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Optimism in Cleveland As Rep. Marcia Fudge Is Nominated to Lead HUD

a photo of Marcia Fudge
House Television via AP
Cleveland Congresswoman Marcia Fudge has been nominated to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the president-elect Joe Biden's administration.

Updated 11:00 a.m., Dec. 10, 2020

Housing and neighborhood advocates in Northeast Ohio and beyond reacted with optimism Wednesday to news that Cleveland Congresswoman Marcia Fudge would be President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Biden campaign made it official Thursday morning in a press release calling her "a longtime champion of affordable housing, urban revitalization, infrastructure investment, and other reforms to enhance the safety, prosperity, and sustainability of American communities." 

Tania Menesse of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, a nonprofit that works for urban neighborhoods, said, "It's a department that has been starved over the years. She, I think, can speak to the issues that Midwestern and mid-sized cities are facing in providing housing for their communities."

The coronavirus pandemic may also help Fudge garner support for HUD programs, Menesse said — maybe even from rural areas that traditionally have not seen themselves benefiting from HUD programs as much as big cities do. 

"With COVID, many more middle and working class people are unfortunately facing housing insecurity," Menesse said. "And so I think it really is a bipartisan issue and can become that again."

Current HUD Secretary Ben Carson has pushed for funding cuts at the agency and has spoken about the need to "wean" people off of subsidized housing. He has instead favored programs such as Opportunity Zones, which subsidize private investors to build housing and new businesses in high-poverty areas.

Communication skills
Like Menesse, Alesha Washington of the George Gund Foundation, a communtiy foundation in Cleveland, believes Fudge has the potential to garner widespread support for HUD programs. That's in part due to Fudge's ability to relate to people at the community level, Washington said.

"A notable example is when she chaired the committee that was thinking about voting rights and voting discrimination," Washington said. "They were doing multi-state tours to talk with folks to really inform them what their voting rights were supposed to look like at the federal level."

Both as a Black woman herself and as the former mayor of Warrensville Heights, a predominantly Black suburb on Cleveland's East Side, Fudge also understands issues of racial equity, Washington said.

"There's a level of understanding and willingness that is there," Washington said. "I think the onus becomes on the rest of us as advocates, as partners, to support and encourage that, but also push her to do more in that space than what we've seen in HUD in recent times."
Matt Zone, the former Cleveland city councilman who now heads the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute, also believes Fudge will bring her deep knowledge of racial equity and urban issues to her new role.
"Children's exposure to lead, the foreclosure crisis, housing instability — those will be issues that I know she will champion for our country," Zone said.

Big shifts
Kevin Nowak of CHN Housing Partners, a Cleveland-based developer of affordable housing, expects to see big shifts during Fudge's tenure.

"I see it as a significant change," Nowak said. "The Trump administration has been rolling back funding for HUD and having Fudge step into the role means I believe we'll see a move back toward recognizing the value of public housing, of affordable housing."

At least one national advocate for affordable housing also expressed support for Fudge's nomination.

"Given [Fudge’s] background as a former mayor, we hope that community development programs play a stronger role in helping localities with post-pandemic recovery," said Adrianne Todman, CEO of the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials, which represents public housing agencies across the United States. Fudge has been a champion of several programs benefiting public housing in the past, including on-site job training for residents. CMHA was one of nine housing authorities that received a federal grant for the Jobs Plus training program in 2015.

Fudge formerly headed the Congressional Black Caucus. She currently serves on the Education and Labor, House Administration and Agriculture committees.

She had previously lobbied for nomination as Biden's agriculture secretary. Instead, that position will reportedly go to former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, resuming a post he held under former President Barack Obama.

Fudge had endorsed vice president-elect Kamala Harris in the 2020 presidential campaign.

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Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.