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

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.

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:

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