Updated: Apr 23, 2021
On March 2, 2017, Ben Carson became HUD’s newest secretary despite not having any housing industry or governmental experience. During his prior Banking and Urban Housing congressional committee hearing, he made it abundantly clear to all listening about his lack of expertise in housing.
Ben Carson introduced himself to the committee by providing a monologue about his childhood. Mr. Carson said that his mother worked until 5 am to midnight as a house cleaner to provide what housing he had. He said his mother was told that she could ask for assistance to help her children but she refused too. He also said that his mother required him to read when he was a young boy and within a year and half he had become one of the smartest kids despite previously struggling academically. Apparently he never read a book on housing and urban development.
Ben Carson further stated that his mother and his childhood influenced him even today. I most heartily agree. It influenced his strategy on how to become a future leader of HUD and his stance on HUD’s recipients. In the 2016 presidential election and during his hearing he stated that he believed that poverty is a choice. No wonder considering that he grew up with mother who did not take any pubic assistance, one of the few choices available to the poor. Similar to his boss, President Trump, he has used his own privilege as the standard for all others. After all, his mother, while worked very hard and most surely faced racism, he still had privileges that others may not. First and far most, she did not have a disability that made it impossible or severely limited her ability to work in the first place. Mr. Carson reeked the benefit of having a mother that could provide. Yet people with disabilities face this crisis everyday. Can you Mr. Carson really say that people with disabilities choose to be in poverty? That using housing assistance is just another choice that creates an elected poverty status?
Mr. Carson continued to describe the harshness of the neighborhood he grew up. He stated that he believed people similar to where he grew up, didn’t know any other way other than public assistance. It wasn’t their fault and it was his goal to teach others another way. The belief that every HUD recipient are ignorant to the American dream is an elitist view.
For people with disabilities this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Only about three percent of people with disabilities become disabled before their 27th birthday Meaning that 97 percent become disabled during their young adult or retirement age. This also means that almost all people with disabilities knew and often experienced, an active and independent life. It was only at a later point in time a medical condition occurred that either prevented work or created poverty from medical expenses. Perhaps Mr. Carson needs to dust off of his prescription pad to prescribe to all HUD recipients, “bed rest with a book in hand. Continue for a year and half until you learn another way how to live.”
Ben Carson did talked about his proponents’ concern that a retired pediatrician neurosurgeon did not make him qualify to be HUD’s secretary. He specifically said, “There is this belief that you can learn just one thing….but you can’t overload the brain.” He uses his knowledge of medicine to describe the brain and how it can learn new things. An excellent answer if he was a nominee for Department of Health and Human Services. But providing no answer to the question of what makes him qualify to be the leader of HUD, continues to provide support to his proponents. It doesn’t take a learned brain to know that.
Ohio Democratic Senator Brown asked about HUD ‘s newest policy of Affirmatively Affirming Fair Housing. Mr. Carson did not agree that recipients of HUD grantees should be required to actively search for and resolve unreported allegations of discrimination. He believed that it was a “cookie cutter approach.”
The idea of making grantees responsible to uphold the Fair Housing law irrespectively whether or not a complaint has been filed should be familiar to Mr. Carson. Its called “self policing.” Lawyers and doctors are obligated to report misconduct of their peers even if a complaint has not been alleged. The idea behind “self-policing” is that patients are vulnerable and a great trust is laid upon doctors. But Mr. Carson did not to see that the US government is also creating a great trust upon HUD grantees when using tax payer dollars for non-discrimination purposes. Instead of choosing to apply a medical practice to HUD, he believed only the “locals” should be involved. Whatever that means.
Mr. Carson also failed to make any real connection about how HUD affects people with disabilities. Mr. Carson discussed at several points in time about creating a “safe environment.” He described seeing former children with asthma and lead poisoning and made the connection that their home causes these specific types of disabilities. But he did not provide any specifics how homes can become safe through HUD.
With that in mind it should not be any surprise that Mr. Carson failed to discuss how building accessible homes can protect people with disabilities from injuries. It’s extremely disappointing that a nominee with a medical degree did not see the relevancy of talking about the housing crisis for people with disabilities. Whats the point of having a nominee with a medical background if he is not addressing the minority group affected by a medical condition?!
The only strategy that Mr. Carson provided to the committee was his intention to go on a “listening tour.” Mr. Carson wants to visit HUD and other third parties involved in housing to get their perspective. He believes that there are many who have worked for decades that could provide great ideas if they had the right person to tell. But Mr. Carson failed to considered if his boss, President Trump, has not already drained the swamp within HUD itself.
No one in the hearing committee ever asked Mr. Carson to fully explain how the strategy of a “listening tour” would benefit HUD and its recipients. There was no reason too. By the time the hearing committee was concluded, everyone, whether republican or democratic knew the answer… he wasn’t really intending to listen but to learn. So maybe he should call it a “learning tour.”
I just hope that the curve to his “learning tour” is too steep.