Secretary Marcia Fudge recently sat down with NewsOne to discuss the new housing agenda, House America, and steps being taken by the Biden administration to support the whole person. In the launch of House America, figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated 580,466 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020. This represents a 2.2 percent increase from 2019.
Coupled with the burdened housing market and limited availability of affordable housing in many markets, the House America initiative builds on the provisions set aside to address homelessness in the American Rescue Plan. This holistic approach to improving lives and outcomes brings together state, local and tribal leaders in an effort to tackle one of the nation’s greatest challenges.
In a memo to members, the National Low Income Housing Coalition described the new initiative as a commitment to affordable housing and permanently reducing homelessness.
“The initiative encourages state, local, and tribal leaders to pledge to reduce homelessness in exchange for federal resources and support to increase the supply of deeply affordable housing and to permanently house people experiencing homelessness,” read the memo.
Fudge says that when coupled with the full promise of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Agenda, this is a chance in a lifetime to fundamentally transition the way individuals and families are housed and supported in communities. Housing affordability also includes homeownership and support for making that pathway more accessible to a broader group of people.
She also shares some of her vision for the future of HUD including pathways to homeownership and expanding educational opportunities for children. Plans such as free community college and addressing student loan debt directly impact people’s abilities to live comfortably within their communities.
Fudge says another important aspect is looking at the way the credit system impacts people’s lives. As she says, “we are looking at how we can assist in making sure the process is fair, that creditworthiness is not determined by the color of your skin or the community of which you choose to live.”
Anoa Changa: Can you tell me about this new program fits into the overall Build Back Better Agenda of the Biden administration?
Secretary Marcia Fudge: House America was launched a week ago. I think that people don’t understand that homelessness is a crisis in this nation. We tend to ignore things that we don’t like to see. And so we ignore poverty and we ignore homelessness. But on any day in America, more than 580,000 people sleep on the streets of this great nation. And so House America is an effort to make sure that we can get people into safe stable housing, and off the streets or out of shelters or from under bridges or on sidewalks.
We are making an effort to help those who are in need of housing and other services. So what we have done is asked our governors, our mayors, our tribal leaders and all elected officials who have the ability to join with us. So they’re going to give us goals that they intend to reach as to how many people they’re going to get off the streets, how many people they’re going to help.
Our overall goal is to make sure that at least 100,000 persons are taken off the streets or out of shelters by December of 2022. As well as to provide the services they need. In addition to which, we are providing the resources to do it.
In the American Rescue Plan, there was a total of $10 billion to deal just with homelessness. Five billion to build and/or retrofit or rehabilitate housing for the homeless, and another $5 billion that comes in the form of vouchers. About 70,000 vouchers to get people off the streets immediately. So we’re asking every single community to do their part, to give us their goals, and to commit to helping us end homelessness in America.
Changa: What has been the response so far from state and local leaders?
Fudge: The response has been outstanding. It’s really been very good. Because we’ve had governors [and] we’ve had mayors agree because I think what people also don’t understand is that 40% of all the people who are homeless in this country are people of color.
And the fastest-growing groups of those people who are on the streets today are families with children and senior citizens. So everyone knows that there is a crisis. And so every day, we’re getting more and more people who are committing to be a part of the process.
Changa: You said about 40% of those who are homeless are people of color. Can you talk to me a little bit more about how this type of program could directly benefit black communities in particular?
Fudge: Between our House America and the president’s Build Back Agenda, we’re looking at how we address the entire person. As it relates to House America, once we get people into stable housing, and that is the first thing that needs to happen, not send them to treatment, not do all of that we call that housing first. Get them in stable housing. We can then provide whether it’s the health care services, access to employment, getting their children in schools, it is going to be a significant uplift for people who at this point are still trying to find their way.
Changa: Can you share a little more of the vision and goals you have for the agency?
Fudge: Well, one of the things we’re talking about with the Build Back Better Agenda is building as many as 2 million new housing units. And retrofitting or rehabilitating about 500,000. We’re also doing things that we believe are going to uplift communities. By starting to have FHA support smaller loans, like loans that are under $100,000. So that we can start to rehabilitate communities that have had abandoned and vacant buildings, neighborhoods that are historically either Black or brown, that have been in my opinion red lined for a very long time. So one of the things that we think is so bold is to say, ‘we don’t only want to just help the person, we want to help the community as well.’
So my vision, and I have so much of my vision that it is going to be a heavy lift. But one of the things we’re doing extremely well is making sure that people have an opportunity to fulfill their American Dream if that is to own their own home. And we’re doing it very systematically and very intentionally. I’m very happy about that.
And the other thing is to make sure that every child gets a fair shot at succeeding in this country. We’re doing that by making sure all of our properties through Build Back Better have high-speed internet or broadband. That our schools and our communities are safer. That our families can work from home, and that we are doing all we can to support upgrading public housing, tenant-based voucher housing. We are doing our part.
Changa: Any final thoughts or anything I didn’t ask you specifically that you think is important to include.
Fudge: I think what is important is for people to understand that this is probably going to be the very best opportunity we have in a long time to address the decay in our neighborhoods, to address our educational system. This is a chance of a lifetime. And these are generational improvements and generational resources. So take advantage of them while we have them.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.