Ben Carson called for a “holistic” approach to addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis as he offered his first extensive look at his housing vision for the country.

A retired pediatric neurosurgeon with little housing and government experience, he hammered the need for more public-private partnerships.

Ben Carson
Ben Carson

Housing Leaders React to Carson Hearing

Affordable housing leaders were paying close attention today when Ben Carson appeared at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Carson is president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Contrary to what he had previously said, I was pleased to hear Dr. Carson state his belief that the federal government has an important role to play in supporting deeply poor households and families,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “He gave strong support to rental assistance programs, public housing, VASH vouchers, Community Development Block Grants, Choice Neighborhoods, and lead abatement programs, and he recognized the role housing plays as a social determinant of health. He acknowledged that fair housing is the “law of the land” and committed to upholding and implementing the law.

“While touting these important programs and agreeing to enforce fair housing, Dr. Carson, unfortunately reiterated President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to cut nondefense discretionary spending by 1% annually. Over 84% of HUD’s budget provides direct housing assistance to our nation’s lowest income families, including seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and the working poor. Given the inflationary increases needed in HUD's programs, such a reduction could amount to cuts as deep as 30% by 2026, devastating housing programs for the lowest income people. To that end, Dr. Carson's commitment to advocate for HUD's programs within the administration was a positive and welcomed one.”

Leaders at both the NLIHC and the National Housing Conference (NHC) said they look forward to sitting down and working with Carson.

“I was pleased to see Dr. Carson note housing as a social determinant of health, acknowledge the importance of mobility and opportunity as well as some challenges like fair lending and barriers to development that raise housing costs. The silent rental housing crisis and difficulty of households to access homeownership will be two areas where HUD and his leadership can make a real difference for our country,” said Chris Estes, president and CEO of the NHC.

“The place where there is a lot of money is in the private sector. What we have to concentrate on is helping the private sector to recognize that, in the long run, the private sector does better when we develop all of our people,” Carson said.

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Carson appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs today as part of his confirmation process.

He explained that his holistic approach comes from his years as a neurosurgeon. “Don’t just look at the tumor that somebody has in their brain but look at the whole person,” he said. “How can you bring health to this entire individual? How can you then put them into an environment where they can thrive? That’s the same principles I’m looking at here.”

That’s why he wants to emphasize education and health as well as housing. He voiced the possibility of bringing more clinics to neighborhoods.

During the session, Carson tried to allay concerns that he opposes fair housing efforts and would take a hard line on moving people off long-standing assistance programs.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked Carson to explain comments he made in a controversial 2015 Washington Times article

that critiqued HUD’s then-new fair housing rules that Carson characterized as a “government-engineered attempt to legislate racial equality.”

Carson said his position has been distorted. “I don’t have any problem whatsoever with affirmative action or integration. I have no problem with that at all. But, I do have a problem with people on high dictating it when they don’t know anything about what’s going on in the area. We have local HUD officials and we have people who can assess what the problems are in their area and working with local officials can come up with much better solutions than one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter programs from people in Washington, D.C.”

“Your objection is not to affirmatively further (fair housing), your objection is whether that’s done from Washington or the HUD office in Columbus, Ohio?” asked Brown.

“My objection is central dictation to people’s live,” Carson responded.

Brown also pressed Carson on whether he believed HUD has a duty to promote equal access to housing opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

“If confirmed in this position, of course I would enforce all the laws of the land,” he said. But, Carson seemed to go on to say that he believes the LGBT community is getting additional rights.

“I believe that all Americans regardless of any of the things that you mentioned should be protected by the law,” he said. “What I have mentioned in the past is the fact that no one gets extra rights. Extra rights mean you get to redefine everything for everybody else.”

The nearly three-hour hearing was largely cordial, but there were a few pointed exchanges with Democratic leaders.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) questioned whether Carson’s views make him a match for HUD. “Do you truly believe in the mission of HUD? For instance, should the government continue to provide rental assistance to the more than 4.5 million low-income households across this country who are currently receiving it and use that to find a place to call home?”

Other critics have also expressed concerns that Carson does not support many of the agency’s core programs.

“I think the rental assistance program is essential, and what I have said if you’ve been reading my writings is that when it comes to entitlement programs it is cruel and unusual punishment to withdraw those programs before you provide an alternative route,” said Carson, who earlier shared his rise out of poverty in Detroit.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked for assurance that not $1 of HUD funding would go to the pockets of Trump and his family, who are involved in housing development.

Carson said he will manage the agency in a way that benefits the American people. “If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that’s working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone you are targeting is going to gain $10 from it, am I going to say, ‘no the rest of you Americans can’t have it?’ I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way.”

On the homeownership side, Carson was asked by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) if he believes in protecting the 30-year home loan mortgage.

Carson said the 30-year mortgage has enabled millions to achieve the American dream and “there are a number of ways to preserve that dream.” He also said he supports some type of “backstop” like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but is in favor of introducing more private entities into the market.