White House weighs Fudge replacement options at HUD

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President Joe Biden is considering not naming a permanent replacement for departing HUD secretary Marcia Fudge, despite housing advocates' plea for a successor.

The administration, which is considering nominees and still weighing the decision, would be faced with trying to push a nominee through the closely divided Senate just months before the November vote.

“We haven't ruled that out,” said a senior administration official granted anonymity to discuss internal decision-making. “The plan is to work with the president to do that, recognizing where we are. So do not write that off at all."

Fudge’s sudden decision to retire has put the White House in a difficult position just as Biden is emphasizing the need to bring down housing costs. Home prices in the 20 largest metro areas in the U.S. hit a new high in December, and rent prices have surged nearly 30 percent since the start of the pandemic.

Deputy HUD Secretary Adrianne Todman is slated to move into the role of acting secretary once Fudge steps down next week. Among the possibilities under consideration is nominating Todman to the post, according to people familiar with the process.

There are several factors at play in the decision over whether to name a nominee amid election-year politics on Capitol Hill. The White House would have to tap someone quickly and the Senate would have to act with similar speed — only to give the new secretary a few months on the job before the end of the year.

But not naming a permanent secretary, and leaving Todman in an acting role, could raise questions about the importance the White House is placing on housing just as the administration is trying to address a nationwide supply and affordability crunch.

A bigger issue may be finding someone who could get support from at least 50 of the 51 Senate Democrats (including the three independents who caucus with them) since Democrats already assume Republicans would oppose a nominee.

Last year, the White House had to back off its quest to fill the only other secretary post that has opened during the administration so far: Julie Su has been serving as acting secretary of the Department of Labor since Marty Walsh's departure from the top job a year ago.

The administration has not yet reached out to Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), whose committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about the vacancy.

“HUD’s an important agency. I expect all these vacancies to be filled,” Brown said. “Republicans do a lot of bidding for Donald Trump, and maybe that’s what they think they’re doing.”

The looming election shouldn’t be a factor in whether to name a nominee, Brown said.

“I don’t think it’s that late [in the year]. In most people's lives, if they’re dealing with housing issues, eight months ain’t that short,” he said.

Some housing advocates are calling on the White House to promptly nominate a replacement for Fudge.

“Housing unaffordability is one of the most pressing issues facing the country right now, and I think President Biden recognizes that,” said Thomas Silverstein, associate director of the fair housing and community development project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

“Having a Senate-confirmed secretary speaks to the administration’s commitment to the issue and is critical to HUD’s ability to advocate for itself in appropriations discussions,” Silverstein added.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, acknowledged the difficulty of getting a nominee through during an election year. But “a permanent HUD secretary is always needed, given the critical importance of the work and especially at a time of a severe housing crisis throughout the country,” she said.

Still, several Democrats and housing advocates, including Yentel, expressed confidence in the existing team at HUD.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), another senior member of the Banking panel, isn’t rushing to see the job filled because of his faith in the current leadership without Fudge.

“She put together a team that’s still there. I think they can effectively fill in,” Reed said.

Todman should be nominated as full-time secretary “as quickly as possible,” said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, a coalition of housing groups.

“I don’t foresee any problem with her getting through,” he added. “She has a demonstrated track record of helping run the department and she is ready to go, and I think that’s the message the Biden administration needs to send: ‘We are ready to go, we’ve expressed a wide range of housing priorities and she is well-equipped to promote them.’”

Fair housing advocates also hold Todman in high regard.

“Adrianne is a houser,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “She has deep connections, she has connections in the finance space, so she’s really very strong, and I have every confidence and every faith she will be able to effectively lead HUD.”

Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, said Todman is best positioned to finish out Biden's term as HUD works to finalize a handful of key regulations, including a long-anticipated fair housing rule.

“There’s a lot going on that needs to be finished, and we have a highly respected and experienced deputy secretary stepping into the role,” Tegeler said. “Bringing in someone totally new at this point would just slow things down.”