5 things I heard Secretary Carson say at the NLIHC 2017 Housing Policy Forum

By Sharon Cornu

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson spoke at the National Low Income Housing Coalition conference in Washington, DC on April 3 as part of his listening tour. Here are five things he said and actions housing advocates can take to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.

  1. “Home is a place where you can feel secure. Housing is an integral part of well-being mentally and physically. There are three to four times as many people who need affordable housing as we can provide. Millions are paying 50% of their income for housing.”
    • That’s absolutely right – why, it reads almost like housing advocates’ talking points.
  1. “Healthcare is important. The emergency room costs three times as much as the clinic and doesn’t do preventive care. Exposure to lead hurts kids permanently.”
    • Again, we agree, and that’s why so many people worked hard for health care reform and especially the expansion of Medicaid to America’s lowest income families. We see the connection to housing as so many medical experts do, and we’re glad Secretary Carson supports this view. Unfortunately, he is part of an administration that may try again to take healthcare away from 24 million people.
  1. He proposed “Housing Savings Accounts” for unit-by-unit maintenance of public housing, where the individual resident is incentivized not to report common structural conditions or simple repair needs.
    • This is bad policy and disastrous property management. A spate of fires – and related deaths — in my community in Oakland, CA recently has reminded all of us that code compliance and regular maintenance protects human life.
  1. “The Low Income Housing Tax Credit is effective.”
    • We agree, and that’s why we are working at the state level to expand it, and at the federal level to preserve it. We encourage Secretary Carson to share this non-alternative fact with his administration and to join housing advocates in supporting affordable homes for everyone.
  1. “People are concerned about this new budget like it’s a crisis and the end of the world.”
    • We hope you are, too!  According to NLIHC, the budget “proposes to zero out HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods grants, cut the Community Development Block Grant in half, and eliminate the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program and NeighborWorks grants.” The budget has its values upside down and redirects investment to the wealthiest 1%.

He closed with, “As Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Actually, Dr. Carson, that was a man named Abraham Lincoln.)

During the Q&A portion, NLIHC’s President & CEO Diane Yentel pushed back with the diplomatic skills Washington has forgotten.  She pressed, “These budget cuts are real and immediate. People will be losing their homes. What assurances are you offering?” Carson answered that only waste and inefficiency will be cut – fueling the fears of people like me, who feel he is one of the cabinet officials dedicated to closing the Department whose critical mission he was entrusted to serve.

HUD programs have great consequences for millions of Americans in cities, suburbs and rural communities across the country. The essential investments offer families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities the security and opportunity of stable housing and a place to call home.

To learn more about why we need serious talk and legislative action to support housing, visit the Non-Profit Housing Association website for California issues and NLIHC for federal. You’ll find urgent and important actions to take to defend our communities and support affordable housing.

Join us on calling on Secretary Dr. Carson to first, do no harm.


Sharon Cornu is political director for the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and adjunct professor at Mills College.

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