Ben Carson Called New Housing Laws ‘Social Engineering.’ That Worries Fair Housing Advocates.

Lisa Belkin, Yahoo! News, December 6, 2016

In one of his few public statements on the subject of affordable housing prior to being picked to run the federal agency in charge of that housing, Dr. Ben Carson called such programs “social engineering.”

It is a view that worries longtime housing advocates who find themselves parsing the limited words Dr. Carson has spoken and written on the subject before the former neurosurgeon was named Monday Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of housing and urban development.

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HUD, with its $47 billion budget, is tasked with helping five million families find rentals they can afford and with helping homeowners who are threatened with foreclosure. Under the Fair Housing Act of 1965, that mission technically includes insuring equal access to housing regardless of race, but the history of the agency is inconsistent in terms of implementing that legislation.

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“Since 1969, HUD has been a vehicle–sometimes ineffectual, sometimes stalled, but still a vehicle–trying haltingly to get toward a vision of housing that is free of discrimination,” says Michael Sussman, the lawyer who successfully represented the NAACP in the Yonkers case. (Coincidentally, Judge Leonard B. Sand, whose ruling required Yonkers to build new housing in the white, middle-class side of town, died on Saturday, less than two days before Carson’s appointment was announced.) “Most recently, it has been a vehicle for good, but this appointment indicates a shift away from whatever optimism I might have felt in the past year.”

The recent progress of which Sussman speaks were two decisions during the summer of 2015 that housing advocates hailed as milestones. The first was from the Supreme Court, affirming “disparate impact” by ruling that municipalities can be found responsible for discrimination if the effects are separation of the races, even if that was not the intent. The second was a HUD decision known as “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” which put teeth into existing law by saying that to receive federal housing funds, local governments must prove they are working toward desegregation.

Those two decisions led to one of Carson’s few public stands on housing–an op-ed piece in the Washington Times in June 2015, criticizing both. Carson, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, wrote that the new standards would destroy wealthy neighborhoods by requiring they accept low-income housing, and also damage poorer neighborhoods by prohibiting funds from being spent to upgrade housing stock. He compared the policies to school busing plans of the 1970s, which resulted in white flight.

“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse,” he wrote. “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.”

Soon after, in an interview with an Iowa radio station, Carson criticized an HUD agreement with the city of Dubuque that would provide more housing vouchers for African-Americans moving to the area from cities like Chicago. “This is just an example of what happens when we allow the government to infiltrate every part of our lives,” Carson said. “This is what you see in communist countries, where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don’t agree with them, all they have to do is pull the noose. And this is what we’ve got now. Every month, dozens of regulations–business, industry, academia, every aspect of our lives–so that they can control you.”

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