's been appropriated for this. But we've been hearing reports - in fact, we have reported jurisdictions where only a fraction of the money allocated is getting to the people who need it. Why is that? And how do you persuade people to push more money into the system when the money is having trouble getting out the door now?

FUDGE: Well, two things that we are doing at HUD that we know are going to make a difference - we are saying to any of our public housing people, any of our landlords, you shall not, you may not evict someone from your property unless you can show us that you have applied for the emergency rental assistance. So we're doing that, both for homeowners and for renters. We have a forbearance for homeowners right now through the end of September. And we are working to do modifications and other things that we think are going to be helpful going forward. So we have a huge number of people who are in a position to get these resources.

And then there are some states that just really didn't want to get the resources out, if you do want to know the truth. They just didn't feel that it was appropriate because we have people that believe, as I'm sure you have heard, the more we do, the less incentive people have to go to work, the less incentive people have to take these low-paying jobs that should not exist. You know, we should be looking at how we improve and raise minimum wage, how we make sure that people can get benefits when they go to work. But there is a philosophy, a narrative by some people that we're doing too much, so we fight that battle as well.

MARTIN: OK. So let's talk about some of the long-term plans. As you know, Democrats in Congress are now focused on trying to pass the president's Build Back Better Plan. And I'm not sure that people know that a part of this plan does address housing affordability...

FUDGE: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: ...With an eye to rehabbing dilapidated housing, investing in more affordable housing going forward. I mean, obviously, this is a big project. But could you just talk a little bit about what this would do?

FUDGE: Well, the first thing it would do is it would increase the supply of low-income and affordable housing, which would then make the prices come down. The biggest problem we have right now, see, is that the supply is so woefully short of the demand. And so people can get the top dollar. What we want to do is immediately start to rehabilitate and build new housing.

So in the Build Back Better Plan, there's about - over $200 billion to do just that. So we're raising the Housing Trust Fund, which is something that is going to reduce the cost of housing. We are increasing the amount of low-income housing tax credits to assist builders, adding a new tax credit to assist people who want to build housing. So what we believe that we can do is close the gap between what it costs to build housing and what a person can pay.

MARTIN: So there's the substance, but then there's the politics. And as a former member of Congress yourself, I'm sure you're watching this closely. It's an open question whether Democratic leaders in Congress can get all of the president's proposed plan through both the House and the Senate. I mean, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, you know, one of the moderates, has already said he doesn't support the whole plan, citing the effect of $3.5 trillion of spending could have on the national debt. What's your pitch to somebody like Senator Manchin, that this bill has to include provisions to make housing more affordable across the country?

FUDGE: Well, I would say to the senator, as I would to anyone else, we have for so long subsidized the wealthy, corporations. It's now time for us to take care of people, everyday people, the people on Main Street. But the other thing I would say to senators is that we can pay for it. You know, they never worried about paying for it before. But we have the resources. We know how it is going to be paid for.

Think about it this way, Michel. It's $3 1/2 trillion over 10 years. So it is less per year than what we are spending on COVID. We can do it. And I think that people like Manchin, ultimately, once they see the pay-fors and see the fact that we have a nation full of people who are struggling with - they are seniors and with our children and with so many things, I think that they will get it. And I think he'll do it.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I just would love to hear more about what you've learned or what you've seen since you've been in this position. I mean, you've been in this position for a couple of months now, kind of gotten your feet under the the desk. By definition, housing has a long tail. I mean, you can't solve...

FUDGE: Yes.

MARTIN: ...A housing crisis overnight. Like, you were a former mayor in addition to being a former...

FUDGE: Mmm hmm.

MARTIN: ...Member of Congress. I hear mayors saying that the problem is outrunning them in, like, hot markets, like Atlanta, D.C., in Oakland, that prices are escalating faster than they can build. In less dense markets, there's no incentive to build. So I was just wondering, can you describe, like, some of the things that you've seen? And is there a way that you would like to help us think about this beyond, say, the current negotiations over a particular bill?

FUDGE: I would say that the mayors are right. Up until this point, it has - it really has been outs - ahead of us so far that it's been hard to catch up. But I think the one thing that makes it different right now, Michel, is that we have the will to do it. And we have the people in place to do it.

We have not invested in moderate or low-income housing in decades. We have not taken the time or the resources to make public housing decent and safe and stable. Right now, the president is on board, HUD is on board. We know what we can do. It - I'm not saying it's going to happen overnight. But it is going to happen.

MARTIN: That was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge. Madam Secretary, thank you so much for talking with us once again. I do hope we'll talk again.

FUDGE: Thank you. And any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.