On October 26, Robert Hunter Kurtz, surrounded by family and friends, appeared as a witness before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee to defend his nomination as Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing (PIH) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The other hearing witnesses were Brian D. Montgomery nominated for HUD Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner; and Suzanne Israel Tufts nominated for HUD Assistant Secretary for Administration.
Kurtz currently serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and has ten years of experience at HUD having previously served as a political appointee in the Bush Administration, and a career civil servant during the Obama Administration. As he declared to the Senate panel, “ I am a ‘houser’ at heart, a practitioner of HUD programs and a true believer in the mission of the Department.” Drawing upon his experience as Deputy Director of the Department of Housing and Revitalization in the City of Detroit, Michigan, he continued, “I have seen firsthand what we can do with HUD’s programs, but I have also had the opportunity to help craft rules and regulations that I have then had to implement at the local level. And I can affirm that what I thought was a good idea in my chair in Washington, made a lot less sense when sitting in my seat in Detroit.”
Kurtz in his testimony expressed strong support for giving housing authorities more flexibility and local control, “We should give serious thought to allowing Public Housing Authorities more control of how they manage their portfolios and how to find unique ways to address their own housing needs. The people who know best are the local officials managing the local PHAs, and we should provide them with the tools they need to address their own unique issues. If confirmed this will be a major goal of mine, and I look forward to working with you to make it a reality.”
Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) in his opening remarks urged his colleagues to confirm Kurtz and praised him as someone who has dedicated nearly his entire career to housing policy and would bring this programmatic expertise to PIH “where he will oversee some of HUD’s largest programs, including Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers.” Noting the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program has emerged as a great opportunity to utilize public-private partnerships, Crapo questioned Kurtz whether Congress should pursue expansion to the program, to which Kurtz responded, “I believe so, yes sir.”
Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) observed that Kurtz and the other nominees were being considered “at a time when the nation faces a number of housing challenges. The gap between housing costs and wages has grown wider over the past decade. Now, over half a million Americans face homelessness on a given night, and a quarter of all renters pay more than half of their incomes towards rent. At the same time, we are losing existing affordable housing due to physical deterioration, expiring affordability contracts, and increasing rents for previously-inexpensive homes.”
CLPHA sent a letter to the committee earlier in the week supporting Kurtz’s nomination. Kurtz and the other nominees are now awaiting written questions-for-the-record from committee members. They will be given a chance to respond in writing before the committee votes on sending their nomination to the full Senate.