Ben Carson marks Fair Housing Act anniversary
and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson recalled rejoicing as a 17-year-old when housing discrimination was outlawed, one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
After enduring poverty and racism growing up in segregated Detroit and Boston, Carson saw the landmark Fair Housing Act's passage as a glimmer of hope in a dark time.
“I was thinking wow, there’s a possibility that maybe things will actually begin to change,” said Carson, who called the act “one of the best pieces of legislation ever passed by the Congress of the United States, because it clearly states that the government will not condone this type of activity.”
"It was a start for the process, and obviously a lot of progress has been made and more progress needs to be made," Carson said.
After touring the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last week on the site where King was gunned down, Carson deflected criticism that the Trump administration has stepped back from aggressive enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.
He also spoke at a University of Memphis law school forum on the Fair Housing Act, then traveled to Winridge Elementary School in southeast Memphis to meet with representatives of a faith-based program working in the school.
Carson said what’s happening at HUD is a careful recalibration of the agency’s mission as the administration strives to chart the best course to combat discrimination and help lift people out of poverty.
“By stopping and taking a pause and looking at how can we do this the right way, we in no way stopped pursuing fair housing,” Carson said. “People think that now you stopped because you’re stopping to take a look at this tool. Not at all. We continue to pursue these cases. It doesn’t stop it at all,” he said.
HUD has suspended enforcement of an Obama-era rule requiring communities to analyze segregated housing patterns and come up with plans to combat it. Carson said many cities have been unable to navigate a “morass of regulations” governing the process.
Affirmative housing plans are intended to be a prerequisite for communities to obtain HUD block grants and housing
“A lot of people think we’re changing the whole Fair Housing Act and what it implies, like affirmatively furthering fair housing,” Carson said. “We want to be able to give people grants but we also are changing the way we do things where we’re providing people with a ladder that they can assistance. climb.
“Just throwing money at programs, we’ve been doing that for decades. That doesn’t work,” Carson said.
Carson has drawn criticism for an effort to shorten HUD’s mission statement and eliminate phrases including “free from discrimination” and “inclusive communities.”
“It’s a very long statement that no one can recite or remember,” Carson said. “So, we wanted to shorten it but maintain the principles. We put the word ‘fair’ in there, which wasn’t in there before. But a lot of people don’t know what it means anymore, I guess.”
The Fair Housing Act protects families from discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, and advertisHousing ing of housing. It languished in Congress for a couple years before public sentiment in the wake of King’s assassination helped supporters win passage.
President Lyndon Johnson urged Congress to pass it as a memorial to King.
Carson, a pediatric brain surgeon who ran for President in 2016’s Republican Primary, toured the National Civil Rights Museum with president Terri Lee Freeman and the museum’s historian, Ryan Jones. He called it “touching”.
Dr. King “represented a logical approach to an overwhelming problem, recognizing that violence and reactivity was not going to accomplish anything. And he used a much better approach, demonstrating to people the evil that was going on and counting on the goodness in their hearts to actually make something happen.”
In his comments at the law school, Carson recalled the very real impact the Fair Housing Act had on his community.
“As a child growing up in Detroit in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I saw the impact of discrimination first-hand and witnessed the impact of these closed doors on my family and our neighbors,” Carson said.
“Today we celebrate not the end of a struggle, but the beginning of a journey to redress wrongs that persisted,” he added.
Reach reporter Wayne Risher at (901) 529-2874 or email@example.com.