'Understaffed and overworked': Fudge calls for $100B boost in HUD funds

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge called on Congress to add up to $100 billion to her agency’s budget and said most of the housing measures that lawmakers have passed to address the pandemic crisis should continue.

“I’d like to see most of [the relief measures] permanent, no question about it,” Fudge, who was sworn in last week, told reporters at a White House briefing on Thursday.

HUD doesn’t have the resources to serve the more than half a million homeless people in the country, repair crumbling public housing buildings and eliminate lead in subsidized homes with its current resources, Fudge said. The agency’s annual budget has hovered around $55 billion in recent years.

“We need at least another $70 to $100 billion to do those things,” she said. “So yes, I’d like to see a stream of resources to do this, not just in this package.” The additional funds would be a one-time infusion of money, not an annual increase, a HUD spokesperson said after the briefing.

Congress last week approved a $1.9 trillion relief package with over $40 billion of housing provisions, including $21.6 billion in aid for renters and nearly $10 billion in assistance for homeowners. The package included $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and another $5 billion for a HUD program to help people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Those resources will allow HUD to “get as many as 130,000 people off the streets” over the next 12 to 18 months, she said.

Earlier in the day, HUD released its annual “point in time” report on homelessness across the country for 2020. The survey found about 580,000 people living in homeless shelters or on the streets in January 2020, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. Yet the survey is taken on a single night in January each year, so it does not reflect any increases from the pandemic, which crippled the economy for much of the year and cost millions of people their jobs.

The agency does not have numbers on homelessness today but “we know that it has increased” as the crisis displaced people over the last year, Fudge said.

She also said the relief package gives HUD a “historic, maybe one-time opportunity” to reverse a decades-long brain drain. HUD today is operating with less than half the staff it had in 1991.

Agency employees are “under-resourced, understaffed and overworked, but we are going to make some major changes and very quickly,” Fudge said.

“The rescue plan is allowing us to do things that we may not have been able to do without it, so I’m especially pleased that the president had the foresight and the vision to give us a historic, maybe one-time opportunity to change what is going on,” she added.

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