Is there a doctor in the Housing agency?
January 12, 2017

Hearings are taking place today regarding the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s a little more about Carson and what housing experts think of him as possible HUD secretary:

1. It's Not Necessarily a Bad Idea to Have a Health Expert Lead HUD, Though, by Brentin Mock, CityLab.com

Dr. Ben Carson is widely considered by housing advocates to be an unusual and possibly unqualified choice to lead the nation’s Housing and Urban Development agency. He has no government experience and has expressed his belief that subsidized housing often contributes to dependency, and skepticism about fair housing laws. 

"But if the critique is that a medical professional is unfit for the HUD position, then that doesn’t square with the research, which is increasingly convinced that housing is indeed a health issue. Dr. Megan Sandel, the former medical director of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, calls housing a 'vaccine' for protecting children against societal ills."

Bottom line: Inexperience aside, Carson’s background could be an asset, if indeed he takes seriously the connection between housing and public health -- especially on issues such as toxic lead and mold that affect children’s brain development.

2. Ben Carson, Shaped by Poverty, Is Likely to Bring Tough Love to HUD, by Yamiche Alcindor, New York Times

Carson and his brother were raised by their single working mother in Detroit’s public housing. Ben was pushed to accept responsibility for his own welfare, study hard, and stay out of trouble. And it paid off:  He attended Yale University on scholarship, and at 33, was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Still, many question if he's qualified to run a federal agency of 8,500 employees serving millions of Americans including 4.5 million who receive rental assistance including public housing.

“Mr. Carson has no experience running a large federal bureaucracy, and aside from a failed run for the presidency, has no background in government. But if confirmed by the Senate, he would enter public service with a background like few other cabinet officials in history, shaped profoundly by a childhood when public assistance meant survival and public housing was all around him.”

Bottom line: Growing up poor makes Carson stand out in the slate of Trump nominees and one might think he’d have different insights than his would-be cabinet peers. Yet he’s consistently rejected the idea that government support programs such as those that benefited his family should be widely available to others.

3. 5 Housing Experts Weigh In on HUD Secretary Nominee Ben Carson, by Oscar Perry Abello, NextCity.org

Housing experts are waiting to hear more from Dr. Ben Carson about his take on HUD’s programs including rental assistance, public housing, site-based job training programs and first-time homebuyer support. He's hard to read, having often said he doesn't like the dependency he says is created by government housing programs. 

“I don’t want to get rid of any safety net programs. I want to create an environment where they won’t be needed,” Carson has said previously. ...

If Carson, the Trump administration or the Republican-controlled Congress want to take a hatchet to rental assistance, the picture is already bleak. Public housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and other rental assistance programs make up nearly 80 percent of HUD’s budget, yet only one in four families eligible for rental assistance in the U.S. actually get it.

Bottom line: HUD is many things – and it would be foolish to say that none of its programs should ever change. But 4.5 million low-income people rely on rental assistance including public housing, and that’s only a fraction of the need in our country. The new HUD secretary should be attuned to their needs – and one hopes, help them get ahead as he once did.