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Alumna Candace Valenzuela Reflects on Role as Biden HUD Appointee

Last month, CMC alumna Candace Valenzuela ‘06 returned to campus to speak at the Athenaeum and present Housing and Urban Development (HUD) career opportunities to CMC students. As a Regional Administrator, Valenzuela is responsible for implementing HUD initiatives in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and her home state of Texas.


To deliver HUD services to her region effectively, Valenzuela must coordinate with officials from five states. Apart from New Mexico, her region is composed of red states whose representatives do not align with the Biden Administration or its policies. Valenzuela reflected on the role of partisanship in HUD-state coordination in her region. 


“As a political appointee, your job, even though to a certain extent is partisan, is to talk to everybody to make sure that localities get the services they need,” she said. Despite her best efforts, she encounters roadblocks with some members of Congress who she believes face “social pressure not to give victories to the Biden Administration.” According to Valenzuela, Republican members of Congress’ refusal to engage in conversation with HUD officials impedes HUD’s ability to deliver much-needed services to their constituents. 


State and local officials, unlike their counterparts in Congress, seem to understand that interparty cooperation benefits their constituents. Valenzuela shared positive experiences with state and local officials across her region, calling them her “favorite people” and praising mayors and city council members for their focus on constituent services. “When you are carrying a multimillion-dollar check, you are smarter, funnier, and more attractive,” she joked. Because she delivers material resources to their constituents, state and local leaders are happy to work with her despite partisan divides.


Reflecting on her region, Valenzuela commented on one clear divide between blue and red states: source of income discrimination. In New Mexico, the only blue state under her jurisdiction, the state bars landlords from refusing to accept HUD vouchers as payment. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, landlords can deny applicants housing solely because they do not want to accept HUD vouchers. Valenzuela lamented this policy in her red states, acknowledging that more work needs to be done to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding HUD funding. She argued that HUD vouchers should not be weighed differently from other sources of income by renters because government funding is relatively stable. 


Despite this partisan divide on source of income discrimination, Valenzuela warned against considering red states a monolith when it comes to housing. Two states in her region have particularly distinct housing landscapes. “Arkansas is the only state in the country in which you can get arrested for not paying your rent,” she explained. Furthermore, the state continues to fail to pass habitability laws – “last year, they tried to pass a law requiring apartments to have smoke detectors, and it failed,” she shared. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s extensive experience with natural disasters makes it more willing to work with HUD on disaster-resilient housing. These states’ housing landscapes demonstrate the diversity among what might seem to be politically similar red states. 


Valenzuela also discussed HUD’s extensive involvement in the Biden Administration’s climate change strategy. She emphasized HUD’s role in implementing the landmark Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA created the Green Resilient Retrofit Program, which provides $800 million in grants and $4 billion in loans for HUD-funded properties to reduce their carbon footprints and make them more climate resilient. This program is especially important to Valenzuela’s region as a 2021 Winter Storm demonstrated significant vulnerabilities in Texas’ infrastructure, including its housing landscape. Valenzuela recently visited Port Arthur, Texas, where she delivered a $52 million check to fund three apartment complexes to invest in storm resistant roofs, better insulated windows, and electric vehicle chargers. Valenzuela also underscored that the federal government must integrate environmental considerations into its housing policy in order to spend taxpayers’ money responsibly. “We need to know if we’re putting housing in areas where it’s likely to flood, or where natural disasters are likely to happen,” she explained. 


HUD’s environmental programs, while perhaps lesser known by the public, are critically important because it is estimated that up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, making housing emissions a significant climate concern. 


Towards the end of our conversation, Valenzuela shared advice for CMC students. Valenzuela recalled her time at CMC with gratitude and fondness. “CMC is the place to find like minded folks,” she said, explaining that the friends she made at the Claremont Colleges were the ones rooting for her and sending her care packages during her 2020 congressional campaign. She urged CMCers to invest in Claremont relationships, knowing that Claremont students may rely on each other for support later in life. 


Valenzuela also urged CMC government students to pursue local service. She recalled how much CMC students focus on the federal government. She urged students, “look at what your city council is doing, what your country, borough, state, and local folks are doing, because you will see that there are easier and more tenable wins than tackling the federal government.” 


Finally, she urged CMC students to take part in programs that benefit our community here in Southern California. Critics of the census have long highlighted that it undercounts unhoused populations and therefore leads policymakers to allocate insufficient resources to address homelessness. At HUD, the Point-in-Time Count seeks to count people who lack housing but are not in shelters. Communities come together to walk through neighborhoods late at night and count the people they encounter. Valenzuela applauded Point-in-Time participants, saying “it can be a little emotionally trying when you are talking to someone who wants to share their experience with you, but the count makes such a huge difference in our knowledge and our ability to distribute resources.” The Point-in-Time Count occurs each January, and the County of San Bernardino seeks volunteers to assist the count each year.


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