Ben Carson Is the New Head of HUD—and Why You Should Care


Ben Carson Is the New Head of HUD—and Why You Should Care

It’s official: Former neurosurgeon and one-time presidential candidate Ben Carson was confirmed on Thursday as the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The U.S. Senate voted 58–41 in his favor.

Carson, a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump during the campaign, had come under fire for not having any housing or government experience. At one point, he even expressed reservations about his own readiness for the job.

But he had dismissed those concerns and pledged to go on a listening tour across the nation to speak with “people with boots on the ground” if appointed in his January hearing with the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

“A good CEO doesn’t necessarily know everything about the business,” said Carson, who has served on the boards of Costco and Kellogg. “But he knows how to pick those people and how to use them, and that is one of the [markers] of good leadership.”

The federal agency, which has a nearly $49 billion budget this year, is tasked with helping Americans secure affordable housing at a time when rents and home prices are becoming ever more expensive.

“I see HUD as part of the solution, helping ensure housing security and strong communities,” Carson said. “I believe that everybody should have an opportunity to own a home.”

What Carson might do for affordable housing

The doctor, unsurprisingly, has expressed his commitment to making housing healthier by addressing mold, lead paint, vermin, and bad ventilation. He plans to expand HUD’s Healthy Homes Program, which is focused on eliminating lead poisoning in children, and in January said he would be “very vigorous” in pursuing lead paint abatement.

Carson expressed support for public-private partnerships, which he called “extraordinarily helpful,” because government doesn’t have “an unlimited pot of money.” But he didn’t elaborate at all on how those partnerships could work or what they could fund.

In addition, he affirmed his commitment to the rental assistance program for the poorest Americans, calling it “essential” and saying it would be “cruel” to withdraw it without another program in place during his January hearing. However, he later said the government doesn’t have the funding to keep people in a “beautiful unit” forever—perhaps indicating he is considering a time limit to public assistance.

And although Carson has criticized how the Obama administration enforced the Fair Housing Act—which guards against housing discrimination—in the January hearing, he called it “one of the best pieces of legislation we have.”

The fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is up in the air

Many Republicans have been very vocal in their criticism of the role that government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play in insuring mortgages.

Carson said in January that he wants to continue to provide security for loan seekers, as Fannie and Freddie do, while shrinking taxpayer liability for delinquent mortgages. He also said he would like to introduce more private companies to the industry, but did not explain how he would go about that.

So the future of Fannie and Freddie—which also may be headed for another bailout—remains unclear, at least for now.

Housing advocates and trade groups watching carefully

Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, had raised concerns about Carson during his January committee hearing. Despite these reservations, Warren ended up voting for him during that initial hearing. She defended herself in a long post on her Facebook page.

“Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency,” she wrote. “If President Trump goes to his second choice, I don’t think we will get another HUD nominee who will even make these promises—much less follow through on them.

“If Dr. Carson doesn’t follow through on his commitments,” she added, “I will be the very first person he hears from—loudly and clearly and frequently.”

That sentiment of holding the new HUD secretary accountable to his promises was echoed by various low-income housing organizations that offered their cautious congratulations on his new job.

The National Housing Conference, a membership organization focused on affordable housing, pointed out that existing resources for low-income housing are inadequate and creative solutions are needed.

As a presidential candidate, Carson had called for 10% cuts across all government agencies. However, speaking as the potential head of one of those agencies, he drastically downgraded that to 1%.The budget cuts would be coming at a time of soaring home and rental prices where about only one in four of the poorest households that qualify for housing assistance is able to receive it. That’s because there simply isn’t enough of it to go around.

“Dr. Carson comes to HUD at a time of change that brings with it opportunity,” Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, said in a statement. “We heard his commitment to improving the lives of all Americans using housing as a platform for addressing health, education, and other social issues, and we look forward to helping him fulfill that commitment.”

Other housing trade groups, including construction and apartment industry organizations, were hopeful that Carson would remove regulatory barriers their members currently face. This could make it easier for home and apartment complex builders to receive financing and face fewer governmental hurdles in acquiring land and putting homes up on it.

“President Trump’s recent comments before Congress and Secretary Carson’s confirmation are encouraging signs that the new administration is committed to working with the apartment industry to reduce burdensome regulations,” read a statement from the National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association. “It has never been more important that private industry and lawmakers come together in support of pro-growth policies that make it easier for American residents and families to find housing.”

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