Dr. Ben Carson gave his first public remarks last week after the Senate voted to confirm him as HUD secretary on March 2. In speeches on March 6 to HUD employees and to attendees at the National Council of State Housing Agencies 2017 Legislative Conference, Dr. Carson reiterated that HUD has a vital role to play in developing the potential of all people.
Dr. Carson said that if America wants to compete against growing economies like China and India, HUD must work across silos with other federal agencies to address barriers to education, health, housing, and jobs in a holistic way. He specifically noted his interest in working with the Departments of Education, Labor, Transportation, and Justice to help improve graduation rates, train people with the skills they need for infrastructure jobs, and reduce rates of incarceration. He said the promise for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence requires that all families have a “safe place to live, away from violence, where [they] can thrive.”
Dr. Carson stated that Congress should focus on the long-term health savings associated with improvements to housing, including the removal of lead-based paint, even if these savings require an increase in funding in the short-term. “Look at the costs to a child exposed to lead over their lifetimes.”
At both events, Dr. Carson urged the public to overcome the deep divisions in society. “We don’t have to be like everyone else; we’re going to pledge to be nice to each other.”
Dr. Carson was widely criticized by advocates and the media for referring to slaves as "immigrants" in his speech to HUD employees. "That's what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity," Dr. Carson said. "There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less."
The secretary issued a statement the next day addressing these comments that read in part: “I’m proud of the courage and perseverance of Black Americans and their incomprehensible struggle from slavery to freedom. I’m proud that our ancestors overcame the evil and repression that we know as slavery. The slave narrative and immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences. Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders.” The statement stopped short of an apology that many advocates had called for.