Exclusive: HUD’s Marcia Fudge says she’s ready to tackle homelessness as panel leader
Among the many problems facing the Biden administration is an increase in homelessness. More than 580,000 people in the United States were homeless at the start of last year, before the pandemic. That number is expected to increase this year, especially if a federal moratorium on evictions ends on June 30 as scheduled.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge told NPR in an exclusive interview that the administration is committed to housing as many people as possible and preventing an explosion in homelessness in the months to come. She was chosen Thursday to chair the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the government’s response.
“This is a top priority not only for me, but for the president and the vice president. One of the first things they told me was that we are going to do homelessness and eradicate the disease. homelessness a priority in this area. administration, “says Fudge.” We want everyone, regardless of their position, to find a way out, not just off the streets, but even shelters. “
It’s a tall order with millions of Americans behind on their rent and a severe shortage of affordable housing. But Fudge notes that the administration and Congress have already taken big, initial steps to address the issue.
The recently adopted US bailout includes $ 10 billion to provide more affordable housing and services, as well as 70,000 emergency vouchers for families who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. This assistance is in addition to more than $ 45 billion in emergency rental assistance to help low-income tenants avoid eviction.
Fudge notes that the administration is also asking for billions more in spending and tax incentives in its infrastructure and budget proposals to further increase the supply of affordable housing. Republicans in Congress oppose such a spending increase and the passage is very much on hold.
Still, the HUD secretary insists, “There is now a commitment that has never existed before as far as it is today. And so whatever the cost, we are ready to do it. “
It’s music to the ears of homeless advocates, who have found the Trump administration’s homelessness policies lukewarm and counterproductive.
“We were delighted from day one with this administration asserting that housing is a basic human right,” said Eric Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center. His group was particularly concerned about the growing criminalization of homelessness by communities frustrated by the growing number of people living outside.
This approach was encouraged by President Trump, who in 2019 called California’s homeless settlements “disgusting” and threatened to send the federal government to sweep them up.
He never followed through, but he later fired the longtime director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and replaced him with an advocate to encourage the homeless to seek refuge by returning life to the more uncomfortable exterior.
Housing advocates are also happy with Biden’s re-commitment to a policy called Housing First, which means putting people in stable housing first and then tackling the issues that made them homeless first. location. This approach has been widely adopted by communities across the country over the past decade.
“Everyone should be able to agree that the data shows that if you provide housing for people, it costs two to three times less than cycling through emergency rooms, prisons and wards. ‘audience,’ Tars says.
But not everyone agrees with the Housing First approach. The Trump administration blamed it for causing an increase in the country’s unsheltered population and instead called for making permanent housing conditional on people tackling other issues first, such as substance addiction.
“You know, the real root causes of homelessness aren’t addressed by one home,” says Candace Gregory, President and CEO of Open Door Mission. His group provides shelter and other homeless assistance services in and around Omaha, Nebraska.
Gregory says many of the people they deal with need extra help, like mental health counseling and job training, to avoid the streets.
But funding for these services is not always available, says Gregory, even though the Housing First approach is considering giving people such support.
Fudge says she can’t guarantee communities will get everything they need right away, but calls the money that has been approved so far a ‘down payment’ and says the administration will likely seek it. more in the future.
“I said, and I really meant to say, that no one living in this country should sleep on the street, under a bridge, or by the water. We need people to have shelter, ”says Fudge.
The secretary admits that there are many obstacles to achieving this goal in addition to the lack of affordable housing. One of the main ones is overcoming NIMBYism or the “not in my backyard” attitude of those who don’t want low-cost housing in their neighborhood.
“We don’t want to allow people who we don’t think are people we approve of to live in our neighborhoods,” says Fudge, this is the feeling of many when it comes to building housing. more affordable. “We have the resources to fund it, to launch it, but that only makes people think that as Americans we all need to help each other.”
Fudge says the pandemic has helped by exposing the extent of homelessness in communities across the country. “As a result, we are in a better position to talk about the needs because now everyone can see the problem. It is no longer invisible. It’s not just in a neighborhood we never see, ”she says.
Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services in Phoenix, agrees. She says the recent increase in the number of people in need of help has also led groups like hers to come up with more creative solutions, such as moving homeless elderly people to vacant hotels and providing small amounts. help to prevent people from losing their homes.
“I hope the Biden administration will build on this momentum – and I think it will – to help us not only get more affordable housing, but also create more options for people who become homeless people, ”she says.
Glow hopes that local suppliers will also have more say in how the money is spent and that the federal government “will support us in consolidating local solutions that we have found to be effective during the pandemic.”
Fudge says her agency is already meeting with mayors and other officials to find out how the federal government can best help and that as far as she is concerned, it’s all on the ground.
Copyright NPR 2021.