Editorials

Ben Carson is a terrible pick to lead housing and urban development

The Observer editorial board

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson will lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson will lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. AP

At rally after campaign rally, Donald Trump voiced outrage while describing the hellish conditions of inner-city America. Again and again, he promised to fix those crime-riddled neighborhoods, and his adoring crowds cheered him on.

Now we can see just how insincere he was. Ben Carson, an unquestionably brilliant neurosurgeon, is a terrible pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He knows little about housing policy. Supporters said he’d have special insight from having lived in public housing as a child, but even that flimsy rationale fell apart. Carson didn’t grow up in public housing.

Also puzzling is the fact that earlier, as speculation swirled that Carson might be named health and human services secretary, the former presidential hopeful demurred, saying he’d be a “fish out of water” running a large federal bureaucracy. He apparently changed his mind for HUD, despite its $47 billion budget and 8,300 employees.

Odd as all of this appears, it’s easy to see what Trump and Carson get out of the deal.

Trump gets a high-profile African American conservative to serve as a human anti-racism shield once he and Republicans in Congress tick off civil rights groups by cutting funding for HUD and other social programs to pay for new defense spending and corporate tax cuts. It’s also easy to envision Trump, who was sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination, watering down HUD’s fight against housing bias.

Carson, for his part, gets to dodge the messy task of dismantling Obamacare. Instead, he gains a federal bully pulpit to lecture the poor about one of his favorite subjects – the evils of what he considers over-dependence on government assistance. He has called fair housing policy “social engineering,” and has said he rose above his own impoverished inner-city roots in Detroit by realizing “poverty is really more of a choice than anything else.”

Here in Charlotte, where we’re struggling with entrenched income inequality and a dearth of affordable housing, we know such glib generalities won’t solve these thorny problems.

Bad choices alone don’t explain why it’s harder for a child to grow up and escape poverty in Charlotte than it is in any other major city in the nation.

The reasons are complex, and so are the low-income housing policies that try to put a roof over such children’s heads.

Charlotte knows well how critical a role HUD can play in revitalizing inner cities. HUD poured in more than $141 million in Hope VI grants to successfully redevelop some of Charlotte’s most deeply troubled housing projects – Earle Village, Dalton Village, Fairview Homes, Piedmont Courts and Boulevard Homes.

The Charlotte Housing Authority, which received $46 million in HUD operating grants and subsidies in 2015, houses more residents in its units than the total population of 22 individual North Carolina counties, according to an economic impact report issued last year.

That’s important work. Too important to turn over to a man who called himself unprepared for such a job not long before accepting it.

We hope that Carson (and Trump) will surround themselves with knowledgeable people and not only listen to good advice, but follow it.

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