The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee recently held a hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to serve as HUD secretary. In his testimony, Dr. Carson spoke about his experience living in poverty in Detroit and Boston. “I grew up in inner city Detroit with a single mother who had a third grade education, but who worked numerous jobs to keep a roof over our heads and to put food on our table. I understand housing insecurity,” he said in his written testimony.
He also emphasized the connection between health and housing, the regulatory barriers to affordable housing, and the role of the federal government in promoting economic mobility. “Everyone should have a decent roof over their heads, and get treatment, job training or whatever they need to help them achieve self-sufficiency. This strengthens our nation and lightens the load for all,” he stated. During the hearing, several senators noted that more than half of HUD-assisted households are elderly and disabled, and also need affordable healthcare as a critical part of their services. Dr. Carson said that he thinks rental housing assistance is “essential” and that it would be “cruel and unusual” to withdraw assistance before another plan is in place.
With his experience as a neurosurgeon, Dr. Carson was particularly focused on the connection between health and housing. “Housing (and housing discrimination) is a ‘social determinant’ of health,” Dr. Carson said in his testimony. During questioning he again committed his support for efforts to reduce the presence of lead and other environmental hazards in HUD-assisted housing, and also pointed to other factors, such as unsafe living conditions, that create stress and make it difficult for families and children to thrive.
In addition, Dr. Carson was asked about his approach to fair housing, including his 2015 Washington Times editorial describing HUD’s final rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing as a “failed socialist experiment.” Dr. Carson committed to enforcing antidiscrimination laws, stating, “If confirmed, I would enforce all of the laws of the land” and “the Fair Housing Act was one of the best pieces of legislation.” He did not indicate whether he intends to uphold or rescind HUD’s 2015 final rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing. And when asked about serving LGBTQ people, Dr. Carson promised that he would use his position to extend the full protections of the law to all Americans.
With regard to the HUD budget, Dr. Carson vowed to conduct a thorough review of all HUD programs to determine their efficacy and the appropriate funding level in order to develop a “world class housing plan.” During questioning it was noted that he has previously supported a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in funding for all federal agencies, but he responded that he has since revised his position. Dr. Carson did not reference many specific HUD programs, but did commit to protecting, strengthening, and potentially expanding the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program as well as veterans housing programs, including the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.