We’re ready to say goodbye to Ben Carson and his disastrous leadership at HUD. In December of 2016, Dr. Ben Carson — neurosurgeon, failed presidential candidate, and amateur Egyptologist — was nominated by Donald Trump to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite clearly, and accurately, saying he was not qualified to run a federal agency, Dr. Carson agreed to take the job and was confirmed in March of 2017.
The four years of Secretary Caron’s tenure have made it clear that he was right about at least one thing: he was not up to the challenge of running an agency tasked with providing a fundamental human right to the American people. He lacked the knowledge, the interest, and most basically, he lacked the moral ability to put the needs of tens of millions of Americans above his own or above the capricious ego of his boss. Here are the top 10 reasons we’re not sad to say goodbye.
1. Luxury for Me; Austerity for Thee: Table-Gate
Early in Secretary Carson’s tenure, he gave us a perfect example of Dr. Maya Angelou’s famous saying, “when people show you who they are; believe them.” On the heels of proposing and cheerleading for a federal budget proposal with massive budget cuts for public and subsidized housing, Carson got caught trying to spend $31,000 on a dining room set for his personal office. The resulting press shamed him into canceling the purchase, but not from continuing to try and slash and burn HUD’s budget.
Every single year of his tenure, Ben Carson helped develop and lobby for federal budget proposals that would, if enacted, lead to homelessness, illness, and death. While generations of disinvestment and neglect have left our precious public housing stock in need of over a trillion dollars in repairs, Ben Carson did not try to solve the problems, he tried to make them worse. His budgets proposed zeroing out public housing repair funds, eliminating Community Development Block Grants, HOME funds, and slashing budgets practically across the board during one of the worst housing crises this nation has ever seen.
3. Incapable or Unwilling to Learn the Job
We knew when he took the job that Dr. Carson was not qualified to run a federal agency — we knew because of his experience, and because Carson and his closest allies said so themselves. And while we knew that his knowledge of housing policy was pretty thin when he took the position, even the most cynical of us thought he would at least try to get up to speed. But, even with the bar planted very low, he failed to clear it.
In 2019, more than 2 years into his tenure at the helm of the Department, Secretary Carson showed the world he didn’t care enough about us to even learn the basics. During a Congressional oversight hearing, Rep. Katie Porter tried to ask Secretary Carson about HUD’s policy on the properties it owns, properties that once were people’s homes that had been foreclosed on. She asked him about it using the common acronym REO. Secretary Carson didn’t know what she was talking about, first thinking she meant cookies (“Oreos?”). But he didn’t just mishear her. When prompted with the first two words, he was still unable to come up with the term.
“Carson: Real estate …
Porter: What does the O stand for?
Porter: Owned. Real estate owned.”
4. Kicking Us When We’re Down; Rent Hikes for the Lowest Income Residents
Less than one year after his party and Administration jammed through a $1.5 trillion dollar tax cut benefitting the 1%, Ben Carson decided to try and make up some of that cash on the backs of the very poorest people in the country. One of the most effective parts of our public and subsidized housing is that it is designed to be truly affordable — tenants pay a set percentage of their income on rent, and if they have no income, they pay a base rate. But that wasn’t good enough for Ben Carson who tried to raise base rents for the very poorest and implement harsh work requirements — despite overwhelming evidence that these policies do nothing to help people in poverty.
When Carson was confronted by public and subsidized housing tenants who asked him “where will we go?” if he made their housing unaffordable, Carson didn’t listen or try to understand the people he was sworn to serve. Instead, he insulted them, calling them “swamp creatures.” But tenants and manufactured homeowners, advocates, and organizers across the country fought back hard and Carson was forced to abandon his plan.
5. Anatomy of a Scam: Opportunity Zones
Anytime Carson or Trump are asked about their shameful record on economic and racial justice, you can be sure they will trot out their talking points on Opportunity Zones. They love to try and paint this massive developer and investor tax scam into some kind of boon for People of Color. Opportunity Zones have supercharged gentrification while stealing trillions of tax dollars and handing them to the mega-rich, including Trump’s own family.
This Administration has a well-earned reputation for gaslighting and doublespeak, but the Orwellian named Opportunity Zones have to make it toward the top levels of cynicism and exploitation.
6. Supercharging Discrimination, Part I: Kneecapping Disparate Impact
It took a little time for Secretary Carson to really catch his stride in trying to ram through destructive rules and policies, but once he did, he went after Fair Housing with a vengeance. One of his most destructive attempts was the rulemaking to virtually incapacitate the disparate impact standard of the Fair Housing Act.
If put into practice, the final rule on the disparate impact standard will make it nearly impossible to hold banks, landlords, and insurers accountable for actions that discriminate against and disproportionately harm People of Color, women, the differently-abled, families with children, and other marginalized communities. The Disparate Impact Standard has been one of the most effective tools for advocates, individuals, and communities to stop practices that may appear neutral on their face, but that inflicted outsized harm to people already struggling in our structurally unequal system.
7. Supercharging Discrimination Part II, Repealing Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
One of the many lessons the renewed movement for Black lives taught much of white America this summer was this country’s long, violent history of systemic discrimination. Everything from persistent and huge racial wealth gaps to poorer health and educational outcomes to escalating police violence in gentrifying neighborhoods have their roots in discriminatory housing and land policy. The entire purpose of the rules on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) are to require cities, states, and counties to look at that history straight on and dismantle it. So of course, Ben Carson is trying to eliminate it.
Repealing AFFH was just the kind of divisive, racist move that makes the boss happy though, and Trump tried repeatedly to make it a centerpiece of his re-election strategy. Trump threw away the racist dog-whistle and picked up the racist megaphone to spew lies and stoke fear about AFFH to woo his warped version of “suburban housewives’ into voting for him. It didn’t work.
The repeal of AFFH is currently in place, but is under legal challenge and is at the top of fair housing, racial justice, and affordable housing advocates list for President-Elect Biden to immediately repeal.
8. Trying to Force 100,000 People into the Street with the Mixed-Status Rule
Secretary Carson didn’t want to get left behind in an Administration that has made cruelty, bigotry, xenophobia, and hatred a centerpiece. To keep up with the Millers, Carson released a proposed rule that would throw an estimated 55,000 children and their families out of their homes if anyone in their household is an immigrant without specific types of documentation. This breathtakingly vicious proposal would not only wreak havoc on thousands of lives, but it would also actually cost HUD more money than the current system, and would likely mean even fewer families would be able to access housing support.
9. Attacking the Most Vulnerable and Denying Equal Access
While attacking immigrants has been a favorite past-time of this Administration, attacking the LGBTQ+ community seems to be one of Ben Carson’s personal pet projects. After being caught referring to transgendered women as “big hairy men,” Carson didn’t apologize, he doubled down. With the release of the Equal Access proposed rule, he is attempting to bring the power of HUD and the federal government in to deny LGBTQ+ people access to shelter. The proposed rule would allow shelters receiving HUD dollars to deny life-saving shelter to people based on their gender expression.
A full 1-in-5 members of the transgender community will experience homelessness at some point in their lives: this is an emergency that requires HUD to open more access, not to shut people out.
We thought when Dr. Carson was named to the Coronavirus Task Force that for once in this Administration he could do some good by bringing his medical experience and education to work for the American people. We were wrong. Instead of promoting science-backed solutions like universal mask-wearing, physical distancing, and advocating for financial support for people to stay home and stay safe, Ben Carson lied to the American people about the seriousness of the virus and pushed quack cures from his friends. But, like TableGate, what’s good for you isn’t enough for him. When his refusal to wear a mask and distance inevitably ended with him contracting COVID-19, he used his influence to get one of the very few available doses of the rare, life-saving antibody treatment that Trump also received. Over 3,000 people a day are dying from COVID-19, millions more have been sickened, and millions are suffering long-term effects. Secretary Carson could have helped prevent this, but he was only looking out for himself.
It’s a depressing litany of capriciousness, cruelty, and incompetence; and, we are more than ready to turn the page. But while Ben Carson set the bar very low, our expectations for the new Administration are much higher. There is damage to be undone from the last 4 years and from the last 40 and 400. We cannot wait and we cannot allow the incoming Biden/Harris Administration and their HUD Secretary nominee Rep. Marcia Fudge to be timid in taking on the challenge. Our lives depend on it and we can help.