‘Bite the Bullet’ on Housing Money, Agency Head Tells Congress
- Pandemic highlighted housing insecurity, HUD secretary says
- Administration proposing 15% budget increase for housing
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The nation’s top housing official made an impassioned push to increase housing spending, despite some Republicans’ qualms over more funds.
“We have clearly not made it comfortable for people to live and work in this country, and that is what this budget does,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge told the House Budget Committee Wednesday.
Fudge said the pandemic revealed a need to address housing insecurity and make up for years of insufficient investment. Her testimony comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighs whether to extend a pandemic-era moratorium on evictions that expires next week. The policy helped keep in their homes thousands of renters facing economic uncertainty.
Ranking Member Jason Smith (R-Mo.) said the budget request—a 15% increase from fiscal 2021—includes superfluous expenditures on projects such as solar panels and “falls short for the American people.”
HUD provides rental assistance for low-income households, supervises fair housing policies, allocates community grants for housing revitalization, and regulates the mortgage industry.
The Biden administration requested $68.7 billion for HUD to expand housing voucher programs for low-income families; boost energy efficiency by retrofitting housing units; and hire more staff, among other priorities.
“At some point, we do have to bite the bullet,” Fudge said about the higher spending on longer-term priorities.
Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) applauded Fudge and the Biden agenda for reflecting an urgency to address the housing crisis.
“There’s a tendency to kick the can down the road and not deal with things when they can be dealt with,” Yarmuth said. He added that the 15% increase wouldn’t have been necessary if Congress had made more funds available in the past.
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The administration requested $30.4 billion for the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, which would expand low-income housing vouchers to 200,000 households — the largest one-year increase in the program’s history.
Smith and Reps. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) expressed concern the vouchers could go to migrants who cross the border illegally because HUD doesn’t require applicants to provide Social Security numbers.
“With thousands of homeless veterans struggling for help in our country, it’s unacceptable to think that this administration would put illegal immigrants over the men and women who served our country,” Smith said.
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Fudge said the agency first provides housing vouchers to people in need, and later confirms they have eligible Social Security numbers.
“We are not, have not, and will not prioritize illegal aliens of any kind over American citizens,” Fudge said. “They are not eligible.”
She said there are already 22,000 unused veterans’ vouchers so the budget doesn’t request increased funding for that program.
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