Talk Back

Why Ben Carson as HUD Secretary is a Poor Choice

Associated Press

If I needed help finding a place to live, I would not go to a brain surgeon.

So when President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), surprise and confusion were not uncommon reactions. Carson lacks any relevant experience necessary for the job. He has also shown no indication of interest in or empathy for the people who need and use HUD’s services.

Just a quick look at some of the challenges facing the next HUD secretary makes it clear why HUD needs a seasoned professional — not a nascent politician. Among the most pressing problems: Section 8 housing is in serious need of an overhaul, with interminable waiting lists. Homelessness persists as a major problem as low-income people can’t find housing, and when they can, racial discrimination continues to curb opportunities. HUD has a responsibility not only for public housing, but to address the broader crisis of housing impacting urban areas. Rampant gentrification in formerly affordable neighborhoods is displacing low income — and even moderate income — families from their homes and communities. The current urban housing crisis doesn’t just affect people who live in public housing; working and middle class people also need HUD to work.

Clearly, the country needs more and better affordable housing, both public and private. We also need protections for people who have lost their homes. Is Dr. Ben Carson up to the task? He almost certainly is not.

Carson himself seems to know this. Carson’s business manager recently told the press, “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.”

Yet he accepted Trump’s nomination for HUD despite his lack of professional housing and management know-how.

Supporters have cited Carson’s childhood in Detroit as qualifying experience in lieu of actual housing policy knowledge. Contrary to rumors, Carson never lived in public housing. Even if he had, he has shown no indication that he seeks to help the residents of his severely depressed hometown or any struggling urban areas like it. Instead he has used the same shaming rhetoric deployed by opponents of racial and economic justice.

“My mother was out working and struggling hard … trying to stay off of welfare. Most of the people she saw go on welfare never came off it,” Carson reportedly said. “She wanted to be independent. She decided she would work as long and hard as necessary.” But pulling one up by one’s mythical bootstraps is not a feasible policy solution for those entrenched in structural poverty and subjected to systemic racism and discrimination.

He views the social safety net with contempt, referring to social servants as those who identify marginalized people in the U.S. and say to them, “You poor little thing, I’m going to give you everything that you possibly need.” This is not the man we need at the helm of low-income housing and development. We need a HUD secretary who understands that housing is a basic human need — not something to be scorned.

Carson will be granted the power to affect real change in this country; instead he seems more likely to condescend to people living in poverty and snatch away critical benefits. He has openly voiced disapproval of government programs promoting racial and housing justice. He wrote in an op-ed in 2015, “These attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse. There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but … entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous.” Carson very clearly has no intention of using housing policy for good.

Carson has been a prominent Trump supporter, so it is understandable that the president-elect wants to reward his loyalty. But he should find a job that Carson is qualified to hold. Given Carson’s lack of experience and contempt for those living in poverty, his nomination is unabashed cronyism and antithetical to candidate Trump’s promise of change.

Janette Robinson-Flint is the executive director of Black Women for Wellness

Image: Associated Press