Anti-Government Carson to Lead Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon by trade, has expressed animosity to many of the rules HUD tries to enforce, including some fair housing laws from the civil rights era

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Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES: Ben Carson was nominated as Head of Housing and Urban Development Monday, a move that surprised many, considering not only Carson’s unfamiliarity with position — he’s a neurosurgeon — but that Carson last month announced he wouldn’t take any position in a Trump Administration because, as he said, he lacks the experience.

BEN CARSON: You know, my goal in all of this is it’s not so much a Cabinet position, or any type of government position, but to really help America move in the right direction.

THOMAS HEDGES: Despite previous statements, Carson now says he’s qualified for the position, because of the time he spent in low-income housing as a child. The takeaway from time spent in Detroit where he grew up, Carson says, is that poor individuals can rely more on hard work than on government programs to pull them out of poverty.

BEN CARSON: One of the things that I’ve learned as a neuroscientist, that the human brain is an amazing organ system. If you have a normal one, you really shouldn’t be thinking about what you can’t do.

THOMAS HEDGES: In a column for the Washington Times last year, Carson argued that government must stop experimenting with its policies of re-integration. In it, he compared Obama’s efforts to enforce the elements of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, what he called the “failure of school busing in the 1980s,” following Brown v the Board of Education. “There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower income citizens,” he wrote, “But based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous.”

A month earlier that summer, Carson had argued that a measure in Eastern Iowa to reverse a law that discriminated against outsiders, especially black people, by denying them housing aid, was a form of government overreach.

BEN CARSON: This is just an example of what happens when we allow the government to infiltrate every part of our lives. And this is what you see in Communist countries, where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don’t agree with them, all they have to is pull the noose.

MIRIAM AXEL-LUTE: It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what fair housing is about. The fair housing goals have been in place for a long time. All that has been new is that has been working on figuring out how to implement that more effectively. But fair housing doesn’t mean anybody is forced to move anywhere, so it has no… it doesn’t mean that at all. It means that places… we make sure that the restrictions that might be limiting people’s housing choice are removed.

THOMAS HEDGES: The other concern for housing advocates is that Trump, along with many Republicans have said clearly that they’d be willing to cut non-defense discretionary spending in favor of upping the military’s budget. With stagnant wages and a rise in the cost of living, advocates worry that HUD might be too overwhelmed and under-funded to keep up.

MIRIAM AXEL-LUTE: What would happen if Congress just funded HUD programs at the FY16 levels, so the current level, if they just continued that funding for next year, and that’s about a $1.5 billion shortfall for HUD programs. The reason for this is because most of the money in HUD programs goes to direct the loan assistance, and that responds to the market. So as rental prices increase over time, the cost of rental assistance also will increase. And we’re very worried that if they just maintain levels for FY16, we could see cuts of about 100,000 renters(?) or more, so that’s 100,000 families who could possibly lose their access to rental assistance. Worst-case scenarios, those people are at higher risk of homelessness.

THOMAS HEDGES: In the end, Axel-Lute says that Carson’s history is the wrong barometer to measure the policies and actions a Trump Administration would take with HUD. What’s more indicative, she says, are the things that Trump has already said, as well the Cabinet that he’s in the process of putting together, as well as the other people Trump was considering for head of HUD, like Westchester County executive Robert Astorino.

MIRIAM AXEL-LUTE: Astorino is the executive of Westchester County and has been fighting a housing lawsuit and just absolutely refusing to build any housing, any multi-family housing outside of a certain area for a decade. And I think also the Secretary of Treasury, Mnuchin, which Treasury also oversees a lot of things that affect the housing market. Mnuchin made a fortune off of kicking people out of their homes and having the government subsidize him in doing that. Him, in conjunction with Carson, is a very terrifying prospect. And so, I think these things indicate that I don’t see Trump as having an understanding or a concern about much of what HUD does. He seems to have a political issue about fair housing, and that’s mostly what’s on his mind.

THOMAS HEDGES: Meanwhile, Democrats are criticizing the decision to tap Carson as head of HUD. In a statement Monday, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said that, “Someone who is anti-government as him is a strange fit for Housing Secretary.” Congress, however, which is Republican-led, is expected to approve the decision with little resistance.

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