Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is under fire for his office's pricey redecoration while the Trump administration slashes housing programs for the poor. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

While Nation's Poor Face Billions in Cuts, Don't-Make-Public-Housing-Too-Cozy Carson Spends Lavishly at HUD Offices

Trump has proposed cutting $6.8 billion from HUD, jeopardizing millions of Americans' housing—but that didn't stop the agency secretary's staff from dropping nearly $200,000 of taxypayer money on office furniture.

Jessica Corbett

Ben Carson—who infamously suggested early in his tenure as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that public housing for the nation's poor should not be "too cozy"—is under fire for a pricey redecoration of his D.C. offices, which comes as the administration proposes billions in cuts to his agency's annual budget, a move that could force millions of Americans out onto the streets.

For the 2019 fiscal year, President Donald Trump has suggested a 14 percent cut of $6.8 billion from HUD. Characertizing the proposal as "a shocking assault on millions of people who rely on rental assistance," George Zornick at The Nation, citing experts, said it "would be the most radical attack on federal housing aid since the U.S. Housing Act became law in 1937. If enacted, the Trump budget would be a vicious eviction notice to millions of low-income families."

Meanwhile, at HUD's headquarters in D.C., top agency staff have reportedly spent $31,561 on a new dining set for Carson's office, and another $165,000 on "lounge furniture." The furniture purchases were reported by the New York Times and the Guardian following an official complaint that Helen Foster, a career HUD staffer, filed with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a federal whistle-blowing agency.

Foster told OSC in a complaint obtained by the Guardian that she was demoted after refusing to comply with her superiors' requests that she work around a federal law which stipulates that any redecoration costs exceeding $5,000 need congressional approval. She says one boss remarked "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair."

While HUD declined to comment on OSC's investigation into Foster's claims, agency spokesman Raffi Williams told the Times that the table set wasn't submitted to Congress for approval because it was a "building-wide need," despite being located in Carson's 10th-floor office suite. The Guardian noted that a federal procurement document for the set describes it as "secretary's furniture." The lounge furniture costs were revealed by another procurement document obtained by the newspaper, and Williams said further details about the purchase were not immediately available.

Critics of Carson were quick to weigh in on the reports, with some social media users pointing to the secretary's remarks to the Times last year that government assistance programs should avoid creating "a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: 'I'll just stay here. They will take care of me.'"

Others pointed to an interview Carson gave last April in which he vowed to make HUD "the most honest department in the government," declaring that he was "putting in place a structure so that we can monitor where every penny goes."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) chair Norm Eisen tweeted:


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Broken' Capitalist Food System Drives Soaring Global Hunger: Oxfam

Criticism from the charity's food policy director came in response to a new United Nations report revealing that around 1 in 10 people worldwide went hungry last year.

Brett Wilkins ·


With Manchin's Backing, Senate Dems Unveil Plan to Let Medicare Negotiate Drug Prices

"This compromise will lower prices, cut costs, and stop the drug corporations from raising their prices faster than the rate of inflation," said Margarida Jorge of Lower Drug Prices Now.

Jake Johnson ·


'Fight for Us Goddamnit': Frustration Grows Over Biden Fecklessness Amid GOP Destruction

"We simply cannot make promises, hector people to vote, and then refuse to use our full power when they do," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Julia Conley ·


EPA Likely Underestimating Amount of Toxic Forever Chemicals in US Water: Analysis

"The EPA is doing the bare minimum it can and that's putting people's health at risk," said the policy director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Betrayal!' Uproar After EU Backs Industry Push to Label Gas and Nuclear 'Green'

"This is a step backwards in the fight against greenwashing and a step away from the sustainable future the E.U. has promised, but we are not defeated," campaigners said.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo