The U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development said Thursday that she is open to reviewing changes in how the federal government funds local homelessness efforts in Alaska, but made no specific commitments after a meeting with officials and elected leaders in Anchorage.
Secretary Marcia Fudge, the nation’s top housing administrator, attended a Thursday roundtable at Covenant House, a youth homeless shelter in downtown Anchorage, hosted by Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. It was the latest in a string of visits by Biden cabinet officials to the state this summer during the August recess.
“Every person in that room today … understands that there is an urgency to the homelessness situation in this country, and particularly in this state and in this city,” Fudge said during a brief press availability after the event.
Alaskans at the roundtable told the secretary about different housing, construction and homelessness issues facing the state. Those include a critical shortage of homes in rural Alaska, with rampant overcrowding and prohibitively high expenses for new development.
There was also a specific request from Anchorage officials for HUD to review the formula it uses to calculate how much funding to send to municipalities to combat homelessness and help people get off the streets. For the last several months, local leaders have pointed out that federal assistance is proportionate to a city’s overall population, not the rate of homeless individuals within that jurisdiction. As a result, a municipality like Anchorage gets relatively little money to deal with homelessness compared to much larger cities like Indianapolis or Baltimore, even though it tallies a similarly sized unhoused population.
In May, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed a resolution requesting help from Fudge and Alaska’s congressional delegation to reassess how HUD allocates federal dollars, in order to potentially “repair a fundamental inequity in the funding formula system that has left the Municipality of Anchorage in a crisis.” In June, Fudge discussed the issue during a phone call with Sullivan and Assembly Chair Christopher Constant.
Sullivan said that such formulas “seem off from our perspective, in terms of what other major cities get in terms of dealing with homelessness.”
Fudge said she didn’t know off the top of her head whether this particular funding calculation could be changed administratively or would require action from Congress, but said she was committed to looking into it.
“The formula exists the way it is, and we need to find a way to change it,” she said. “We will find a way as best we can to make it more equitable and to make sure that it’s fair, because the argument they make is a good one.”
Sullivan and the HUD secretary also suggested the formation of a task force to look at addressing high construction costs impeding new housing construction in rural areas.
Constant said the municipality also hopes to work with HUD on finding short-term funding to address the city’s immediate shelter needs, with winter just weeks away and hundreds of people sleeping in outdoor camps.
“We need help from the federal government,” Constant said.
Source : ADN