With Trump’s ongoing selection of new cabinet members, it is important to understand the responsibilities of specific government departments and the implications that new leadership might have on the functioning of these organizations. Trump announced the selection of Ben Carson as the new incoming Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Here we explore the selection and its implications in more depth.
What does the Department of Housing and and Urban Development do?
HUD is responsible for ensuring that low income populations have access to safe and affordable housing, strengthen the housing market and insure mortgages, protect consumers and renters, enforce anti-discrimination policies in the housing market, and help build sustainable communities in vulnerable neighborhoods. 1 It’s annual budget approaches $50 billion – as mentioned in our discussion of the national budget – this is less than 1.5% of the annual federal budget.
Examples of some HUD Programs and interventions:
- Federal Housing Administration: provides insurance on mortgages made by banks and private lenders; a self-funded program with no cost to tax payers
- Housing choice voucher program: subsidizes the cost of housing for low-income families, the elderly, and disabled. Individuals are given a voucher to subsidize; this program assists over 5 million low-income households annually. 2
- Grants to assists with the removal of lead-based paints from older homes
- Policy research on urban development and housing programs
- Develops and enforces policies to prevent housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or other grounds
- Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator Program: provides case management services to elderly populations to coordinate health care and housing dilemmas
- Appalachia Economic Development Institute: provides grants to rural nonprofit organizations or community development corporations serving the Appalachia Region
- Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS): “program for public housing residents with supportive services, resident empowerment activities, and assistance in becoming economically self-sufficient” 3
- Block grants to cities and states seeking to revitalize low-income housing districts and Section 8 housing
What powers are entrusted with the Secretary of HUD?
“All powers and functions of the Department of Housing and Urban Development are vested in the Secretary.”4 There are some legislative restrictions on the organization and functions of HUD. However, the Secretary has significant discretion on how to allocate funds, enforce programs and policies, and develop and implement policy initiatives. An incoming HUD Secretary could change or reverse long-standing HUD initiatives. The HUD Secretary cannot restructure the entire organization without a 90-day cost-benefit analysis.
Is Ben Carson qualified for the position?
Carson has no experience in housing and urban development policy and has never served in an executive or government administrative capacity. He is a renowned neurosurgeon. Carson’s personal adviser and friend Armstrong Williams stated – in the weeks before his appointment to the position – that “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency…The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.” 5
What has Carson said about the role of HUD?
He has publicly stated that Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule adopted by the Obama administration is “social engineering.” Speaking on the role of HUD, he wrote in a 2016 editorial:
“There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous.” 6
Things to watch moving forward:
- Appointment of Deputy Secretary position: the Deputy Secretary is one of the highest ranking officials to be appointed at HUD and runs many of the day-to-day operations. Some currently on the short-list can be found here.
- How will the mission at HUD evolve given that the mission of providing affordable housing is not core to the mainstream Republican agenda? Carson has indicted that it is “not the government’s job…to take care of the indigent in our society.” How will this viewpoint change the existing functions of HUD?
- How will HUD under Carson choose to enforce existing policies of the organization? Carson is a vocal critic of social welfare programs and ran on a platform of shrinking government intervention. Will he scale back housing assistance to low income communities? And will he continue to vigorously enforce fair housing policies or signal that HUD will no longer take these violations as seriously?