Ben Car­son marks Fair Hous­ing Act an­niver­sary

The Commercial Appeal - - Mlife - Wayne Rish­erMem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Hous­ing 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 as­sis­tance.

“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 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 ad­ver­tis­ing 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 wayne.risher@com­mer­cialap­peal.com.

Car­son

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