HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, testified on April 20 before the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Cabinet members made the case for President Biden’s “American Jobs Plan,” a $2 trillion proposal to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.
In her opening testimony, Secretary Fudge stated, “the pandemic has shined light on the problem we all know existed prior to COVID-19 – and it has disproportionately put low-income households and communities of color at greater risk of losing their housing.” The Secretary explained to the committee the importance of investing in the construction and preservation of affordable, accessible housing to “create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and help America become more competitive on the global stage,” and how the housing resources provided in the American Jobs Plan would help achieve these goals.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) noted his support for $70 billion for the public housing capital repair backlog, $45 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund, and an expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program to all eligible households – NLIHC’s HoUSed campaign’s top policy asks for the infrastructure bill. He asked Secretary Fudge whether supporting the Housing Trust Fund at $45 billion every year was a realistic goal to have included in an infrastructure spending bill. Secretary Fudge noted that yes, the goal is realistic, and that two of the three priorities were already includes in the President’s proposal.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Secretary Fudge to discuss the provisions of the infrastructure proposal that would address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Secretary Fudge pointed to the billions of dollars included in the American Rescue Plan for Housing Choice Vouchers specifically targeted to people experiencing homelessness, as well as funding to help communities acquire and convert buildings, like hotels and motels, into long-term, stable, permanently affordable housing. She also indicated that funding should be geared towards stable, long-term housing, rather than temporary or emergency shelters, to meaningfully address homelessness.
Senators also raised questions about the bill’s proposal to incentivize communities to enact changes to local zoning and land use regulations. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, noted her concern the Administration is “taking a heavy-handed approach to achieving the goal of affordable housing” by providing additional funds to communities willing to enact zoning and land use reforms that would make construction of affordable housing less expensive. The Secretary responded by emphasizing the fact the grant program would not be a mandate; rather, it would incentivize communities to make needed changes and provide opportunities to discuss how zoning could be less exclusionary.
Senator Brian Schatz, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, asked for further explanation of the proposed zoning and land use grants, calling the program “aggressive and innovative.” The Secretary noted the federal government “cannot build our way out of the [affordable housing crisis],” and that “communities need to assist [the federal government] to provide access to opportunity neighborhoods.”
Watch the full hearing at: https://tinyurl.com/ahth8f7b
Read Secretary Fudge’s opening statement at: https://tinyurl.com/yux9jc8p