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HUD Secretary Fudge addresses homelessness and affordable housing


Earlier this week, volunteers and officials fanned out across the Washington, D.C., metro region to conduct something called a point-in-time count. That's an effort to figure out exactly how many people are living on the street or in shelters on a given day. It's just one way governments are trying to get a handle on how many people are dealing with homelessness. And that's a problem that's become increasingly visible across the country, where tent encampments are emerging and growing in places that have not seen them before. Last month, the new mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, called it a state of emergency in her city.

That's just one reason we thought this would be a good time to check in with someone trying to address homelessness and other housing issues, and not just in Los Angeles, but across the country. So we've called Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge. Madam Secretary, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

MARCIA FUDGE: Always a pleasure to speak with you.

MARTIN: So you're familiar with this, the so-called point-in-time count.


MARTIN: It's used to capture, you know, a snapshot of people living outside and in shelters on any given day. The Department of Housing uses a survey to help determine just how much funding jurisdictions should get. And everybody recognizes that this is not a perfect tool, but it's, you know, it's one tool. According to the 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment report. It found that nearly 600,000 people were homeless on a single night in January last year. Now, this has been, you know, a focus of your administration. The administration says that it wants to reverse this trend and bring it down substantially by 2025. So I just wanted to first just get your take on, you know, why are we seeing what so many people are seeing? As we said, you know, your former colleague Karen Bass said it's like a state of emergency in her city. What do you think are the contributing factors here?

FUDGE: What we are seeing - because, primarily, of the pandemic, we saw the numbers go up for 2022. A large portion of that, probably almost a third of those or fourth - let's just use a fourth - are veterans. So we've got VA that is working diligently to make sure that we get people housed. We have people like Karen Bass, who have already started to take thousands of people off the street. The governor of Oregon has also deemed it a crisis. And so everybody now is focusing their attention and their resources on making sure that we can get at least those who are unsheltered off the streets as quickly as possible.

But we are also looking at the fact that we are working with cities. You know, we have about 100 cities and communities that have agreed to work with us and give us a definitive number of people they plan to get off the streets. We've already hit our goal for last year, which was to create 100,000 new housing units and getting people off the streets. So those numbers are going to come out in the next week. So I think you're going to start to see the numbers go down.

MARTIN: I do want to point out, you were a member of Congress before taking this position. You were also a mayor before you took this position. So you're not unfamiliar with some of these issues. Is that - is this primarily an affordability problem, or is there something else here that we need to talk about?

FUDGE: About 40% of all homeless people in this country live either in California or in New York. And so pricing has put them out. The economy has created an environment in which people just cannot afford to live. And so, yes, that is a problem. But we always had a problem. We've had a problem over the last 10 years especially. And so the problem just got worse because of the pandemic and the economy. So it is both. But my biggest concern, Michel, to be perfectly honest with you, is people don't even realize who are homeless. We have families with children who are sleeping on the streets, senior citizens, primarily Black women. When you start to talk about our seniors and our children, the urgency becomes greater.

MARTIN: So going back to Los Angeles, you pointed out Los Angeles and New York have the largest number of people who are continuously unhoused. In a report by The LA Times, I mean, three of Los Angeles main housing authorities failed to properly spend $150 million in aid between 2015 and 2020. And when they were asked about this, one of the agencies blamed your department. They said it's your rigid and complex funding system, which makes it really hard to spend funds quickly or reallocate money that can't be used for its original purpose. You know, how do you respond to that?

FUDGE: Well, I respond by saying that absolutely is not true. And I think that it is proven by the fact that we have a brand-new mayor who comes into Los Angeles, and she is changing it overnight. We've not changed any rules. The problem was in Los Angeles. It was in California. And so when you have people who have the will and the ability to make change, they do it. It has never been our restrictions. You know, we don't hear that from other states. They all work under the same rules. You just have to want to do it. And Mayor Bass wants to do it, and it is happening.

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's move to another topic in the time that we have left, which is housing discrimination. I mean, this is something that - the Fair Housing Act has been the law since 1968. What is it that isn't working?

FUDGE: We still redline properties. We still live in segregated communities. I mean, we are looking at communities all over this country who are still living like they did in '68 when this law was passed. We are still looking at a racial wealth gap that is bigger today than it was in 1968. And so we know that we have to address discrimination, and the Fair Housing Act requires us to do it. We are saying to cities, you are required by law to try to make it better. And so we are putting out this rule that basically says, we want you to submit to us a plan to tell us how you are going to address discrimination in your community. And HUD is going to be - have oversight over that plan and make sure that you're doing what the law requires. It's just really that simple.

MARTIN: I'm just curious, how - what's the enforcement mechanism here?

FUDGE: If we find that cities or communities are not in compliance, we have a number of things we can do, up to and including not funding them. And we intend to do just that. We're saying to them now, you must go to your community. You must talk to them about what these plans do. You must ask them for their input. And once that plan is approved by HUD, we're going to enforce it by not only requiring a reporting schedule, but putting that schedule publicly on our website so that people can see the progress or lack thereof.

MARTIN: You're doing this in a particularly sort of at an interesting time sort of politically, now that Republicans have taken over the House. The Republicans have made it clear that they expect to do what they consider aggressive oversight of the administration. One can imagine that they will be very interested in this rule. And...

FUDGE: I'm sure.

MARTIN: How do you plan to respond to that?

FUDGE: If they want to fight about it, I mean, there's nothing I can do except for the fact that I am determined to address the continuing discrimination and segregation in this country as long as I am here. And so we'll just - we'll have our differences, But this rule is going forward.

FUDGE: Marcia Fudge leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Madam Secretary, thanks so much for talking with us today, and I do hope we'll talk again.

MARTIN: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.