President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no housing experience, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Despite Carson's unconventional background for the job, the selection was anticipated. Carson had alluded to an impending announcement on his Facebook page before Thanksgiving. “After serious discussions with the Trump transition team, I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone,” Carson wrote. “We have much work to do in strengthening every aspect of our nation and ensuring that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid. An announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again.”
Trump, weeks ago, also had mentioned the possibility of Carson serving as his HUD secretary on Twitter. “I am seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson as the head of HUD. I've gotten to know him well—he's a greatly talented person who loves people!” Trump tweeted.
The HUD post is a curious perch for Carson, who previously said he pulled his name out of the running for Health and Human Services secretary because he had no experience running a federal agency. Carson, who was a Republican candidate for president during the 2016 campaign, doesn’t have experience in housing or urban policy, though he is hardly the first (possible) HUD secretary with a thin resume for leading the department. He wrote a 2015 editorial for The Washington Times in which he “describes the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule as ‘social engineering’ and compares it to the school-busing efforts associated with integration,” according to a Nov. 23 story in CityLab.
That rule requires more specific reporting from localities and grantees on implementing fair housing, providing them with tools and technology to see where discrimination and segregation still exist in their communities. The goal as stated by the Obama administration is to further fair housing by streamlining the process by which communities assess the fair housing landscape in their areas and implement policies to achieve it. But it also signifies that the federal government, through HUD, wants more say in making sure localities aren’t just paying lip service to creating and maintaining fair housing. It’s possible under Carson the rule could be reversed.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition said the “little that we do know about Dr. Carson’s position on affordable housing is a reason for concern,” citing the 2015 Washington Times editorial.
“With so many qualified candidates to choose from with deep knowledge of, and commitment to affordable housing solutions for the poorest families, and with the housing crisis reaching new heights across the country, Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination to serve as HUD secretary is surprising and concerning, given his lack of experience with or knowledge of the programs he would oversee,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel in a statement. Still, Yentel said that NLIHC was “committed to working with” the next HUD secretary “to ensure the country’s poorest families have decent, safe and affordable homes.”
The agency that was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty certainly has had its ups and downs since it was established on Sept. 9, 1965, with the aim of providing safe and affordable housing in sustainable communities across the country. HUD for decades was the “poster child” for waste, fraud and abuse in government, and at times has faced criticism for failing to enforce fair housing laws and ensure that its public housing remained both safe and livable for residents. But the department also allocates billions of dollars each year to help sustain and encourage affordable housing (an increasingly rare commodity) and community development projects in this country.
Mayors of both parties especially love the Community Development Block Grant program, which allows them to use federal funds for a wide range of local needs that go beyond just housing. Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, HUD has played a more significant and crucial role in rebuilding after disasters and finding short- and long-term housing for victims.
Under current Secretary Julian Castro, HUD has tried to improve and streamline its management processes, bringing in Toyota to help them make everything from federal hiring to grants management more efficient.
The agency has more than 8,400 employees and an annual budget of roughly $33 billion.