March 3 2017
Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate, was confirmed as the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development yesterday. With his vision for taking a holistic approach and personal struggle with poverty in childhood, he will bring a fresh perspective and leadership to how we address issues of homeless and poverty in America.
Carson won a majority vote in the Senate of 58-41 with six Democrats and one Independent crossing party lines to support his nomination.
Carson will lead an agency with 8,300 employees and a budget of $49 billion dollars. Interestingly, the agency’s mission is to increase homeownership, support community development, and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination. The focus tends to be on the last priority, but homeownership and community development are critical to helping struggling Americans gain long-term wealth and to improve their quality of life.
While Carson has never held public office and or had specific housing policy experience, he brings a fresh set of eyes, capable mind, and personal experience to the job. During his confirmation hearing, Carson described his childhood as “desperately poor,” living in dilapidated housing with rats and roaches. He lived with his single mother, who only had a third grade education, and raised him as a domestic worker. Nonetheless, she instilled in him values of independence and self-reliance.
Despite his background, Carson went on to attend Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School. Later, he was named the first African American to head pediatric surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center he and pioneered surgery to separate conjoined twins.
We have a few clues that Secretary Carson is interested in doing more than handing out housing vouchers for places to stay. At his confirmation hearing he told Congress that he wants to develop a more holistic approach to helping struggling Americans and shift federal housing assistance back to being temporary rather than a lifestyle:
The programs that have been enacted in HUD over the year, you know, they're good programs. But in and of themselves they're not bringing about the elevation of large numbers of people. And that's what we're looking for," Carson said. "We don't want it to be a way of life, we want it to be a Band-Aid and a springboard to move forward.
To make this happen, Secretary Carson would like to see more partnerships between the private sector and religious communities – usually those already working in or impacting local communities. He thinks it’s not just good work, but good business sense:
"The place where there is a lot of money is the private sector. What we have to concentrate on is helping the private sector to recognize that, in the long run, the private sector does better when we develop our people," Carson said.
A fresh start at HUD is not a positive sign for some on the left. With headlines like “Six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King Vote to Confirm Inexperienced Safety-Net Foe Ben Carson,” progressives are ready to hold accountable those senators who voted for Carson. Progressives are so rabid about opposing President Trump’s nomination picks that they are putting pressure on every Democratic senator to block them. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who voted for Carson during a Senate Banking Committee hearing, walked back her support and joined colleagues in voting against his final confirmation. She caved to pressure from activists some of whom reportedly shouted at a Democratic National Committee that “she sold us out.”
This kind of partisanship is not helpful to the people who will be hurt as this and other agencies languish without leadership – much more for tripping up efforts to replace the status quo with policies that may do a better job of helping Americans.
Homelessness, housing, and homeownership are all issues that we hope Secretary Carson can make a dent in. Despite the economic recovery, homeownership rates are at their lowest levels, homelessness hasn’t budged in many cities, and too many Americans are still relying on government help rather than enjoying the freedom of independence.