MANHATTAN — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Ben Carson as the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development sparked serious concerns from local affordable housing advocates — who say he's seriously unprepared for the job.
The retired neurosurgeon and former rival of Trump’s during the Republican primaries was initially wary of joining the administration, admitting that he had no experience in government nor in running any large bureaucratic agencies.
Yet soon, he will be heading a department with a roughly $49 billion budget and more than 8,000 employees that administers the largest housing programs for helping low-income people and minorities.
Here's what that could mean for NYC:
THREAT OF REDUCED FUNDING FOR PUBLIC HOUSING AND SECTION 8
The New York City Public Housing Authority — which is severely cash-strapped with a capital repair deficit of nearly $17 billion — leans heavily on HUD. Nearly 40 percent of NYCHA’s overall funding comes from the federal agency and its Section 8 voucher program, which helps nearly 90,000 pay for private apartments across the city, is funded through HUD.
Although supporters like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have said that Carson would be the first HUD secretary to have lived in public housing, there have been conflicting reports in publications like the Washington Post about whether he was actually receiving government housing assistance.
Regardless of his history with government assistance, Carson has been vocal about opposing federal programs that act as a safety net and promote what he called “social engineering.”
Carson has spoken against programs he believes foster dependence on government “handouts” — causing advocates to worry he may place major restrictions on government subsidies and unravel current efforts at promoting racial integration in housing.
Jumaane Williams, a former tenant organizer who represents Flatbush in the City Council and chairs the council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, called Carson's nomination “ill-advised, irresponsible and hovers on absurdity.”
“While Carson has had a distinguished career in the medical field, the same cannot be said for policy or urban planning and development,” Williams said in a statement.
“Overcoming a 'troubled youth in the inner city of Detroit,' and growing up in public housing does not make Carson qualified to hold this important position. Housing is not a plaything that can be taken lightly; it is the rubric of healthy families and the glue that binds vibrant communities.”
ROLLING BACK EFFORTS TO INTEGRATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Carson has reportedly criticized HUD initiatives including the recent Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing — which seeks to reduce segregation in public housing by requiring HUD to oversee studies by local communities on patterns of racial and income disparity.
“Ben Carson has said that he doesn’t think government should play a role in desegregating communities and building affordable housing in neighborhoods like mine,” Sylvia Smith, a member of Make the Road New York and tenant leader at the Park Hill Complex on Staten Island, said in a statement on behalf of the advocacy group’s 20,000 members.
“Our communities need leaders who will stand up for our rights, preserve affordable housing where it exists and use every tool possible to create new affordable housing that meets the needs of working-class and low-income families.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio — a former HUD official under Bill Clinton — said Monday at an unrelated press conference that “of all the members of the Trump team this will be the person I will arguably work with the most.”
He withheld criticism on Carson and said he planned to extend a hand of welcome.
“Because he doesn’t have a formal background in housing issues, it will be important for him to see what the reality is for our people. I will welcome him here,” de Blasio said.
“I’ll take him on a tour of our public housing and show him how important our affordable housing programs are. And I hope we can work well together.”
CREATING UNCERTAINTY FOR THE FUTURE DIRECTION OF HOUSING POLICY
Part of the problem is that many experts don't yet know what to make of Carson — since he has no policy track record to speak of.
"Its too early to surmise how Carson's appointment will affect specific programs or NYCHA,” said Alex Schwartz, professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School.
"However, Carson's utter lack of qualifications combined with the hostility he has expressed towards fair housing and social programs does not bode well, especially with Republicans in control of Congress and the Presidency.”
In addition, since housing issues were not frequent topics of the policy platforms for either Trump or Clinton on the campaign trail, the President-elect's exact stance on the matter remains unclear.
De Blasio put the most positive spin on the situation — saying that without much to go on, he's hoping for the best. "I think the housing issue is one of the big gray areas and, if you say, 'Do I expect it to be one of their No. 1 priorities?' No, I do not at this point.
"But that doesn’t mean we can’t get something done, so we have to see what he says and the confirmation process will be fascinating because it will tell us a lot about his vision."
"We hope to partner with the incoming HUD Secretary to ensure New York City’s public housing is not only protected, but strengthened for the next generation," NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said in a statement, noting that the nation's largest housing authority is the landlord of more than half-a-million people
"Our residents deserve the same quality of life and opportunity as all Americans, which means keeping the promise to fund public housing and Section 8 while also creating safer, cleaner and more connected communities."