HUD Secretary Carson Testifies at House Oversight Hearing

HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified on May 21 at a House Financial Services Committee oversight hearing. Secretary Carson was pressed by lawmakers on HUD’s recent actions to roll back fair housing protections, cut housing benefits, eliminate programs, delay disaster recovery funds, and prohibit mixed-status immigrant families from living in public and other subsidized housing. Lawmakers repeatedly pointed out these actions are inconsistent with HUD’s mission to end homelessness and ensure vulnerable people have decent, safe, affordable homes.

House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) asked Secretary Carson about HUD’s proposals to significantly raise rents on low-income families receiving housing assistance, including seniors and people with disabilities. She cited data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing the administration’s proposal would on average increase rents for seniors by 30%. While Secretary Carson said that people could get a hardship exemptions, HUD’s own data show that very few people receiving housing assistance have been granted one. Secretary Carson inaccurately stated that seniors would be protected under the proposal, when in fact currently assisted seniors would see their rents increased over a 6-year period, while seniors receiving assistance for the first time would pay higher rents.

Several members of Congress asked questions about HUD’s proposed rule to prohibit mixed-status immigrant families from living in public or other subsidized housing. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) asked Secretary Carson what would happen to the more than 55,000 American children and children with legal status who would face eviction under HUD’s policy. Representative Maloney asked what other resources would be needed in the homeless and foster system to take care of these children.

Secretary Carson stated that there are many other children on waitlists for housing assistance and that HUD proposed the rule to come into compliance with the law. Lawmakers responded that the 55,000 children were all eligible to receive housing assistance and that currently public housing authorities prorate rents for mixed-status families so that ineligible members are not subsidized. Representative Velazquez also pointed to the fact that HUD proposed huge cuts to its budget that, if enacted, would have exacerbated housing waitlists.

Representatives Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Al Green (D-TX) both spoke about their efforts to permanently authorize the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program. Secretary Carson stated that codifying the program could be helpful to ensure communities receive disaster aid more quickly and to streamline the coordination between FEMA and HUD.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) discussed how current HUD policies allow families to be evicted from subsidized housing for a single incident of criminal activity, no matter how minor, without a holistic review of the circumstances. To address this problem, she said she would introduce the “Fair Chance at Housing Act,” which NLIHC supports.

Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) both condemned the substandard living conditions in public housing due to insufficient government funding. Representative Pressley asked Secretary Carson what the health consequences of living in poor housing conditions are. After some hesitation, Secretary Carson tersely responded that “housing is a part of health.” When he refused to respond to further questioning on the matter, Representative Pressley stated, “The evidence is clear that if we do not invest in necessary funds today, we will pay the price in people’s health tomorrow. And what is this administration’s response? Cuts.”

Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) pressed Secretary Carson on whether HUD would attempt to make changes to its Equal Access rule, which provides protections to LBGTQ people experiencing homelessness and seeking emergency shelter. Secretary Carson stated that HUD was “not currently anticipating changing the rule.” The next day, however, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) posted a notice that it is currently reviewing a HUD proposal to amend the rule. (See related article in this Memo to Members and Partners.)

Representative Chuy Garcia (D-IL) spoke about his “Safe Housing for Families Act,” which would require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in HUD-assisted housing. The bill would provide $10 million in funding over 10 years to install the detectors. Since 2003, 13 people have died in subsidized housing due to carbon monoxide poisoning. 

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