HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified on March 20 at a House Committee on Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Subcommittee hearing. Members of the subcommittee questioned the proposed HUD budget as well as recent reports of Dr. Carson’s misuse of funds. Members from both parties expressed concerns regarding the president’s proposed elimination of important programs like Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), the HOME Investment Partnership program (HOME), the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA). Dr. Carson defended the budget cuts as part of the administration’s attempt to decrease the national debt.
Dr. Carson discussed several new HUD proposals, including a major shift in public housing. In his opening remarks, the secretary stated, “HUD is proposing to pivot from the current financially unsustainable public housing model and, working with public housing authorities, seek a new way to produce and preserve the affordable housing that so many families need.” The president proposes cutting funding from the public housing capital repairs fund and investing more in public-private partnerships, like the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) questioned this course of action, particularly because the proposed budget does not increase funding for Housing Choice Vouchers, which would be necessary to effectively expand RAD. Dr. Carson also defended the decision to eliminate funding for CDBG, stating that Treasury’s new Opportunity Zones program would produce $2.2 trillion of investments in local communities. Committee members did not ask Dr. Carson about proposed rent increases and work requirements, because the issues are outside of the appropriations subcommittee’s jurisdiction but Mr. Price stated that the proposed changes would shift the agency’s costs onto residents.
Dr. Carson answered questions regarding safe housing for human trafficking victims, the elimination of training materials for inclusion of LGBTQ communities, funding for blighted housing, reduced funding for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, affordable housing in rural communities, and disaster housing recovery. In response to many questions regarding budget request amounts, Dr. Carson reminded the committee that the proposal was only a suggestion and promised to use any funding appropriated as effectively as possible. He also encouraged deregulation for manufactured housing as a solution to a lack of housing in rural areas. Representative John Culberson (R-TX) asked Dr. Carson to give his “urgent attention” to a request from his office regarding Community Development Block-Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds. Mr. Culberson requested the secretary waive the current CDBG-DR requirement that 70% of funds go to low or moderate income households, proposing a 50% requirement instead. Dr. Carson made no indication that he would grant the waiver but promised to consider the request.
Members of the committee also asked Dr. Carson about a recent $31,000 purchase of a dining set for his offices. Dr. Carson assured the committee he had cancelled the order once he learned of the price. Because he had few assistant secretaries at the time, Dr. Carson said, he had left the decision to his wife, but is now using the incident as an opportunity to review internal spending practices.