Fudge, 68, appeared remotely before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs for her confirmation hearing Thursday, from Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland with her family, including her 89-year-old mother, behind her.
During the 75-minute hearing, Republican senators chastised Fudge on what they called her past “intemperate” comments about race and the GOP over policy disagreements, accusing her of dismissing the party’s concern for Black Americans and other communities of color.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) raised the Biden administration’s focus on examining domestic policy through the lens of racial equity, asking Fudge to define the difference between racial equity and racial equality.
“From my own perspective, the difference is one just means you treat everybody the same. Sometimes the same is not equitable,” Fudge said. “Equity means making the playing field level. … The same is not always fair.”
The long history of discriminatory housing policies — such as “redlining,” a policy under which the federal government and banks denied mortgages to people in minority neighborhoods or charged those borrowers more — have directly contributed to the gap between White and Black Americans in wealth, income, homeownership and other economic measures.
The government should directly address the racial wealth gap by offering down payment assistance to residents of previously redlined neighborhoods, given that coming up with cash for down payments is the biggest impediment for Black homeownership, Fudge said. “It’s like us being in a race with people who already have a head start.”
Fudge said she expects to make homeownership — and the wealth creation that comes along with it — a reality for more Americans. Only 46 percent of Black families owned homes compared with 75 percent of White families in 2020. And that homeownership gap has widened since 1976, according to Pew Research Center.
Boosting Black homeownership, she said, “will require us to end discriminatory practices in the housing market, and ensure that our fair housing rules are doing what they are supposed to do: opening the door for families, especially families of color who have been systematically kept out in the cold across generations, to buy homes and punch their ticket to the middle class.”
Fudge, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus who previously served as Warrensville Heights’ first African American and first female mayor, said that in addition to bolstering fair housing protections and expanding access to affordable housing, her most urgent task is providing rental assistance to households at risk of eviction.
“My first priority as secretary would be to alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge,” Fudge told committee members.
Tens of millions of Americans are behind on rent, according to Fudge, and almost 3 million homeowners are in forbearance; another 800,000 borrowers are delinquent. Fudge said the $25 billion that Congress has provided in rental assistance and the government’s extension of the eviction moratorium are not enough. Latinos and Black Americans are more likely than White people to have reported job losses during the recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic, and people struggling to pay rent continue to be served with eviction notices despite moratoriums.
Cecilia Rouse, Biden’s nominee to head the Council of Economic Advisers, appeared jointly with Fudge during Thursday’s confirmation hearing.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), acting committee chairman who presided over the hearing, said he hopes Congress will be able to work with Fudge and Rouse to develop appropriate responses to help those suffering the most from the economic crisis.
“We are in a different place in our economy than we were back in March,” he said, adding that it’s become clear “targeted” groups are being hit much harder by the recession than the “universal catastrophe” in the spring.
Toomey, though, expressed concern about Fudge’s intent to undo HUD regulations put in place by the Trump administration that Republicans said addressed costly and time-consuming Obama-era fair housing requirements and that Toomey said also discouraged the construction of much-needed affordable housing.
Biden, as part of a series of executive orders pertaining to racial equity this week, sought to strengthen these anti-discrimination housing policies that the Trump administration had rolled back.
Fudge, as HUD secretary, is expected to reinstate a 2013 rule aimed at barring the housing industry from enacting policies that, while seemingly race-neutral, have an adverse effect on Black and Latino Americans. The rule had codified a decades-old legal standard known as “disparate impact,” but the Trump administration issued a new rule in September that housing advocates said would make it harder to prove such forms of bias.
Biden is also pushing for the reinstatement of another Obama-era regulation that required communities to identify and address barriers to racial integration and disparities in access to transportation, jobs and good schools — or risk losing federal funds.
Housing advocates say they expect Fudge to do much more than simply reverse the Trump administration’s evisceration of President Barack Obama’s fair housing policies.
Julián Castro, the housing secretary under Obama who recently helped prepare the “New Deal for Housing Justice,” a playbook for federal policy change focused around racial equity, said in an interview that the new administration should invest in re-building the agency’s fair housing staff and funding local housing and civil rights nonprofits so reports of housing discrimination can be investigated and fair housing laws better enforced.
Black homeownership and net wealth were decimated during the Great Recession of 2008, in part due to predatory lending practices, and have yet to recover.
“If we can create greater homeownership for everybody, but particularly for people of color that have lagged behind, then we can close that wealth gap,” Castro said. “I’m confident that it is more realistic today than it was 10 years ago to get big things done on housing, because more people are feeling the pinch right now.”
Other recommendations for the first 200 days of the Biden administration include reinstating protections for transgender homeless people, cementing the right of families of mixed immigration status to access federally subsidized housing, expanding access to housing vouchers, carefully considering the treatment of people with criminal records who seek federal housing assistance, creating a refundable renter’s tax credit, and establishing a presidential commission on reparations to Black Americans for the legacy of discriminatory federal housing policy.