Story By: Joseph Emeka
Ben Carson is the perfect representation of the Trump administration. Until now, his time as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been well-defined by a combination of incompetence and indifference to the realities faced by the poor and the working class.
HUD is in charge of trying to guarantee equal access to housing in a country that for generations has implemented policies that allow racial discrimination. However, according to Carson, HUD is moving away from the agency’s mission to fight discrimination and, instead, is prioritizing the more nebulous standard of “self-sufficiency.”
The most recent example of your failed stewardship? His decision to make Andrew Hughes, 32, his chief of staff. Hughes’ most notable accomplishments appear to have been months of work in the presidential campaigns of Ben Carson and Donald Trump and to be a controller of Uber. It is an appropriate decision given that the poor and elderly who need to depend on HUD will soon be forced to seek accommodation in their cars.
In past administrations, Democrats and Republicans, the chief of staff was someone who had the skills and experience to understand housing policy and how government levers worked. Hughes is not that person. And, what’s worse, he is not the first person in Carson’s department to get an important position for which he seems unqualified. Lynne Patton’s Resume was notoriously low when she was appointed to Head the Federal Housing Office of New York; she previously was a party planner for Trump.
On the other hand, previous administrations seemed to have a different agenda than this one. The Obama administration, for example, pledged to reverse the legacy of racial segregation and income. Carson’s priority, on the other hand, has apparently been pushing back the civil rights and other hard-earned protections implemented during the previous administration, instead of making the lives of those already struggling more bearable.
Carson has suspended the rules that require local governments to address patterns of racial segregation. It is also reconsidering a 2013 rule on when disparate impact claims – a legal tool to encounter actions that have a discriminatory effect even if the manifest bias is not apparent – can be used against those involved in housing decisions.
Carson tried, but the courts prevented it, to make it harder for the beneficiaries of housing vouchers to use them in wealthy neighborhoods, even though the program was designed to give poor and marginalized families the opportunity to obtain better schools. It also suspended fair housing investigations in a local ordinance in Hesperia, California, which makes it difficult to fight housing discrimination against people on probation and people with criminal records.
Carson and HUD officials downplay the changes, claiming that this is just a typical change from one administration to the next. But these changes are much more drastic than that. Most decisions flow in one direction, giving the benefit of the doubt to those in power – state and local government officials and large corporations and take away protections from those who do not have power.
It is a strange movement of a man who says he only wants the best for poor people and is trying to “help poor people out of poverty”.
If Carson had better understood the housing policy when he accepted this job, he would know that one of the causes of the Great Recession of 2008 was that the big banks focused on black and brown borrowers for risky loans, even when they qualified for more stable loans. He would know that half a century after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and also of the Fair Housing Act, which was designed to eliminate housing discrimination, racial divisions are as severe as they were in the 1990s. 1960, and in some cases worse.
He would know that many problems faced by the poor and marginalized derive from discriminatory housing policies that effectively maintain segregation, affecting everything from school performance to the likelihood that a young person will end up in jail. He would know that former prisoners who can not secure stable housing in stable neighborhoods and good jobs are more likely to re-offend.
Or maybe he knows and just does not care.
Before Carson was appointed Secretary of HUD, he was thinking of turning down any potential offer to serve in Trump’s Cabinet.
“Dr. Carson feels he has no experience in government, he has never run a federal agency,” Carson’s advisor Armstrong Williams told Hill newspaper after Trump was elected. “The last thing he would like to do is take a position that could paralyze the presidency.”
But Carson has not paralyzed Trump’s presidency. He is simply doing on a national scale what the Trump family was accused of doing in the 1970s when the Department of Justice sued him for racial discrimination. They complied with the DOJ by signing a decree of consent, with the Trump business promising not to discriminate in the future, although not admitting the fault of having committed a previous fault.
Carson has had a prominent place in American history books because of his pioneering work as a neurosurgeon. His story was inspiring because he reached such great professional levels after overcoming discrimination and poverty as a child. But his story must now be rewritten, as he is now playing a leading role.