What Are the Implications of Ben Carson Being Nominated for HUD Secretary?

Published by Peter Lawrence on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 12:00am

President-Elect Donald Trump will nominate Dr. Ben Carson, his former rival for their party’s nomination, to be the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

As a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, Carson does not have professional experience in the programs HUD administers. Also, neither Trump nor Carson specifically  addressed housing and community development policy during the primaries or general election.

Carson and the incoming administration cite having grown up in Detroit’s urban poverty as one of his credentials. Given the House Republican poverty, opportunity and upward mobility taskforce recommendations, Carson could give credibility and political momentum to enacting and implementing these recommendations. As such, there is little background to consider in taking a look ahead at his possible priorities as secretary.

One of the few topics he has raised is fair housing; Carson shared his perspective in a July 2015 Washington Times editorial. He starts off by recognizing “policies such as redlining, restrictive covenants, discriminatory steering by real estate agents and restricted access to private capital” have exacerbated segregation. He also notes “that the Fair Housing Act and other laws have greatly reduced explicit discrimination in housing, but significant disparities in housing availability and quality persist.”

However, the main point of the editorial is a critique of the Obama Administration’s 2015 rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs vs. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. decision. Carson contends these federal mandates are “social-engineering schemes” that will “fundamentally change the nature of some communities.” He believes such approaches “make matters worse.”

In what is perhaps his only other instance of mentioning HUD during the campaign, Carson discussed Section 8 voucher administration during an interview with a local Iowa radio station. The city of Dubuque and HUD recently had reached a settlement over allegations of racial discrimination. He was critical of the agreement, describing it as “an example of what happens when we allow the government to infiltrate every part of our lives.”

There are several possible outcomes for a changed emphasis from a Carson-led HUD on fair housing going forward. The most immediate is HUD’s upcoming review of jurisdictions’ plans to implement the AFFH rule. Dozens of these efforts are already underway across the country, to be finished and submitted to HUD next year. Officials reporting to Carson could set a lower level of expectation for the state and local governments’ goals.

There is even a possibility of material changes to the rule itself. In addition to HUD initiating amendments, the final fiscal year 2017 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill could present an opportunity to make significant revisions.

It’s also worth noting there hasn’t been a higher-profile name on the national political stage in this role for many years. Carson being so well known could help in convincing Congressional Republicans to protect funding for HUD programs.  Given the likely shift from nondefense to defense spending under a Trump administration, HUD will need all the help it can get.