Earlier this month, when rumors of erstwhile presidential candidate Ben Carson’s role in a future Trump administration started flying, Carson made it clear that he wasn’t interested in an agency appointment. In the words of his business manager, “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.”
A lot can change in a month.
Despite Carson’s earlier objections, last week it seemed like President-elect Trump was on the verge of nominating the former neurosurgeon as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). And Carson, citing the fact that he once lived in a city, now believes he’s up to the task.
Here’s the problem: HUD is a critically important federal agency with a budget of almost $50 billion, 9,000 employees across the country, and programs that affect the lives of millions of people. The Secretary of HUD isn’t a vanity appointment to be bestowed upon any half-willing volunteer.
Here are six reasons why the agency deserves a qualified leader who is up to the task.
HUD Makes It Possible for Families of Color, Middle-Income Families, and Millennials to Buy Homes
One of HUD’s core missions is to help families buy a home, which is critical for building wealth. That’s why it manages the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which insures private mortgage loans against the risk of default by the borrower. That makes financial institutions more willing to provide credit—particularly to groups who have been historically excluded from homeownership, like families of color.
FHA has insured more than 40 million homes since it was established in 1934, and it’s becoming even more important in the current tight credit environment. FHA’s market share of single-family purchase loan originations more than doubled between 2004 and 2015, and many of those loans are going to underserved communities of color where conventional credit continues to be limited.
HUD Makes Sure Low-Income Families Have Access to Housing
For many years, the private market has failed to provide enough affordable rental housing for low-income families. HUD helps fill this gap through a variety of rental assistance programs—from public housing to housing vouchers—in order to ensure that more low-income families have a decent, safe, and affordable place to live. More than 5 million low-income households use federal rental assistance, and without it, many of these families would likely experience homelessness.
HUD Promotes Economic Mobility for Whole Communities
HUD is working to break up the concentrated poverty and de facto segregation that put some communities at a major disadvantage. Last year, the department finalized a rule that requires local governments that use HUD funding to examine patterns of poverty and residential segregation—and to put forward a credible plan for addressing these challenges. That’s essential in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse—and where discrimination in housing is still alive and well.
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Through programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, HUD also helps many families move out of distressed neighborhoods to higher opportunity areas, where there is better access to jobs and good schools.
HUD Addresses Discrimination in the Housing Market
HUD is able to process significantly more housing discrimination complaints than any other government agency—an average of 9,201 per year from 2010 to 2013. The complaints are typically rooted in someone’s race or disability, and nearly a third result in some form of penalty against an offending lender or landlord.
There are a few other agencies that share some of the responsibility for enforcing fair housing law—specifically the Justice Department’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section—but they are not set up for efficient, large scale enforcement. As a result, the Justice Department’s annual case load is a tiny fraction of what HUD processes each year.
HUD is the Biggest Source of Funding to Prevent Homelessness
HUD provides more funding for homeless assistance than any other federal department. The department has also been responsible for the development of tens of thousands of housing units to house people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness. HUD also helps to ensure that residents living in these units receive the social support services they need to get back on their feet, and to avoid homelessness in the future. Since hundreds of thousands of Americans still experience homelessness every day, these services are critical.
Too often, the root cause behind homelessness is domestic violence. Through its Office of Special Needs Assistance Program, HUD plays a key role in rapid re-housing and in providing homeless families and survivors of domestic violence with options that let them transition into safe, stable, and affordable housing.
HUD Helps Rebuild Communities After Natural Disasters
HUD serves as an important partner to communities rebuilding after disasters have struck. For example, the department played a major role in the recovery of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 1 million people, through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program. The department invested $20 billion in affected states, which supported the long-term recovery of the region’s housing stock, economy, and infrastructure.
HUD can deploy CDBG-DR funds in the case of any presidentially-declared natural disasters, as long as funds are available. Just this fall, HUD deployed $500 million to help communities in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Texas recover from historic flooding. As extreme weather events increase in frequency, HUD’s role in rebuilding communities will be even more vital.
Housing is one of the biggest determinants of where and how we live, and it is intimately linked with broader issues of wealth and poverty. HUD’s vital role necessitates engaged, qualified, and experienced leadership. Ben Carson—by his own admission—is simply not up to the task.