Ben Carson will be nominated as the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Trump transition team announced today.
The retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate has no experience in housing policy or running a government agency, though he did spend part of his childhood in public housing. His nomination to oversee one of the government’s main efforts to revitalize American cities is expected to complicate progress made on anti-housing discrimination laws during the Obama administration.
As head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Carson will oversee federal public housing programs, as well as help create policy on homelessness and housing discrimination. HUD oversees programs that fight urban blight, provide vouchers and other rental assistance for low-income families, and assist struggling homeowners in staving off foreclosures.
Importantly, Carson would also oversee a rule passed by the Obama administration in 2015 that requires local communities to assess their own patterns of racial and income segregation and make plans to address them. Carson has been critical of the rule, which is meant to fulfill a long-unkept promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, calling it a “mandated social-engineering scheme” in an op-ed last year for the Washington Times.
As Emily Badger wrote in a recent article for The New York Times‘ “The Upshot,” the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 included two mandates: One banned the discrimination in the housing market, and the other required local communities to “affirmatively further” the fair-housing goal of integration. The second had gone largely ignored by landlords and HUD. Badger writes of the mandate:
The latter language means that it’s not enough to punish landlords or communities who intentionally deny minorities housing. Communities also have a responsibility to actively ensure open housing markets, which exist today neither in public housing clusters on Chicago’s segregated South Side nor in exclusive New York City suburbs that use zoning laws to outlaw multifamily housing.
The recent HUD fair-housing rule, called the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, works to address these problems—though Carson’s nomination could slow, or altogether thwart, that progress. Carson, who grew up poor in Detroit, has downplayed the government’s role in his own story of rising out of poverty, most notably in his memoir Gifted Hands–in addition to criticizing the housing policy, writing that “based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous.”
As of yet, there’s no real indication of what HUD will focus on under Carson or the Trump administration. During the campaign, Trump mentioned his commitment to restoring America’s inner cities, though he relied on exaggerated rhetoric that described the lives of poor blacks and Hispanics as “a disaster,” and asked black voters for their support by asking, “What do you have to lose?” As Mark Wilson wrote in a recent story for Co.Design, under a Trump administration, cities could likely become increasingly difficult for the poor.
Carson was an early supporter of Trump, endorsing him soon after Carson dropped out of the race in March. Still, Carson appeared reluctant to join the administration weeks ago when he declined an offer for Secretary of Health and Human Services due to his lack of experience running a federal agency, according to his aide Armstrong Williams. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency,” Williams told The Hill after the election. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
President-elect Trump formally offered the HUD position to Carson on November 23. As is the case with all cabinet positions, Carson’s nomination will have to be approved by the Senate.