It’s not official yet, but retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson is expected to be the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That concerns some housing advocates in the region, who worry the doctor doesn’t have the right experience or vision to head a multibillion-dollar federal agency that helps fund projects benefiting low-income residents.
“I think there will be fewer resources, and they may be spent on issues that don’t really change the lives of most people that we care about — folks who are just struggling to pay their housing costs, for their kids’ sneaks and being able to take public transit,” said Nora Lichtash, who directs the Women’s Community Revitalization Project.
Lichtash and others intend to keep a close eye on what becomes of a federal rule recently added to the Fair Housing Act aimed at reducing discrimination, particularly in neighborhoods under redevelopment.
The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision requires HUD grantees to assess and address local barriers to affordable housing with hopes of creating more diverse communities.
In a 2015 column published in the Washington Times, Carson criticized the rule, calling it a “government-engineered” attempt to “legislate racial equality.”
“There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous,” wrote Carson.
If he becomes the secretary, Carson could change the rule.
“It’s a real threat, and we’re very concerned,” said Staci Berger, president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
Berger does see a silver lining when it comes to HUD’s agenda under the Trump administration: the agency’s existing staffers.
“There’s a reason that we have professional civil servants in government at every level, and that’s because administrations change and people who have been involved in this work and know how the day-to-day operations of the institution function continue to be there,” said Berger.
Carson has never held a job in government, housing management or urban policy. He is now considered the front-runner for HUD secretary after saying two weeks ago that he wouldn’t join the Trump administration because he lacked the experience to fill a Cabinet position.
In an interview with Fox News, Carson called improving the country’s inner cities a “long-term interest.”
Dale Gravett, executive director of the Chester County Housing Authority in Pennsylvania, said Carson’s background is not as critical as you might think.
“Being a caring person that’s concerned about poverty in the United States, the ways to alleviate that — housing being one of the major components of eliminating poverty — is more important. I think he has those qualities,” Gravett.
An official with the Housing Alliance of PA said that organization foresees a smooth transition.
“We are looking forward to working with Dr. Carson — and all the staff at HUD — as we continue our efforts to ensure a home within reach of every Pennsylvanian,” said policy director Cynthia Witman Daley
Calls to the Delaware, Montgomery and Bucks county housing authorities were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Housing Authority said the agency would comment only after the HUD post was filled.