HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified on March 22 at a Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Senators from both parties questioned the Trump administration’s proposals to increase rents, decrease funding, and stall fair housing laws. Dr. Carson defended his budget and rent reform proposals, arguing families would not lose assistance. He also maintained his commitment to fair housing, but did not provide concrete examples of this commitment.
During his opening remarks Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) criticized the proposal to reduce HUD’s budget and impose rent increases. He questioned the logic in cutting affordable housing programs at a time when one out of four renters pay more than 50% of their income on housing expenses. During questioning, Dr. Carson acknowledged that the families who would be affected by rent increases are those already living on the edge, making less than $10,000 annually.
Other senators questioned the proposed budget cuts, especially for specific programs. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the funding reductions “premature,” saying that the agency needed level or perhaps increased funding, and encouraged Dr. Carson to make additional efforts to assess the effectiveness of programs before cutting them. Both Senators Brown and Jack Reed (D-RI) expressed concern that the HUD budget did not include additional funding for the HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program despite its success in decreasing veteran homelessness. Dr. Carson asserted that the agency has the appropriate number of vouchers, but needs authority from Congress to move vouchers between jurisdictions. Senators Doug Jones (D-AL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) shared their frustrations and confusion regarding the president’s proposal to eliminate Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
Committee members also asked Dr. Carson to explain HUD’s recent actions concerning fair housing. In response to a question from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Dr. Carson defended his decision earlier this year to suspend the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. He said the decision came after municipalities complained about compliance costs. He also rejected assertions that proposed changes to HUD’s mission statement deleting language related to creating “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination” suggested an intent to ignore the agency’s statutory fair housing obligations. He said the draft that removed the anti-discrimination language would be changed after receiving feedback from HUD employees. The secretary had little to share, however, when Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked him to describe specific actions he had taken over the past year to decrease housing discrimination.
Watch the archived webcast of the hearing at: https://bit.ly/2FM0Gml