Retired neurosurgeon and failed Republican presidential nominee Dr. Ben Carson is officially the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which will put him in charge of 8,000 federal employees and an agency with a $47 billion budget, tasked with overseeing most of the nation’s affordable and public housing, enforcing fair housing laws, and providing low-income persons with mortgage insurance. The senate voted yesterday 58-41 to confirm his appointment; the relative lack of Democratic pushback was surprising considering Carson not only has no political experience, but no apparent knowledge of housing, development, or urban issues. Likely with this in mind, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has already extended an invitation for Carson to come tour the city’s housing developments.
According to HUD’s website, its mission is to “create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,” by “working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.”
Here in NYC, the nation’s largest stock of affordable housing relies significantly on HUD funding (for 56% of its total revenue, to be exact), which is something Carson has some personal experience in. He grew in a poor area of Detroit near public housing complexes (though he was quick to say he never actually lived in one) and his mother received food stamps for their family. But he’s been widely criticized for saying government assistance programs encourage dependence, inciting fears that he’ll support budget cuts to such programs. In a letter to Carson, obtained by Politico, NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye addressed these concerns:
In 2015, NYCHA adopted an entrepreneurial ten-year investment plan to secure the agency’s finances, increase efficiencies, and leverage private funding to preserve our housing stock, in part through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration. Additionally, the City of New York has funded repair of NYCHA’s worst rated roofs, the first step in our comprehensive capital repair strategy. I look forward to discussing these practical strategies to prevent the loss of public assets that NYCHA is pursuing in partnership with HUD.
Olatoye has previously spoken about how a new (and controversial) NYCHA policy of using private developers to lease, manage, and upgrade the city’s 15,000 units of public housing “very much speaks to the principals of a Republican administration,” a good thing for the agency considering it needs HUD’s approval to move forward with the process.
Another HUD issue that affects NYC directly is the Fair Housing Act, a civil rights legislation passed in 1968 to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Carson has publicly said that he supports this law, as well as programs that provide rental assistance for the poor.
In an official White House statement, Carson said:
I am immensely grateful and deeply humbled to take on such an important role in service to the American people. Working directly with patients and their families for many years taught me that there is a deep relationship between health and housing. I learned that it’s difficult for a child to realize their dreams if he or she doesn’t have a proper place to live, and I’ve seen firsthand how poor housing conditions can rob a person of their potential. I am excited to roll up my sleeves and to get to work.
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