Senate confirms Fudge as Housing secretary

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeNina Turner launches new campaign for Congress, setting up likely rematch with Shontel Brown The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey MORE (D-Ohio) to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a solid bipartisan margin.

Senators approved Fudge’s nomination to be HUD secretary on a 66-34 vote. She will be the first woman to hold the position since 1979 and the second Black woman and the third woman ever to lead the department.

“I can think of no one better to lead us out of this pandemic and create strong communities for the future than Marcia Fudge,” said Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal N95 distribution plan could imperil small US mask makers Biden's year two won't be about bipartisanship  MORE (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which advanced Fudge’s nomination by a 17-7 vote last month.

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“When she came before the [committee], Congresswoman Fudge’s knowledge and passion for service, her commitment to the people who make this country work were obvious to all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Brown added.

Fudge, who has represented parts of Cleveland and Akron in the House since 2008, was praised by Democrats for her years of work in Congress toward bolstering federal safety net programs and fighting racial inequities in the economy. She is the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and served as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, from 2000 until she was elected to Congress.

Fudge announced her resignation from the House on Wednesday afternoon after voting for Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

While Fudge earned solid bipartisan support, several Republicans fiercely opposed Fudge’s nomination over past heated criticisms of GOP lawmakers and her lack of expertise on housing policy issues.

“Not all Cabinet nominees are experts in the policy areas that their agency covers. That's not unusual. But when they don't have that expertise ... their temperament and their policy views and their willingness to listen to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, especially the other side of the aisle, is all the more important,” said Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyConservatives are outraged that Sarah Bloom Raskin actually believes in capitalism Meet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections MORE (R-Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Banking panel.

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Fudge will take over HUD at a challenging time for both the U.S. housing system and the federal department that oversees it.

More than 11 million U.S. households are facing homelessness after nearly a year of economic peril caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While many are currently shielded by federal and state bans on coronavirus-related evictions and foreclosures, they will face steep bills for deferred rent and mortgage payments that they may not be able to afford.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the housing affordability crisis that began long before COVID-19 hit the U.S. Home prices have skyrocketed as financially stable families seek bigger living spaces and move from high-cost cities while builders struggle to fill a years-long housing shortage.

President BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE is also seeking to dramatically expand public housing and make sorely needed maintenance upgrades to the country’s existing supply of federally supported homes, a longtime goal of Democrats and housing advocates.

Fudge will face those issues with a HUD staff depleted by years of attrition and insufficient hiring. In a November report, the department's inspector general said poor recruiting, inadequate training and constant turnover in senior leadership have prevented HUD from fulfilling its basic responsibilities. 

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“HUD’s attrition rate outpaces its current hiring capacity, and employees often do not have the right skill sets, tools, or capacity to perform the range of functions needed within HUD,” the report read.

“Many, if not all, of the mission challenges HUD faces are impacted by its staffing issues.”

Fudge vowed during her confirmation process to turn HUD around at a critical moment for the U.S. with a special focus on narrowing the racial inequities in the housing market that have been deepened by COVID-19.

While 7 percent of white households reported being behind on rent or mortgage payments in December, 22 percent of Black households, 18 percent of Hispanic households and 13 percent of Asian households had missed payments, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And while roughly 75 percent of white Americans owned their homes in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the Census Bureau, only 44 percent of Black Americans did.

Patricia Harris was the first Black woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet after former President Carter appointed her HUD secretary in 1977.

Updated at 3:04 p.m. Juliegrace Brufke contributed.