Open letter from Affordable Housing Online: Considerations for new HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. Photo by

Editor’s Note:

Now that Marcia Fudge has been sworn in as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), she faces several challenges to help low-income renters. 

Even before the pandemic, housing was not affordable for anyone earning minimum wage. And now, millions of more renters are at risk of eviction and homelessness. The Public Housing stock is aging and needs modernization; and fair housing laws need to be strengthened and enforced.

HUD will have a central role in addressing the looming eviction crisis, and will be key to building new affordable housing in the years to come.

The Affordable Housing Online team thought this would be a good time to offer suggestions to Secretary Fudge. We are looking forward to seeing how Secretary Fudge’s leadership will help improve the state of the nation’s affordable housing over the next four years.

You can jump to any topic here:

Pandemic and Disaster Response

Emergency Rental Assistance Distribution

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in millions of low-income renters owing tremendous amounts of back rent. The Treasury Department is overseeing emergency rental assistance authorized in the last two COVID relief bills. Treasury staff consulted with HUD about the program, and many local governments have turned to public housing authorities to help deliver this assistance.

The American Rescue Plan also authorized $5 billion for emergency rental housing vouchers administered by HUD. The emergency rental housing vouchers must be targeted to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. They also serve survivors of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.

We recommend that Secretary Fudge prioritize distribution of emergency rental housing voucher funds to local Public Housing Agencies. The funds should go to the places with the greatest needs among homeless people and renters with extremely low incomes.

Prioritize Disaster Recovery

It is recommended that the Secretary makes sure that Puerto Rico receives all of its disaster recovery funding as soon as possible, going back as far as 2017’s Hurricane Maria. The Trump administration withheld billions of dollars in rebuilding aid, claiming that Puerto Rican authorities did not have the capacity to handle so much money.

HUD’s Inspector General has already cleared the territory’s proposal to account for disaster funds and prevent fraud. Secretary Fudge can speed along these funds to help the island’s long-delayed recovery.

Budget and Legislative Issues

President Biden drafted an affordable housing plan as part of his campaign. Although the White House and Office of Management and Budget draft each year’s budget proposal, the HUD Secretary typically provides input. 

Secretary Fudge will also be called to testify on Capitol Hill in support of HUD’s FY 2022 budget proposal. In addition, she will have to provide Congress with information about how funds get spent and how programs perform. 

These are some of the budget and legislative proposals that we hope the Secretary will champion.

Fully Fund Section 8

The Biden campaign pledged to fully fund the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Millions of low-income renters who are eligible do not receive assistance because Congress has not approved enough money. We recommend that Secretary Fudge push for enough funding to serve everyone who is eligible for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.

Create Renters’ Tax Credit

Both the Biden and Harris campaigns proposed a Renters’ Tax Credit. It would provide a refundable tax credit to cover the difference between a low-income tenant’s rent and the area’s Fair Market Rent. It would help very low-income renters who have not yet received other federal housing assistance. It would also help renters whose income are too high to qualify for Section 8 rental assistance, but face housing cost burden.

Finance Affordable Housing Fund

During the campaign, President Biden proposed a $100 billion Affordable Housing Fund. The fund would support new construction and rehabilitation for aging affordable housing. This proposal would produce and preserve thousands of affordable housing units.

Improve Section 8 Landlord Participation

Getting more landlords to accept Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers has always been a challenge. We recommend the Secretary works with Congress to develop a program for landlords that are new to Section 8. The program could entice landlords by helping to fund repairs needed to meet HUD standards. It could also help retain tenants by requiring landlords to rent to Section 8 tenants for a specific number of years; perhaps based on the cost of the repairs.

Fair Housing Policies

Re-Establish Fair Housing Rules

President Biden has made it a priority to undo Trump administration efforts to gut enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. He has issued an executive order that directs the Secretary of HUD to examine regulatory changes, especially the repeal of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule.

Secretary Fudge should push to reinstate the 2015 AFFH rule. This would mean that states and local governments would be required to do an assessment of historic patterns of discrimination. 

More importantly, local officials under this rule also have to draft a plan to eliminate residential segregation. The plans must have measurable goals. If the goals are not met, then local governments risk losing federal community development funding. This rule gives a big incentive for local officials to end housing discrimination and segregation.

Reverse Transgender Discrimination

We recommend that Secretary Fudge moves quickly to reverse the Trump administration’s regulation allowing shelters to discriminate against transgender homeless people. This regulation hurts some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Homelessness is very prevalent among this group, and transgender people also report high rates of sexual harassment and abuse.

Enforce Fair Housing

We recommend that Secretary Fudge increase fair housing enforcement efforts when affordable housing projects are met with “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) resistance. Local governments should be held accountable when they reject projects that meet all other criteria just because of bias in the community.

Homelessness Strategies

Support Shelter Rehabilitation

The American Rescue Plan provided $5 billion to address homelessness. The legislation made the use of these funds very flexible. Not only can they help existing shelters renovate to meet social distancing requirements, the funds can also be used to purchase motels and hotels for non-congregate shelter. Local sponsors can rehabilitate these properties and use them as affordable housing or permanent shelters. We encourage the Secretary to support these uses in any published program guidance.

Promote Homelessness Decriminalization

We urge Secretary Fudge to support the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that decriminalized homelessness in nine western states. The ruling said that it is unconstitutional for cities to jail or fine people for sleeping in public places when there is nowhere else to go. Secretary Fudge should do what she can to promote this ruling nationwide.

Fully Fund VASH Vouchers

The number of veterans experiencing homelessness has dropped substantially over the last several years. The VASH program has been a big reason for this success, jointly run by HUD and the VA. The VA provides links to services while HUD provides a housing voucher. The Trump administration proposed eliminating this program every year. We hope that Secretary Fudge supports full funding for this program.

Increase Emergency Housing Vouchers

President Biden committed to a “Housing First” strategy to end homelessness during his campaign. This approach makes it a priority to get people experiencing homelessness in stable housing as soon as possible. Once people have a roof over their heads, they can better take advantage of the services they need to keep their housing. This approach was opposed by the Trump administration. We encourage the Secretary to push for more emergency housing vouchers to keep people from falling into homelessness.

Department and Program Administration

Rehabilitate Public Housing

We suggest that Secretary Fudge leads HUD in modernizing Public Housing properties. Much of the Public Housing stock is old and needs important upgrades like new boilers and roofs. Safety needs to be improved, from fire alarms to carbon monoxide detectors. Properties need to be more energy efficient. All properties should be accessible and utilize universal design principles.

Modernize Housing Authorities

There are several housing authorities that should have an increased presence on the internet. Nearly 500 housing authority profiles on Affordable Housing Online have no waiting list information available because of a lack of information online. And there are many other offices that do have a website (or social media page), but there is very little information available online.

Requiring housing authorities to have an online presence makes their services accessible to more low-income families. Providing guidance on hosting program descriptions and waiting list applications online would also help housing authority staffers who are overburdened by renter inquiries.

Most low-income renters have cell phones (including even homeless persons), and many others frequent libraries to use a public computer. Online program information and applications make housing assistance available to more people who need it the most. We encourage Secretary Fudge to take steps that push all housing authorities to go digital.

Require Family-Self Sufficiency Participation

A Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program should be required at every housing authority. This should be backed up by HUD funding, which is very limited right now. The program has a successful track record, with many families using it to build a downpayment to buy a home. It should be made part of every PHA’s Administrative Plan as a requirement, and measured as part of their Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) scores. This would promote President Biden’s campaign proposal to build wealth among low-income households through increased homeownership opportunities.

Address HUD Vacancies

HUD’s staff has shrunk over several administrations. Many appointed positions remained vacant  in the last administration. The agency is understaffed and morale is low. Secretary Fudge has a history of supporting the needs of working people, and we believe she will do a good job addressing staff morale. We also encourage the secretary to try and keep on experienced staff and fill vacant positions as quickly as possible.

Target Underserved Areas

We encourage Secretary Fudge to do what she can to take care of underserved areas, and get money to those places first. Most of the persistent poverty counties in the U.S. are rural, and many urban areas have entrenched pockets of poverty. When these communities lose a public housing authority, there are few other options for miles around.

This publication has been written as a collaboration between the following Affordable Housing Online team members:

Chris Holden — Senior Housing Analyst
Nathan Brunet — Content Director
Robin Lovelace — Housing Policy Specialist
Joshua Cappell — CIO

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