Jan. 28 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, pledged Thursday to work to prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and end discriminatory housing policies.
Fudge, a Democratic U.S. representative from Ohio, testified during her confirmation hearing Thursday that she would bring her experience working on economic development and expanding affordable housing opportunities as mayor of Warrensville Heights to implement housing policies that can assist "the most vulnerable people in America."
"It's estimated that, on any given night in 2019, more than 500,000 people experienced homelessness in America," she said. "That's a devastating statistic -- even before you consider the reality of what COVID-19 has done to exacerbate the crisis."
She added that $25 billion rental assistance provided during the pandemic and an extended moratorium on evictions are not enough to meet the nation's housing demands as millions of Americans are behind on some form of housing payment and that her first priority as HUD secretary would be to "alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge."
"We need to expand resources for HUD's programs to people who are eligible," she said. "Today, according to a 2017 study, only one out of five eligible households receive housing assistance. We need to deliver on the administration's commitments on improving the quality, safety and accessibility of affordable housing and building 1.5 million new affordable homes."
In response to a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Fudge said that down payments are "the biggest impediment to homeownership for communities of color."
"It's like us being in a race with people who have already had a head start, because we don't have a mother or father to give us a down payment," Fudge said. "We don't have the wherewithal, the same kind of income, the same kind of access."
She said the government should offer down payment assistance to residents of neighborhoods affected by redlining, a policy in which the federal government and banks denied mortgages or charged greater rates to people in minority neighborhoods.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Fudge to define the difference between racial equity, a focus of Biden's administration, and racial equality.
"From my own perspective, the difference is one just means you treat everybody the same. Sometimes the same is not equitable," said Fudge. "Equity means making the playing field level ... the same is not always fair."
Cotton and other GOP senators also questioned Fudge about "intemperate comments" she has made in the past about the Republican Party, including that many members "don't care about people of color."
She said Thursday that she believes most Republicans care about people of color and expressed that she has "always been able to work across the aisle" throughout her career.
"Sometimes I'm a little passionate about things," Fudge said in response to a question from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. "Is my tone pitch perfect all the time? It is not. But I do know this, that I have the ability and the capacity to work with Republicans and I intend to do just that and that is my commitment to you."