Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is offensive. It confirms a double-standard in our society, especially among our politicians and the press. Imagine: Washington would have come to a grinding halt if President-elect Donald Trump had nominated a renowned chef as Defense Secretary, or a famous poet to run the Treasury Department. But somehow, for the federal agency that serves the elderly and disabled, homeless individuals, communities of color and many working-class and rural families, it’s fine to appoint a Housing Secretary with absolutely no housing experience.
Carson's appointment means that Donald Trump plans to ignore America's housing and community redevelopment needs by placing a completely unqualified partisan to run an agency he clearly doesn't understand—or, worse, that Trump does want Dr. Carson to run the agency, acting on his scariest and wackiest views. Either represents a deeply cynical approach to governing.
Most Americans are generally aware that HUD runs housing programs for low-income families and individuals. After that, perceptions may vary. For instance, what many probably don’t know, including perhaps Dr. Carson until he was nominated, is that HUD provides billions of dollars in housing and block-grant support that benefits rural communities and suburbs—not just America’s urban centers. Close to five million Americans currently own a home because of loans insured by HUD's Federal Housing Administration. The FHA has insured over 34 million properties since its inception.
Most Americans know that you only call a brain surgeon when you need one thing: brain surgery. If you want to buy a home, or help to build a community center in your neighborhood or complain when a landlord won’t rent to you because of who you are or who you love, you call HUD. If you’re a community reeling from a natural disaster, you call HUD, which has administered billions of dollars in disaster recovery funds in the last decade alone. Imagine a HUD Secretary on the other end of the line who tells you that he doesn’t know how he would respond to a hurricane, as Dr. Carson said last year.
Over the next four years, HUD will be at the forefront of some of the most pressing challenges we face as a nation. Strengthening our housing finance system. Addressing an acute shortage of affordable housing. Getting private companies and individuals to invest in community redevelopment efforts. You can’t learn how to tackle these issues on the job.
And if it is Trump's intent to appoint a Fair Housing skeptic so that Dr. Carson will actually act on those radical impulses, we need to loudly repudiate any Senator who votes to turn back the clock on fundamental civil rights protections.
So—would we accept a celebrity chef in charge of the Pentagon? What we would all say in unison if President-elect Trump dared to make such a nomination is this: No. Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less than the most qualified leader.
And they do.
As do the millions of men and women who benefit from a smart, effective HUD. And by accepting the appointment of Dr. Carson, we implicitly tell them: Be okay with run-down neighborhoods and towns. If you were denied a lease because of your skin color, be okay with it. And if you aspire to find a quality, affordable place to call home, please contact the Housing Secretary who knows nothing about housing.
We may not be able to stop Dr. Carson's confirmation. But failing to loudly and clearly protest his appointment belittles the millions of Americans that HUD serves every day. It would also mean that we're failing to confront Trump directly by saying: We’re on to you. We reject what you’re trying to do. And we will fight it.