WASHINGTON, D.C. — As millions of Americans face the possibility of eviction, tens of billions of dollars in federal emergency rental assistance is sitting unspent.

What You Need To Know

  • HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge spoke with Spectrum News about the country’s eviction crisis

  • Fudge acknowledged HUD “could do better” at educating renters about help available

  • Recent census data shows 3.5 million Americans face the threat of eviction this fall

  • Fudge said her first six months on the job has shown her what HUD’s potential is if given adequate resources

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge acknowledged in an interview with Spectrum News that HUD “could do better” in educating vulnerable renters about the money available, as well as helping state and local governments actually distribute it.

Recent census data shows that 3.5 million Americans face the threat of losing their homes after the Supreme Court last month blocked the Biden Administration from extending a pandemic moratorium on evictions.

In Ohio, the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing reports that more than 200,000 Ohio households are behind on rent and roughly 134,000 renters are at risk of eviction this fall. 

It’s seen as a series of unsettling statistics given Congress has approved more than $46 billion in emergency rental assistance during the pandemic, yet only 11% of the money has actually been distributed, according to the Treasury Department.

“Much of the resources have not gone out because it took so very long for cities and states and counties to stand up a new program,” Secretary Fudge told Spectrum News on Wednesday.

She said HUD is working to contact all state and local governments, along with social service agencies, to help speed the process up. 

Another hurdle is making renters aware that help is available.

The New York Times recently reported that 60% of vulnerable renters haven’t applied for assistance.

Fudge said her agency has been trying to increase awareness.

“Obviously, it's not enough because they haven't applied, so we could do better,” Fudge said Wednesday. “But we have done as much as we know how to do.”

HUD has a $50 billion budget and employs more than 7,000 people, but Fudge said she found the agency understaffed and overworked when she arrived six months ago.

She has since been working to increase staff, improve technology and get aid out the door faster.

“The biggest takeaway for me has been that there are so many things that we could have done better and should have done better, but we needed the resources to do them,” Fudge said of her first few months on the job. “This is the first time we have really had the resources to make the kinds of difference that need to be made.”

Fudge said President Joe Biden has been fully supportive of her vision for HUD. 

They recently announced a goal to build 100,000 affordable homes in the next three years; and the administration wants to provide money for two million more in the budget package being crafted by Democrats in Congress.

Last fall, Fudge originally lobbied to become Biden’s agriculture secretary. In a November interview with Politico, she said that “it's always ‘we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.’”

Asked on Wednesday if her opinion had changed or been reinforced, Fudge said both.

“It wasn't to say that I did not wish to be the secretary of labor or of HUD, it’s just saying that there are other options that people like me can fill,” she told Spectrum News.

But since being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Fudge has embraced her responsibilities overseeing federal housing programs.

It’s a role that builds on her work representing Cleveland in Congress for 12 years.

“Let's see if I can put it this way: There are 435 members of Congress. You need 218 votes to get anything done,” Fudge said. “Here, I just need one.”