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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What will HUD look like under Carson?

This week Donald Trump announced his appointment of Ben Carson to be the new HUD Secretary. Because Dr. Carson has no housing policy experience whatsoever, there are many unknowns about how he would run the department. However, he has put forth his broader political philosophy about the limited role that government should play in assisting low-income people. For example, he has made some comments about how social safety net programs encourage dependence of low-income people on those programs. This has led to some concern that Carson would support cutting funding to existing HUD programs, or significant programming changes that would negatively impact the economic security of millions of Americans.

While we don't know exactly what types of interventions Carson would make to most HUD programs, he does seem to have a clear mandate to diminish efforts to promote fair housing. This was reported in recent articles by the New York Times and Washington Post. Carson views HUD's fair housing interventions as ineffective "social engineering" by government. The Washington Post article points out that it was government social engineering that created housing segregation in the first place. Obama's fair housing enforcement activities have been efforts to reverse the pervasive impacts of past government intervention in the housing market.

Trump emphasized the fact that Carson grew up in inner city Detroit, and therefore has the necessary experience to address problems that vex such cities. However, Carson has not been involved in efforts to address inner city problems at a scale anywhere close to what he will be charged with at HUD. He understands that there are problems, but he doesn't have any experience with successful solutions, nor has he established the relationships across business, government and grassroots organizations that are necessary to implement them.

Carson is obviously a very bright and talented surgeon. Questions linger about how applicable this knowledge is to what will be required at HUD. A brilliant technician is not necessarily a brilliant administrator. The two require very different skill sets and approaches. I believe Carson's success as HUD Secretary will depend on how willing he is to keep an open mind, re-evaluate some of his philosophical beliefs, and lean on professionals within the department that have a much deeper understanding of housing policy and how it impacts American households.

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