Updated: Ben Carson sent a memo to HUD employees on Thursday calling media reports suggesting HUD will cede its role in anti-discriminatory housing as “patently false,” adding that “the notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.”
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in 1965 at the peak of the civil rights era, and desegregation and anti-discrimination in housing has always been one of its core objectives, particularly during the Obama administration.
But since taking over as Secretary last year, Ben Carson has made a number of moves signaling that these are not priorities for the Trump administration, and according to a leaked internal HUD memo obtained by HuffPost, he’s making it official.
According to HuffPost, the memo announces that HUD is removing the anti-discrimination language from HUD’s mission statement in favor of one that supports “self-sufficiency,” a common theme in much of Carson’s actions and rhetoric.
“HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation,” the new mission statement reads.
The old mission statement is still on HUD’s website and includes, among other things, a desire to “build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination” and to “protect consumers.”
While changing the mission statement is a largely symbolic change, it comes after a number of concrete attempts by HUD under Carson to roll back Obama-era rules designed to combat segregation and discrimination.
Late in 2017, HUD announced its intention to delay the Small Area Fair Market Rent (SAFMR) rule by two years to give public housing authorities more time to implement the change. The rule is intended give Section 8 Housing Voucher recipients more choice in where to live instead of being locked into areas that are impoverished and segregated.
HUD and Carson were subsequently sued over the delay by a collection of civil rights groups for not following legal procedures and instead just announcing a blanket delay. HUD lost in court and is now working to implement the SAFMR rule.
A similar scenario is still playing out over a different Obama-era rule—the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. This rule requires municipalities to actively look for ways to address segregation by using HUD tools and data to identify problem areas.
In January, Carson announced a delay until 2020, although because of the way the program works, it’s actually a delay until 2024. While no legal challenge has been filed to date, advocates of the rule expect one given the similarities between it and the SAFMR case.
Carson, who came to the job with no relevant experience in housing or government, famously claimed that poverty is largely “a state of mind,” and gave a speech a year ago where he described slaves as “immigrants” who had a dream to “pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
His tenure at HUD is becoming increasingly scrutinized for potential ethics violations. There’s a perception that his wife Candy plays an outsized role in running the agency, and his son Ben Jr. helped organize a “listening tour” for his father in Baltimore, despite multiple warnings that his son’s involvement might violate ethics rules.
Most recently, Carson, who said last year that public housing shouldn’t be “too comfortable,” came under fire for buying a $31,000 dining set for his office, prompting a Senate probe. It’s been reported he has since tried to cancel the order.