HUD under Joe Biden won’t require citizenship for housing vouchers

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said Monday the Biden administration won’t prevent illegal immigrants from access to public housing, as she announced a program to deliver $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers aimed at preventing homelessness.

Asked if the administration would pursue a Trump-era policy to make sure that only U.S. citizens receive housing aid, Ms. Fudge said, “The answer is no.”

“We are doing everything we can possibly to take any living person in this nation off the streets,” she told reporters. “That’s kind of our posture.”

In 2019, the Trump administration proposed tightening regulations to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing federally subsidized housing. Then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson said the federal government needed to “make certain our scarce public resources help those who are legally entitled to it.”

“Fairness requires that we devote ourselves to legal residents who have been waiting, some for many years, for access to affordable housing,” Mr. Carson said at the time.

Ms. Fudge announced that HUD will use money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law in February to provide 70,000 emergency housing vouchers nationwide to about 750 local housing authorities. She said it will help about 130,000 people find or keep safe, quality housing.

HUD’s most recent count of the U.S. homeless population in January 2020 found about 580,000 people living on the streets, up 2% from the previous year. But Ms. Fudge said the pandemic has worsened the problem in the U.S., with more people homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

“We are providing communities the resources to give homes to the people who have had to endure the COVID-19 pandemic without one,” she said.

The money will be distributed to communities within the next 30 to 60 days.

Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf said her city will receive 504 vouchers to help some of the roughly 4,000 homeless people. She said there are also about 750 people living in temporary hotel rooms or trailers provided by FEMA during the pandemic.

“These housing vouchers will allow us to not put these people back on the street, but to move them into permanent affordable, safe, healthy housing,” she said.

The Trump administration feuded with the state of California over its programs to address homelessness in 2019. Trump officials noted at the time that California had about $450 million in unspent housing vouchers for the homeless.

In April, HUD released a first allotment of $5 billion in grants to states and local governments for rental assistance and other services to help people experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes.

Those grants can be used to provide housing, including converting motels into permanent homes.

The new emergency vouchers will be available to anyone who is homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, fleeing domestic violence or “trafficking,” and certain people who were previously homeless.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat whose state will receive $28 million, said homeless disproportionately affects people of color. She said the pandemic has worsened homelessness, arguing it’s a reason for Congress to approve President Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

That proposal would spend an additional $213 billion for housing programs, including $40 billion to improve public housing.

“We need to keep going,” Ms. Murray said. “‘Normal’ wasn’t working for so many before this pandemic. Everyone in America should have safe, secure housing. It is not too much to ask.”

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