Marcia Fudge: Pandemic home loss requires ‘extraordinary measures’

Marcia Fudge said her top priority is protecting the millions of people who have defaulted on rent or mortgages due to lost income.

WASHINGTON — Candidate for housing secretary Marcia Fudge told senators Thursday she will take “extraordinary measures” to prevent people from losing their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fudge championed homeownership as a classic American “ticket to the middle class” and advocated federal funding to expand the ranks of minority homeowners.

But during her appearance before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, the longtime Ohio congresswoman said her most immediate priority, if confirmed to President Joe Biden’s cabinet, would be protecting the millions of people living with rents or defaulted on mortgages due to lost income during the pandemic.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And we’re in extraordinary times,” Fudge said remotely from Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. “Whatever it takes, we cannot afford to turn people onto the streets in the middle of a pandemic.”

Fudge, a former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, said this job offers unique insight into housing issues and needs from the ground up. She described the Department of Housing and Urban Development as one that “exists to serve the most vulnerable people in America.”

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Fudge’s hearing was concurrent with that of Cecilia Rouse, Biden’s choice to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. Committee members will send follow-up questions to both nominees by the weekend and will receive responses by Monday.

Fudge also advocated direct federal financial assistance to help prospective minority homeowners with mortgage payments. She said that ending racially biased lending or housing practices is not enough. Direct help is needed to close the wealth gap created by generations of redlining and other systemic racial inequalities, she said.

“It’s like racing with someone who had an advantage,” she said. “The biggest barrier to homeownership for communities of color is the down payment.”

The hearing proceeded in a largely collegial tone, with some of the Republicans’ harshest criticisms focusing not on Fudge’s policies but on the harsh things she had said about Republicans.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said several of Fudge’s public statements “raise questions about your willingness and ability to work with Republicans.”

Specifically, Toomey was referring to a statement Fudge made last year as GOP senators rushed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ahead of the presidential election. Many of those Republicans had blocked President Barack Obama’s appointment of Judge Merrick Garland in 2016 precisely because it was close to a presidential election. Fudge then called Senate Republicans “a disgrace to this nation” and said they “have no decency, they have no honor, they have no integrity.”

Fudge did not refer to any of her previous statements, but described himself as “one of the most bipartisan members of the House of Representatives.”

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., challenged Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, over repeated statements she made that Republicans didn’t care about black Americans or people of color. When Kennedy asked her directly if she thought Republicans cared about black Americans, Fudge succinctly replied, “I do, some, yes.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, defended Fudge. After repeated references to Fudge’s criticism of Republicans, Brown said, “It’s quite difficult to record a political speech by members of a party whose leader literally incited a violent riot with his words just three weeks ago.”

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