What Biden’s Housing Pick Says About How He’ll Approach the Crisis
By nominating Rep. Marcia Fudge, Biden is indicating he’ll treat HUD as an afterthought. That’s the opposite of what we need right now.
The United States was already facing a housing crisis before the pandemic, and now it’s only getting worse. Experts predict that 40 million tenants could be evicted come January, at the same time America is seeing a rise in foreclosures and an unprecedented spike in homelessness. This stands to exacerbate the ongoing health crisis, as recent research finds that evictions have caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19 and 10,700 additional deaths between March and September. Even the most astute and competent government officials would face challenges responding to these urgent issues.
Unfortunately, the Biden-Harris administration will have to clean up the aftermath of four years with a Ben Carson — a conservative neurosurgeon representing an antagonistic administration — in charge of the nation’s housing agency. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is in dire need of rebuilding. And on Wednesday, it was reported that the Biden transition team is selecting Rep. Marcia Fudge (D‑Ohio), who had previously been considered for Agriculture Secretary, to be the next head of HUD.
No one knows what kind of HUD Secretary Fudge will be. She’s shown herself as a dedicated public servant, and on the more progressive side of the spectrum with her past support of policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. In an interview following her nomination, Fudge said she wants to use housing to help eradicate poverty, yet she does not bring a hefty policy record to the position. One of the early policy questions she’ll face from grassroots groups and frontline communities is whether she supports the decades-old ineffective approaches of HUD’s past, or if she instead supports moving the agency toward a progressive vision in line with some of her other positions: a Homes Guarantee, which would reinvest in public housing, protect renters, end speculation and build 12 million new social housing units. At the same time, she’ll need to move quickly to both mitigate the housing crisis while rebuilding areas of HUD that were systematically destroyed under the Trump administration, including reinstating the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. We hope that she is up to the challenge and hires a good team to help accomplish these goals.
Rep. Fudge aside, the circumstances around her appointment are troubling. According to media accounts, Fudge was initially not interested in a position at HUD at all. In fact, she was recently quoted lamenting how Black leaders are always given positions at HUD or the Labor Department and never considered for other prominent role. To this end, she made an open play to become Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture, a job for which she does have direct expertise as the chair of the Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations in the House, and one of the leading policy thinkers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Bumped out of that position by Biden ally Tom Vilsack, a recycled Obama era appointee, Fudge was apparently given the role at HUD as a consolation prize.
There are two major problems with this approach to cabinet appointments by the Biden administration. First, HUD should not ever be an afterthought or consolation prize, but especially not at the front end of the largest housing crisis in the history of the country. HUD needs a housing expert who can quickly respond to the myriad coming crisis points with sound policy that will keep people in their homes. Perhaps the Biden administration does not see the importance of housing in this moment — especially for Black communities. For those of us who have shuddered at a right-wing medical doctor making housing policy decisions, it’s frustrating to see the agency once again be thrown to any eligible receiver instead of handed to someone with deep expertise in housing policy.
Second, we believe the way Rep. Fudge was moved from one agency to the next like a chess piece that could be slotted anywhere stems from an antiquated notion of what racial justice is. There are many racial justice issues to address in American housing — a system built on racial injustice. Simply sticking a Black person in HUD is not achieving the racial justice we seek. As writer Vanessa A. Bee recently put it, “Biden’s transition team is limiting itself to a closed pool of party loyalists with the right faces.” We can’t achieve racial justice just by the number of Black people who are put into Biden’s cabinet. We applaud people of color, especially Black women, for gaining access to positions of power — but not as an optics play by political strategists. We believe that this nomination is not only an insult to Rep. Fudge’s demonstrated talent and thoughtfulness, but it also does a disservice to HUD, which needs a fundamental overhaul. There’s a deep bench of qualified and capable Black people available. The days of vying simply for a seat at the table are over — we need to set and lead on policy.
Hopefully, in four years we can look back on Marcia Fudge’s tenure as HUD Secretary and see a public servant who rose to the occasion and, alongside her colleagues, got us through a housing crisis and rebuilt this critical agency. All of the deputy and assistant secretary positions are now of critical importance and must be filled by issue experts with years of experience, such as Anne Price, Cashauna Hill and Jerry Maldonado. We welcome any and all opportunities to work alongside Fudge to achieve a progressive vision of housing.
But even if that occurs, we still have to deal with the question of what racial justice means in American politics, and the limitations of representation. As it stands, the agency tasked with addressing housing issues in America will likely skip a beat at a time when we can least afford to. And that’s on Joe Biden. If we want to “build back better,” his team needs to do better.
Maurice BP-Weeks is the Co-Executive Director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE). Jeremie Greer is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director at Liberation in a Generation. Tara Raghuveer is the director of KC Tenants.