Ben Carson spent the weekend thinking about an offer to be the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Donald Trump’s administration, and if he accepts, the retired neurosurgeon could complicate progress made on anti-housing discrimination laws during the Obama administration.
While it is somewhat unclear as to what Carson’s goals would be in the position, he has criticized a recent HUD fair-housing rule, which requires local communities to assess patterns of income and racial discrimination in housing.
He has referred to the rule, known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, as a “mandated social-engineering scheme,” and in one instance said it was indicative of policy in a “communist” country.
The rule was meant to correct a stipulation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which both banned discrimination in the housing market and required local communities to actively pursue fair housing. Should Carson be confirmed for the position, he would have authority over the way in which the new HUD provision is rolled out.
And it would appear, that he’s no fan of it.
In a 2015 column for The Washington Times, Carson argued “It is true that the Fair Housing Act and other laws have greatly reduced explicit discrimination in housing, but significant disparities in housing availability and quality persist,” he wrote. “To address them, the Obama administration’s new agency rules rely on a tortured reading of the Fair Housing laws to empower the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ‘affirmatively promote’ fair housing, even in the absence of explicit discrimination.”
That latter preventative element is what seems to bother Carson so much.
In the same piece, he also criticized a Supreme Court decision, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, that kept a provision of federal law banning housing discrimination.
“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse,” Carson wrote. “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.”
But given the HUD position, Carson would, in part, be the very person entrusted to get it right.
In an interview with an Iowa radio station in 2015, Carson railed against an agreement between the city of Dubuque and HUD that sought to address the way in which the city gave out federally funded housing vouchers. Dubuque essentially agreed to not discriminate in their distribution of the vouchers against people moving to the area from primarily black urban areas.
Jan Mickelson, a local talk-radio host, described the stipulation to Carson, saying that “people in eastern Iowa, for instance, have to recruit from Chicago their poverty-afflicted individuals to bring them to Iowa in order to qualify for Section 8 housing.”
Carson was surprised and described the process as federal overreaching.
“This is just an example of what happens when we allow the government to infiltrate every part of our lives,” Carson said. “This is what you see in communist countries where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don’t agree with them, all they have to do is pull the noose. And this is what we’ve got now. Every month, dozens of regulations—business, industry, academia, every aspect of our lives—so that they can control you.”
While Carson’s comments could be attributed to the fact that he lacks experience in the housing sector, that’s exactly why his apparent selection has left a number of experts baffled at the choice.
“I am astounded at the suggestion that Ben Carson would be nominated to serve as HUD secretary,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told CityLab. “HUD is among the most important federal agencies tasked with ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Act, and creating affordable and inclusive communities.”
Not to mention Carson himself dismissed the possibility of serving inside the Trump administration less than two weeks ago.
On Nov. 15, Carson had decided not to seek a Cabinet position in Trump’s administration, saying “I believe it is vitally important for the Trump administration to have many outspoken friends and advisers who are outside of the Washington bubble,” in a statement on his Facebook page. “It is vital to have independent voices of reason and reconciliation if our nation is to heal and regain its greatness. I will continue to work with the transition team and beyond as we build a dynamite executive branch of government.”
This was on the same day that his business manager and frequent spokesman Armstrong Williams said “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
Just over a week later, Carson was signaling that an announcement about his role in the upcoming administration was imminent. As of Sunday, Williams had not responded to The Daily Beast about whether Carson has made up his mind.
But Williams, suggested in an interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday, that if Trump deems Carson qualified that’s good enough for him.
“Mr. Trump is a visionary,” Williams said in a Tuesday night interview. “He knows that Dr. Carson cares about inner cities and rural America.”