It’s official. Donald Trump has announced on his Facebook page that he’s going to nominate Dr. Ben Carson as the new HUD chief.
This isn’t a big surprise. We’ve been hearing about this possibility for weeks, along with concern about his limited experience in real estate, housing policy or the running of a massive government agency.
Carson is a retired neurosurgeon with no housing experience, which is making some housing experts nervous — but reaction to his nomination is divided.
First, a little background on HUD:
The agency was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Its primary mission is: “to increase homeownership, support community development and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination.”
HUD enforces the Fair Housing Act and also oversees various housing programs that help low-income families. The Fair Housing Act makes housing discrimination illegal. It’s also the enforcement agency for any discrimination complaints.
HUD also oversees the Community Development Block Grant program, which allocates money to states, cities, communities, and organizations, to help create affordable housing. And it runs the whole Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.
As for Carson, he grew up in low-income neighborhoods of Detroit, and turned the story of childhood poverty into one of great success as a neurosurgeon who then ran for President of the United States. It’s a powerful story in itself, but there are big questions as to whether that’s enough experience to run a vast public housing agency like HUD.
President-Elect Trump said on his Facebook page: “I am thrilled to nominate Dr. Ben Carson as our next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.” He said: “We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities.”
Mr. Trump also shared other details about Carson’s resume, saying that he became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 33, and made a name for himself for groundbreaking work separating conjoined twins.
Carson and his wife Candy also started the Carson Scholars Fund 20 years ago. Mr. Trump writes that the fund has provided thousands of scholarships for students across the nation.
Carson has also won high recognition for his work in the medical field. He was selected by the Library of Congress as a “Living Legend” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. His Wikipedia page has a much longer list, so, yes, he is an accomplished individual.
News of his nomination was met by congratulations among some in the housing industry. HousingWire writes that these housing insiders also offered a few opinions on HUD priorities.
Executive Director of Community Home Lenders Association, Scott Olson, said: “We urge him to focus on continuing the strong progress in FHA’s financial health.”
President of the National Association of Realtors, William Brown, said Carson has a big job ahead of him and that “potential homebuyers face a range of hurdles, from rising prices to mortgage credit that’s burdened by fees and extra costs.”
The Mortgage Bankers Association also chimed in, saying that “housing is one of the largest contributors to the health and success of the overall economy, and as such we must continue to recognize its significance.”
The MBA also said it looked “forward to working with Dr. Carson in helping him build out a well-rounded team of housing experts, with a deep technical understanding of the issues, at HUD, FHA, and Ginnie Mae.”
But reaction was not all rosy. HousingWire wrote about a tweet from a former HUD public relations expert, Brandon Friedman. He listed comments from former colleagues such as “it hurts” and that Carson as HUD chief is like having “an affordable housing expert perform brain surgery.”
California’s Nancy Pelosi posted a critical tweet saying: “Our country deserves a HUD Secretary with the relevant experience. Dr. Carson is a disturbingly unqualified choice.”
MarketWatch spoke with the Sarah Edelman who’s the director of housing policy for the Center for American Progress. She said Carson’s nomination was “troubling” and that: “Having a strong, qualified leader at the helm at HUD is really important for the housing market.”
Critics are also quick to point out that Carson has expressed disdain for government programs like those implemented by HUD. He once defined the government fair-housing agenda as “a mandated social-engineering scheme” and related it to something you’d see in a communist country.
The New York Times points out that most HUD secretaries have government experience. Our current HUD chief, Julian Castro, was a mayor, along with his predecessor, Henry Cisneros. Before them, Jack Kemp was a congressman, and George Romney was a governor.
The Times spoke with former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter about the nomination. He currently teaches urban affairs at Columbia University and said of Dr. Carson: “As brilliant as folks have said that Dr. Carson is from a neurosurgery standpoint, creating fair housing, promoting economic development and having people living in prospering communities is a little different than operating on somebody’s brain.” He said: “I do not know how that translates into being a HUD secretary.”
Carson’s nomination still needs confirmation by the Senate, but if he’s approved, he will be in charge of HUD, its $47 billion budget, its federal public housing program, and the formulation of policy regarding homelessness and housing discrimination.
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