Ben Carson is many things. He’s a respected surgeon, author, husband, father and grandfather—but a qualified choice to head the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) he is not.
Carson’s absurd nomination—confirmed unanimously by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Jan. 24— is ill-advised, irresponsible, and potentially dangerous for millions of Americans. As chair of New York City’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, I know how important housing policy is, and the immeasurable effects it has on families and communities.
HUD secretary may not seem like a prestigious or even particularly important position in comparison to other cabinet appointments like secretary of state or secretary of defense. But in reality, the programs and decisions related to housing and urban development in the US represent some of the most important battles in our war on poverty. Placing Carson, a man who is overwhelmingly not qualified for the position and has no experience in government, to run an agency with a $47 billion budget is inconceivable for most. And yet, this is our reality.
What’s the most troubling about Carson’s appointment isn’t his lack of experience or familiarity with the agency. What is truly frightening are his views on the incredibly important policies and rules that HUD exists to administer.
One example is his opposition on a HUD staple: the fair housing rule. This country has a long history of systematically denying housing to black and brown Americans. Indeed, US president Donald Trump and his father have also been accused of housing discrimination. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program exists to address these issues by requiring local communities to examine patterns of income and racial discrimination in housing. Yet Carson believes these types of preventive measures against discrimination are “mandated social-engineering schemes.” Further, he believes it is not the role of the government to “legislate racial equality,” which in his words can be “downright dangerous.”
Another cause for major concern is Caron’s belief that poverty is a choice. HUD oversees federal rental assistance programs that serve more than five million of the country’s lowest-income families. The agency is also provides federal government funding for the nation’s public housing developments. A great number of these families live in New York, including the country’s largest public housing system.
Unlike Carson, I know these families and have spent many hours listening to their challenges either in my district or during city council hearings. These are Americans who have been severely impacted by rising rents and decreasing housing options. They increasingly rely on HUD’s programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, to find housing.
Let’s be clear: Poverty is not a lifestyle decision. Rather, it is a socioeconomic status that is impacted by a number of multilayered factors. Carson’s view that poverty is somehow chosen represents a threat to the millions of people who depend on assistance from the government for housing.
Housing is not an issue to be taken lightly. It is the the glue that binds vibrant communities. And yet, Carson’s nomination seems predicated solely on fact that the word “urban” is in the title of the agency. Trump needed a token nominee to balance out one of the most melanin-challenged cabinets in recent history. And now he has one.
If Carson is officially confirmed by the full Senate (a mere formality at this point), the job of local legislators will be made much more difficult and exponentially more important. At the same time, politicians and advocates at the state and local level must stay dedicated and redouble efforts to use all the tools available locally to ensure quality and safe income-targeted housing.
The issue with Carson isn’t over policy differences. It’s that a man who seems to disdain poor people could be put in charge of an organization that has a mandate to help them.
And this, ultimately, is what is most dangerous about Carson’s appointment.