Carson Answers Questions From Senator Brown

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown issued a press release about his support for Dr. Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  We posted it here. 41 other Senators voted against the nomination.  I have to say that I am skeptical as well.  We posted our outlook for the Trump Carson era here and the 2018 outlook is even worse. Back in 2011, even a 2 to 4% cut that we took in HUD funding resulted in the loss of shelter beds of around 60 per year.  With the proposed military budget increase, we are looking at a substantial cuts in domestic spending.  This will have a huge impact on public housing, the voucher program, and the shelters since HUD is a regular target for fiscal hawks.

Be prepared because we are going see more families and more single women trying to fit in a shelter system that is 20% smaller than it was a decade ago.  Will we see more tough love of those struggling with their housing out of HUD?  Will we see more of a push for "personal responsibility" from the federal government?  Will we pit one group of poor people against another for the table scraps that fall out off the plates of the "job creators"?   There is nothing really that any HUD Secretary can do to prevent the expected cuts in one of the least popular departments in Washington.  It is just that Carson does not seem to have much compassion for the constituents he serves.  He does not seem to be able to put himself back in the neighborhood that he grew up in and see the withdraw of federal funds would just make it worse.  These neighborhoods in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo were segregated through redlining, forgotten when crack poured in, and then crushed when manufacturing left and predatory lenders arrived.  It does not seem likely that Ben Carson will stand up to Congress or the Administration and argue that a decrease in HUD funding will mean gangs, opioid dealers and human traffickers will be the only commerce left in some of these neighborhoods.  Even the poverty businesses (Furniture renters, plasma centers, check cashing, and convenience stores) will flee to look for greener pastures. 

Here are some of the answers provided to Senator Sherrod Brown from new Secretary of HUD Ben Carson:

Fair Housing – LGBTQ

Question: In response to a question on the housing rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals, you stated that you, “believe that all Americans…should be protected by the law.”

You then went on to say that you have said that you believe that, “no one gets extra rights. Extra rights means, you get to redefine everything for everybody else.”

Are there any instances you can think of where protecting equal access to housing opportunities for LGBTQ people would mean providing them “extra” rights?

Answer: I can not.

Do you believe HUD currently provides “extra rights” to LGBTQ people that need to be withdrawn?

Answer: I do not.

Infrastructure and Housing

Question: The President-Elect’s promised 1 trillion investment in infrastructure is one of the pillars of the President’s Plan for Urban Renewal. This is an area where I’ve said I’d like to work together with the new Administration.

Our public housing stock faces an estimated backlog of $26 billion in repairs. I was pleased that in our meeting you said that you are supportive of investing in our public housing infrastructure. Can you elaborate on this?

Will you work with the President to ensure that there is a real infrastructure package to address the needs of our urban and rural communities, and that it includes funding for preserving and creating affordable housing?

Answer: I will absolutely commit to advocating for the inclusion in the President Elect’s infrastructure package.

Housing for People with Disabilities

Question: Very-low income people with disabilities have great difficulty in finding and paying for suitable affordable housing with access to appropriate features and services. Over 1 million very low-income, non-elderly persons with disabilities pay over half of their incomes for housing, and approximately 2 million more people – including those with developmental disabilities – are living in more restrictive, institutional environments than they would choose or are living with an aging caregiver. Rent on a modest 1 bedroom apartment at HUD’s estimated national fair market rent would consume all of the income of a person relying upon Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What do you view as HUID’s role in meeting the housing needs of low-income people with disabilities?

Answer: HUD has both a production/rental subsidy role and an enforcement role. Beyond paying the rent for persons with disabilities, HUD has a responsibility to ensure accessible units are available under the law.

Ending Homelessness

Question: In 2010, Opening Doors, The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, set out goals to end homelessness for veterans, the chronically homeless, families, children and youth and all other homelessness. Through a combination of bipartisan federal investments and in appropriate housing solutions – particularly permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless and HUD-VASH vouchers for veterans – and improved practices at the federal and local levels, we have made real progress toward these goals. Since 2010, such investments have helped reduce chronic homelessness by 27 percent and veterans’ homelessness by 47 percent.

Yet, more remains to be done. According to HUD’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, approximately 549,928 people were homeless on a given night in January 2016. Nearly 195,000 of the homeless on this night were in families including at least one child.

Are you familiar with Opening Doors?

Answer: I am.

Do you intend to continue to build on the progress we’ve made thus far?

Answer: I intend to build on progress made since President Bush reconstituted the United States Inter Agency Council on Homelessness early in his Administration that Opening Doors builds on. No one can argue with the goal of ending homelessness.

If so, will you call for additional federal investments to end homelessness for veterans, the chronically homeless, and children and families?

Answer: If confirmed, I will call for continued investment to end homelessness for veterans, the chronically homeless and children and families.

Listening to Assisted Families and Advocates

Have you met and do you plan to meet with assisted families and organizations that advocate on behalf of HUD program participants and low-income families on your listening tour?

Answer: I have and will most certainly continue to meet with our important HUD partners. I will also work to recruit and Assistant Secretary for CPD who has a strong passion for and understanding of these issues.

Do you support dialogue between HUD staff and organized tenant groups to assist HUD in its oversight of housing programs?

Answer: I always believe dialogue is important way to understand each other’s perspective.

Shortage of Affordable Units/Housing Costs

Question: Dr. Carson, you have emphasized in your testimony the personal development component of HUD’s mission. I believe many people share your goal of helping all Americans reach their potential.

But today’s affordable housing shortage is not just a problem of human development, but also of housing development. The market alone is not producing sufficient housing that is affordable to working families and those on fixed incomes.

Housing is generally considered affordable if it consumes no more than 30 percent of income.

A person with a full-time job would need to earn an hourly wage of $20.30 in order to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental at HUD’s national average fair market rent. This “housing wage” is far above the minimum wage, income available to persons with disabilities who rely upon Supplemental Security Income, or even the median wage earned by renters. While housing costs vary across the country, in no state, metropolitan area, or county, can a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom home. Studies have demonstrated that people performing essential work – like child care teachers, bus drivers, and retail workers – are often unable to afford rent in the communities they serve.

Half of all renters – over 21 million households – paid more than 30 percent of their incomes towards housing in 2014, and a quarter – over 11 million – paid more than half their incomes on rent. Among extremely low income (ELI) renter households (those with incomes at or below 30 percent of area median income (AMI)), 75 percent pay more than half their incomes on rent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition documents a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental units for the nation’s ELI renter households.

Addressing the wages paid to workers is an important part of the housing affordability challenge. But, so too, is the supply of affordable rental housing.

As HUD Secretary, what steps will you take to address the shortfall in affordable and available rental housing in our communities?

Answer: Lack of affordable housing has many causes. Lack of subsidy is one. Lack of clear and consistent guidance is another. Regulatory and compliance risk is yet another. Too often when I talk about HUD with mayors and elected officials of both parties I hear fear and skepticism I their voices when we talk about the department as a partner. We need to change that. When it comes to deep affordability, though, removing all regulatory barriers won’t get you there. It comes down to subsidy. Subsidy levels haven’t changed appreciably under democratic or republican administrations.

I think we can all agree that we will all make sure housing is a key consideration in every appropriations bill. I foresee years of statements from Chairs and Ranking Members of our Appropriations Committees, however, highlighting bright spots in their budgets, but both equally lamenting the fact that they could not do more. If confirmed I will be a vocal advocate internally for funding, but prioritization will continue to occur in this Administration as it did in the last. I believe in HUD’s mission. I could have pursued other agencies, but I chose to come to HUD. I chose to come to HUD because I think I can make a difference. If confirmed, I hope to have an opportunity to challenge existing norms and take a fresh look at HUD’s programs. If we can lay aside our political differences and come together as Housers, I believe we can find better paths than we see before us. I may be fresh to the fight in Washington, D.C., but I am not fresh to the struggle to improve communities and better lives. I will recruit a bi partisan list of practitioners, not ideologues, to serve as Assistant Secretaries. I will surround myself with people who have a passion for improving the agency, not breaking down its programs. I will work with the career staff to examine what has been tried, why it worked or did not work, and if it did not work, why not. I hope we can do this together. I hope we can work as partners to reexamine and reimagine these programs.


Do you feel better now or reassured over the new HUD Secretary? Me either (Who could argue with the goal of ending homelessness?)  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of the author and the italic section of Ben Carson