Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Car­son pledges firm com­mit­ment to fair hous­ing

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JULIET LINDERMAN

WASH­ING­TON (AP) - Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son told law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day that his de­part­ment “has, is now and will con­tinue to rig­or­ously pro­tect peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion re­gard­less of their color, race, na­tional ori­gin, sex, dis­abil­ity or fam­ily sta­tus.''

But dur­ing a three-hour hear­ing, Car­son faced harsh ques­tion­ing from Democrats on the House Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee who were less con­vinced of his com­mit­ment to up­hold­ing the tenets of the Fair Hous­ing Act, which marks its 50th an­niver­sary this year.

“I am very con­cerned about the ac­tions Sec­re­tary Car­son has taken to un­der­mine fair hous­ing in this coun­try,'' said Max­ine Wa­ters, D-Calif., be­fore ask­ing Car­son, “Do you be­lieve that hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion con­tin­ues to be a se­ri­ous prob­lem in this coun­try?''

“There's no ques­tion there still is dis­crim­i­na­tion in our coun­try,'' Car­son said.

“Do you be­lieve it's a se­ri­ous prob­lem?'' Wa­ters asked, be­com­ing ex­as­per­ated. “Any time you see dis­crim­i­na­tion, it's a se­ri­ous prob­lem,'' he said, adding that the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment “has not slowed down at all'' in iden­ti­fy­ing and erad­i­cat­ing it.

Since step­ping into his role as sec­re­tary, Car­son has gone af­ter Obama-era rules de­signed to root out and pre­vent hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and seg­re­ga­tion, prompt­ing fury and law­suits from civil rights groups and hous­ing ad­vo­cates.

Car­son sus­pended en­force­ment of the Af­fir­ma­tively Fur­ther­ing Fair Hous­ing Act, which for the first time re­quired more than 1,200 ju­ris­dic­tions re­ceiv­ing HUD block grants and hous­ing aid to an­a­lyze its hous­ing stock and come up with a plan for ad­dress­ing pat­terns of seg­re­ga­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. If HUD de­ter­mined that the plan wasn't suf­fi­cient, the city or county would have to re­work it or risk los­ing fund­ing. In May, a coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions sued HUD over its de­ci­sion to sus­pend the rule, con­tend­ing it had done so il­le­gally.

Last year, a fed­eral judge blocked HUD from de­lay­ing a dif­fer­ent rule that cal­cu­lates voucher sub­si­dies based on ZIP code rather than re­gion af­ter civil rights groups sued, ar­gu­ing that such a move would in­crease seg­re­ga­tion and con­cen­tra­tions of poverty. And ear­lier this month, HUD pub­lished a no­tice that it is seek­ing pub­lic com­ment on whether to amend a reg­u­la­tion that es­tab­lishes le­gal li­a­bil­ity for hous­ing prac­tices that are neu­tral but have a dis­crim­i­na­tory ef­fect.

Car­son has also come un­der fire for mov­ing to over­haul HUD's mis­sion state­ment; draft lan­guage stripped “free from dis­crim­i­na­tion'' from the motto.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, scolded Car­son for fail­ing to re­spond to her let­ter about the pro­posed changes to the mis­sion state­ment, and she re­it­er­ated her con­cern about the shift in lan­guage.

“You're an African Amer­i­can male who touts that you grew up in pub­lic hous­ing,'' she said.“Are you look­ing at tak­ing out the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion clause?''

Car­son said the agency hasn't yet set­tled on the fi­nal lan­guage.

Car­son also faced crit­i­cism for his pro­posal to raise rents for mil­lions of house­holds across the coun­try and im­ple­ment work re­quire­ments for ten­ants in pub­lic and sub­si­dized hous­ing. Car­son ini­tially said that the pro­posal would help ten­ants achieve self-suf­fi­ciency by en­cour­ag­ing them to work. But af­ter in­creas­ing pres­sure, Car­son seemed to walk back the pro­posal, telling re­porters he'd sug­gested rais­ing rents as a cost-cut­ting mea­sure that's since be­come un­nec­es­sary.

On Wed­nes­day, Car­son said he still backed the plan and re­verted to his orig­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, telling com­mit­tee mem­bers “that it would give peo­ple more skin in the game and en­cour­age them to bring in more in­come for their house­holds.''

“I con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity as well as com­pas­sion,'' he said.

Some Repub­li­cans on the com­mit­tee praised Car­son's per­for­mance at HUD's helm.

“I want to ap­plaud you and this ad­min­is­tra­tion, not only for your ef­forts in at­tempt­ing to root out dis­crim­i­na­tion, to pro­mote af­ford­able hous­ing, but very, very im­por­tantly to help able-bod­ied ci­ti­zens ... achieve lives of dig­nity and re­spect that comes from self­suf­fi­ciency,'' said Chair­man Jeb Hen­sar­ling, R-Texas, in his open­ing re­marks.

Car­son was also ques­tioned on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's pro­posed bud­get cuts for the agency, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment block grants and a cap­i­tal fund that ear­marks funds for re­pairs to pub­lic hous­ing com­plexes.

This month, HUD and New York City Hous­ing Author­ity reached a set­tle­ment to re­ha­bil­i­tate the city's squalid pub­lic hous­ing com­plexes, with the city agree­ing to pay $1.2 bil­lion for lead paint abate­ment and other press­ing im­prove­ments.

“How do you ex­pect NYCHA to meet th­ese terms and make th­ese up­grades when you re­quested zero dol­lars for the cap­i­tal fund for FY2019?'' said Rep. Ny­dia Velazquez, D-N.Y. “It's great that you are ex­er­cis­ing proper over­sight, but money talks.''

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF HOUSINGWIRE

Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son

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