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President Biden has nominated Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She has little experience in housing policy but lots of experience working in a divided Congress, a skill that could prove useful as the nation tackles an affordable housing crisis. Today, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will ask Fudge how she plans to do the job. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Marcia Fudge made no secret that she really wanted to be agriculture secretary. Much of her work in Congress has been promoting food aid for the poor. And besides, HUD is traditionally seen as a second-tier agency where Black and Hispanic Cabinet members often land. Biden acknowledged those reservations when he nominated Fudge.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But I think the job I'm asking you to do, Congresswoman, is critically important to everything that the vice president and I believe is how we're going to build back better.
FESSLER: And, indeed, housing is quickly becoming a top-tier issue. With both the pandemic and its economic fallout, millions of Americans now face eviction. Homelessness is on the rise. Affordable housing is in short supply. Racial inequities are getting wider. Fudge says, if confirmed, her priority is making sure all Americans have a decent place to live.
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MARCIA FUDGE: When I think about the enormity of the task ahead of us, I am reminded of the book of Matthew where it is written, foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.
FESSLER: And as former mayor of a Cleveland suburb, Warrensville Heights, she knows some of the challenges. John Corlett is president of The Center for Community Solutions, a nonpartisan think tank in northeastern Ohio.
JOHN CORLETT: She represents the city of Cleveland that has the highest child poverty rate of any large city in America. Half the renters live in unaffordable housing, half are eligible for food bank assistance. So, you know, she definitely represents her district and her constituents.
FESSLER: But Corlett says what will likely be more helpful in her new job is her ability to work across the aisle, something Fudge displayed recently making sure schoolchildren receive food aid during the pandemic.
CORLETT: She really strives to build those personal relationships so that you can sort of disagree without being disagreeable.
FESSLER: And, indeed, her nomination has won praise from Ohio Republicans - Senator Rob Portman and Congressman Dave Joyce, a rare sign of collegiality. Still, Fudge will likely need a lot more than goodwill. Greg Brown, senior vice president at the National Apartment Association, says there hasn't been a housing crisis this big since the Great Recession.
GREG BROWN: There's $70 billion in unpaid rent just through 2020, and that's growing. You know, we've got owners with a lot of debt outstanding for their properties, housing providers, and we have a lot of renters with a lot of outstanding rental debt themselves.
FESSLER: He says that threatens to push many landlords, especially smaller ones, out of the market, only exacerbating the housing shortage. But getting Congress to fund more rental assistance will be tough. Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition thinks Fudge has one asset that should help. She's known as a fighter.
DIANE YENTEL: One of the things that HUD has lacked over the last four years is somebody at the helm willing to make the case for and fight for really significant funding for its programs. And I do think Marcia Fudge will fight for what HUD needs.
FESSLER: She says that will be a welcome change after the last administration's push to drastically cut government housing aid. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.