“Housing Is At The Intersection of Almost Everything”

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge on what the federal government wants to do to make families lives easier — starting with affordable homes.

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HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge
Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images

President Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union address on the evening of March 1st, 2022, in front of a beleaguered, pandemic-worn nation tonight. The past few years haven’t been easy on parents — from child care problems to the pandemic itself, to school closures, rent cost spikes, and the housing market shooting into the stratosphere, little feels affordable, and very little actually is.

President Biden has plans for these problems, many of which are already articulated, prioritized, and laid out in his Build Back Better Plan, a social infrastructure package that would radically expand the social safety net and change families’ lives. It would give parents access to paid leave, subsidize child care, reinstall the wildly popular child tax credit and face the affordable housing crisis in the country, for starters.

That plan is still stalled in the halls of Congress. But as the nation pushes forward through the struggles parents feel daily, Biden is set to reiterate his priorities for working families and for the world tonight (all while likely addressing other major world crises).

To talk at length about how the lack of affordable housing is at the intersection of all of these crises, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge spoke to Fatherly about Biden’s plans to tackle housing, make homeownership a realistic goal for American families who have been priced out of the housing market, and how the administration plans on making sure that every American has access to safe, decent and affordable housing.

A lot of the parents we write for are being priced out of the housing market at the moment. What can HUD and the President do, and what are you guys doing, to help those parents?

Well, certainly the President is aware of the crisis in housing that we have. The President is going to talk about a lot of things tonight that are going to address how people live every day. Inflation, and how we get costs down. Part of that is housing. Housing is one of the major factors in how people live every day. So, we have about 18 million people in this country today who spend more than 50 percent of their resources on housing. So, they are always going to be in the situation where they are struggling to make ends meet because they’re spending so much just to keep a roof over their heads.

One of the things the President is talking about doing is putting more resources into building low and moderate-income housing. Encouraging more building of housing across the board — but especially affordable housing. And so, in the Build Back Better agenda, there is a request to put resources enough to build more than 1 million homes over the next few years. The President and HUD have already gone back to putting in place resources to give to state housing finance agencies to build another 200,000 houses before the end of 2027.

As well as, of course, we’re looking at homelessness. We know that there is a crisis in this country of homelessness. You have about 580,000 people sleeping on the streets at any point in time in this country. And then you have to figure out why they are on the streets. Some of them are there because they just can’t afford to pay rent. There are places in the country today where the rents are so high that a person making minimum wage or just above cannot afford to live in an apartment.

So, we’re looking at housing in its totality — so everything from addressing the homelessness crisis to looking at low and moderate-income housing to being sure that we can at least upgrade public housing, and look at where our vouchers are going. And lastly, to create an environment in which people who can afford to purchase and who wish to purchase a home can do that.

A few months ago I spoke to Senator Elizabeth Warren. She had mentioned the Faircloth Amendment, where you have to take a unit off the market for every unit the government builds. Is that something that the government is looking into?

Absolutely. We know that we just don’t have enough housing. We just don’t have enough. And yes, there are certainly situations where we are going to have to take some offline because of their condition.

I think people forget that most of the housing in this country today, which houses low-income and moderate-income people, was built more than 50 years ago. And we have not, over the last 50 years, really invested in housing of any kind, on any large scale.

So, yeah, we are looking at it. But right now we are confined by what the law is. But we are certainly trying to find ways to build more houses and not have to take any off the market.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is that the problems that American families face aren’t just any one thing. It’s not just the housing problem or inflation. There’s child care, the lack of paid leave, underemployment, mortgage rates, the end of the child tax credit. These things intersect and create a storm for parents. How does housing — affordable housing — interact with some of these problems in ways that maybe people don’t think about?

Housing is at the intersection of almost everything. In this country, unfortunately, a person’s housing or lack thereof is determinant of where they go in terms of their kid’s schooling, in terms of whether they are food insecure. Whether they get the right medical care. And it’s across the board.

So, the President is going to address how we make the connection between child care and senior care and prescription drugs and housing and climate, and how all of those things intersect. So you will hear something about that. I don’t want to pre-empt the President’s speech but there will be some discussion of that tonight.

You saying that makes me think, even, of how child care deserts exist — just how long a parent might have to drive to even find a decent child care center. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a good deal, especially since the child care system is struggling so much right now.

Oh, it is. I mean, think about it. Child care. Grocery stores. Health centers. When you get into environments where you don’t have proper transportation, certainly, when you don’t have access to decent food, or affordable food, when you don’t have access to health care, all of those things create and set up an environment that is set up for failure.

And we know it, and so we are doing what we can to work together as an administration. So we work with the Department of Transportation. We work with VA. We work with AG and talk about SNAP. We work with Education. So, this is a government that has been put together so that we do not work in silos. We work together to try to look at the totality of what we can do to make people’s lives better.

What do you think working parents should be thinking about, or focused on when it comes to the housing crisis right now?

I think what parents really need to be focused on is the fact that our goal is to make sure that every person in this country has safe, decent, affordable housing. And how we get to that point — we know it’s going to take a while. We’re not even going to try to pretend that this can be done overnight. But the one thing we are going to do is make the effort, to ensure that until we can get people where they need to be, we’re going to deal with things like the cost of child care. We’re going to deal with things like going to college by increasing Pell Grants. We’re going to make sure we build support systems around communities of need. So we won’t solve every problem. But we will make a dent in most of them.

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