COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge visited NeighborWorks Columbus on Thursday to make a few announcements during her affordable housing-focused road tour. Congressman Sanford Bishop, who represents Georgia’s second congressional district, came to introduce her.

After that meeting, Fudge, Bishop, NeighborWorks Columbus Executive Director Cathy Williams and others went to The Columbus Convention and Trade Center for a roundtable discussion about affordable housing.

At the beginning of the meeting at NeighborWorks Columbus, Williams welcomed everyone. She said that her organization creates lifelong homeowners.

“It is my honor to welcome to the podium Congressman Sanford Bishop who’s going to make the welcome of our special guest,” she said.

“Her commitment to housing and to the mission of HUD is to ensure that people of this country have a decent, affordable, safe, quality affordable housing,” said Bishop, who represents Georgia’s second congressional district, of Fudge. “It’s a fact that a quality home in a strong community sets the foundation for a good life. It’s a fact that a stable and healthy home improves a child’s ability to achieve, to excel in school.”

Bishop said the issue of affordable housing is one of the “biggest and most urgent challenges” that the United States face. He gave credit to Fudge and the Biden administration for working daily to address the problem.

Bishop called Fudge his friend and said she was his colleague in the House of Representatives.

“But this is her first time visiting as the secretary of HUD,” he said.

“What the Congressman didn’t tell you was that I was one of those kids that got out of the neighborhood most kids don’t get out of,” Fudge said. “I’m the kind who was fortunate enough to have a home and most of my friends didn’t. It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was a safe place to go every day. It was a place where I could go and feel like the world was just outside and I didn’t have to worry about it. A place where you were unquestioned and supported and made to believe that you could do or be anything.”

Fudge said she was the first college graduate in her family. She said she worked for a president who cares.

“He believes that we have to do whatever it takes to reverse the things that we have done wrong for so long in communities that have been underserved,” she said. “I would not take this job if it weren’t for somebody who cared enough to make a difference.”

Fudge said that most people who pay their rent can afford a mortgage, but most don’t have a down payment for this. She said that to remedy this, Biden has requested $100 million in down payments. The crowd clapped and cheered.

“We know most people who rent don’t have a credit history,” she said. “We just in the last month announced that to all of our lending institutions. We’re going to use rental payments as credit so that you pay your rent on time, it’s going to create credit for you.”

Fudge said that people in “black and brown and poor communities” are prevented from purchasing homes by student loan debt.

“We have neutralized student loan debt so it no longer is an impediment for you to buy a house,” she said.

For developers, the federal government increased low-income housing tax credits, she said.

“We have put more resources into the housing trust funds for the lowest incomes,” she said. “… We have made it so that state housing finance agencies can loan at much lower rates.”

Fudge said that none of the parties involved at the meeting could do what they did by themselves. She told listeners that she needed them to tell people what assistance was available.

She brought up the issue of homelessness, which she called a “huge problem” in the U.S. She said she focuses on homelessness a great deal because “the fastest growing groups of people on the streets are senior females, primarily black and brown, and young families with children.”

“Today, I’m going to announce that we had emergency shelter vouchers,” she said. “We had emergency vouchers for homelessness. We have now given out all 35,000 of those to help people get off the streets. And I’m so proud that we were able to do it because nobody thought we could.”

Fudge referred to someone who had been wearing a shirt that said, “I believe in miracles.”

“I’m a miracle standing here today,” she said. “And I know that there are so many other miracles going on in communities everywhere. And so, just know that if there’s anything we can do, we will do it as long as Congress lets us.”

A media release said that panelists at the roundtable discussion after the meeting would include Fudge, Bishop, Williams, Councilwoman Toyia Tucker of Columbus Consolidated Government (CCG); Robert Scott, director of the CCG Community Reinvestment Department; Lisa Walters, executive director of the housing authority in Columbus; Pat Frey, Executive Director of United Way of the CV Home For Good; Katie Byers, executive director of St. Anne’s Community Outreach; and Reginald Thompson, CCG municipal court clerk.