BY JOHN FRITZE
WASHINGTON – Retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson was confirmed by the Senate on March 2 to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a position that President Donald Trump has described as central to his effort to revitalize the nation’s cities.
Carson, 65, who has no experience in federal housing policy or in government, faced little opposition from Democrats. Republicans have said the renowned surgeon and former presidential candidate will bring fresh perspective to a bureaucracy that has extensive reach in the mortgage market and subsidizes rent for millions of Americans.
The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Carson 58-41.
A former Baltimore County resident who recently bought a home in Virginia, Carson promised during his confirmation hearing in January to begin his tenure with a “listening tour” to learn about issues facing the department. Carson said he will then develop a comprehensive plan for the administration.
Carson, who will be the only African-American in Trump’s Cabinet, will oversee a department with 8,000 employees and a nearly $50 billion budget.
Through the Federal Housing Administration, the department has taken on a more expansive role in the mortgage market since the housing collapse of 2008. Some Republicans would like to see that role reduced to minimize taxpayer risk, while others say it has made mortgages affordable to more Americans.
Shortage of units
Carson will also confront a national shortage in low-income housing.
A March 2 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found a shortage of 7.4 million affordable housing units for extremely low income households. The study said there are just 35 available units for every 100 very low income families nationwide.
The analysis “continues to show that the poorest households in our nation face the largest shortage of affordable and available rental housing and have more severe housing cost burdens than any other group,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president for research at the coalition.
“The shortage disappears for households higher up the income ladder.”
No specific plan
Trump has frequently discussed his desire to revitalize cities — the president tends to use the term “inner cities” — but has yet to offer a specific plan for how to address joblessness, struggling schools and crime that confront many communities.
“We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit — and so many other places throughout our land,” the president said during a joint address to Congress last week. “Our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.”
Perhaps conversely, advocates are watching for how Carson will address the pressure from the Trump administration to cut federal spending, reductions that would presumably fall on HUD as well.
More than 5 million rely on federal rental assistance nationwide.