Car­son de­fends qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be hous­ing chief

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Jen­nifer C. Kerr Jen­nifer C. Kerr is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASH­ING­TON — For­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ben Car­son de­fended his ex­pe­ri­ence and cre­den­tials Thurs­day to serve as the na­tion’s new hous­ing sec­re­tary, turn­ing to his life story to show that he un­der­stands the needs of the coun­try’s most vul­ner­a­ble.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump wants Car­son, a for­mer White House ri­val, to lead the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment, a sprawl­ing agency with 8,300 em­ploy­ees and a bud­get of about $48 bil­lion.

At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Bank­ing, House and Ur­ban Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the famed neu­ro­sur­geon talked about grow­ing up in in­ner-city Detroit with a sin­gle mother who had a third­grade ed­u­ca­tion and worked nu­mer­ous jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the ta­ble.

“I have ac­tu­ally in my life un­der­stood what hous­ing in­se­cu­rity was,” he told law­mak­ers.

Democrats in the GOP-run Se­nate ques­tioned his ex­pe­ri­ence. Car­son said one of the things he’s learned in pri­vate life as part of var­i­ous boards is how to find a good CEO. He said a good CEO doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know ev­ery­thing about run­ning a par­tic­u­lar busi­ness, but he knows how to se­lect peo­ple and use their tal­ents.

Car­son said HUD’s rental as­sis­tance pro­grams are es­sen­tial to mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. The depart­ment, he said, has a lot of good pro­grams, but “the progress per­haps has not been as great as one would like to see.”

He added: “We don’t want it to be way of life . ... We want it to be a Band-Aid and a spring­board to move for­ward.”

Rank­ing Com­mit­tee Demo­crat Sen. Sher­rod Brown of Ohio and Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., grilled Car­son about whether he could guar­an­tee that no HUD money would ben­e­fit Trump or his fam­ily, which has made its for­tune in real es­tate.

“I will not play fa­vorites for any­one . ... I will man­age things in a way that ben­e­fits the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Car­son said.

Car­son dis­played a softer ap­proach to­ward the role of the fed­eral govern­ment than he some­times did on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail. When re­minded that he had called for across-the-board agency spend­ing cuts of 10 per­cent dur­ing the cam­paign, Car­son noted that he later mod­i­fied that amount to 1 per­cent.

Be­fore Thurs­day’s hear­ing, Car­son had said lit­tle pub­licly about fed­eral hous­ing is­sues. In a 2015 opin­ion piece, he crit­i­cized an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion fair hous­ing rule as govern­ment over­reach.At his hear­ing Thurs­day, he told law­mak­ers he would work with lo­cal HUD of­fi­cials to “make sure that fair­ness is car­ried out.”

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