President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (also known as the Fair Housing Act)
Law360 quoted me in Carson’s HUD Nom Adds To Fair Housing Advocates’ Worries (behind a paywall). It opens,
President-elect Donald Trump’s Monday choice of Ben Carson to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development added to fears that the incoming administration would pull back from the aggressive enforcement of fair housing laws that marked President Barack Obama’s term, experts said.
The tapping of Carson to lead HUD despite a lack of any relative experience in the housing sector came after Trump named Steven Mnuchin to lead the U.S. Department of the Treasury amid concerns that the bank for which he served as chairman engaged in rampant foreclosure abuses. Trump has also nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to serve as attorney general. Sessions has drawn scrutiny for his own attitudes towards civil rights enforcement.
Coupled with Trump’s own checkered history of run-ins with the U.S. Justice Department over discriminatory housing practices, those appointments signal that enforcement of fair housing laws are likely to be a low priority for the Trump administration when it takes office in January, said Christopher Odinet, a professor at Southern University Law Center.
“I can’t imagine that we’ll see any robust enforcement or even attention paid to fair housing in this next administration,” he said.
Trump said that Carson, who backed the winning candidate after his own unsuccessful run for the presidency, shared in his vision of “revitalizing” inner cities and the families that live in them.
“Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up,” Trump said in a statement released through his transition team.
Carson said he was honored to get the nod from the president-elect.
“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need. We have much work to do in enhancing every aspect of our nation and ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met,” he said in the transition team’s statement.
The problem that many are having with this nomination is that Carson has little to no experience with federal housing policy. A renowned neurosurgeon, Carson’s presidential campaign website made no mention of housing, and there is little record of him having spoken about it on the campaign trail. One Carson campaign document called for privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage backstops that were bailed out in 2008.
The nomination also comes in the weeks after a spokesman for Carson said that the former presidential candidate had no interest in serving in a cabinet post because he lacked the qualifications. That statement has since been walked back but has been cited by Democrats unhappy with the Carson selection.
“Cities coping with crumbling infrastructure and families struggling to afford a roof overhead cannot afford a HUD secretary whose spokesperson said he doesn’t believe he’s up for the job,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee. “President-elect Trump made big promises to rebuild American infrastructure and revitalize our cities, but this appointment raises real questions about how serious he is about actually getting anything done.”
HUD is a sprawling government agency with a budget around $50 billion and programs that include the Federal Housing Administration, which provides financing for lower-income and first-time homebuyers, funding and administration of public housing programs, disaster relief, and other key housing policies.
It also helps enforce anti-discrimination policies, in particular the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule that the Obama administration finalized. The rule, which was part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act but had been languishing for decades, requires each municipality that receives federal funding to assess their housing policies to determine whether they sufficiently encourage diversity in their communities.
Carson has not said much publicly about housing policy, but in a 2015 op-ed in the Washington Times compared the rule to failed school busing efforts of the 1970s and at other times called the rule akin to communism.
“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse. There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous,” wrote Carson, who lived in public housing for a time while growing up in Detroit.
That dismissiveness toward the rule has people who are concerned about diversity in U.S. neighborhoods and anti-discrimination efforts on edge, and could put an end to federal efforts to improve those metrics.
“If you’re not affirmatively furthering fair housing, we’re going to be stuck with the same situation we have now or it’s going to get worse over time,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and research affiliate at New York University’s Furman Center.