Ben Carson, Donald Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development (a position that Carson initially claimed to be unqualified to hold), recently said he was “glad that Trump is drawing all the fire so I can get stuff done." While few people may have noticed when he wandered off and got stuck in an elevator a couple of months ago, Carson shouldn’t be so quick to assume that he isn’t being watched amid the chaos that has consumed the Trump administration.
At one point during the Republican primary campaign, Trump implied his then rival might be a child molester. Then he appointed Carson to his Cabinet, and now the retired surgeon has come under increased criticism from conservative Republicans, who complain he has been too slow to roll back Obama-era policies on housing discrimination. The Conservative Review blasted Carson last week for failing to combat what senior editor Daniel Horowitz described as “Obama’s war on the suburbs.”
The regulation that Republicans want Carson to roll back is known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, finalized by Obama’s former HUD Secretary Julián Castro in 2015. This rule requires 1,200 cities and counties, which get $3 billion of annual community development block grants from the agency, to examine their local housing patterns for racial bias and to design a plan to address any measurable bias.
Carson recently told the Washington Examiner that he plans to “reinterpret” the controversial fair housing rule -- enraging conservatives. His explanation to the Examiner has only served to further upset right-wingers who have fought against the promulgation of the rule for years. Carson pointed to a recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the validity of disparate-impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, a notion conservatives have long opposed.
"I probably am not going to mess with something the Supreme Court has weighed in on," Carson told the Examiner. "In terms of interpreting what it means — that's where the concentration is going to be."
Carson did not provide any detail how exactly the rule will be “interpreted,” but his statement came just days after nearly 20 congressional Republicans asked the secretary to repeal the rule entirely. These GOP lawmakers complained that the rule “would extend reach of the federal government beyond its authority and could take away state and local governments’ ability to make local zoning decisions.”
HUD is easily one of the most vital federal government agencies, not just for people of color or the poor who need housing assistance in the form of direct subsidies, but for many Americans who want to own a home. The Obama administration didn’t pass any new housing laws. Still, conservatives saw that administration’s attempts to enforce the Fair Housing Act as radical overreach. Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona bemoaned the 2015 rule as an unconstitutional federal power grab over local zoning. Frustrated by what they perceived as the Trump administration's sluggish response, they led a group of Republicans in petitioning Carson to reconsider the rule.
“If any aspect of a community’s housing and demographic patterns fails to meet HUD bureaucrats’ expansive definition of ‘fair housing,’ the local government must submit a plan to reorganize the community’s housing practices according to the preferences and priorities of the bureaucrats,” said Lee, who has been on a years-long crusade against the anti-discrimination effort, in a Senate floor speech last year.
“This rule can’t be reinterpreted or rehabilitated. Rescission is the only sensible solution,” the conservative National Review recently argued. A Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also wrote a letter to Carson calling for the rescission of the rule.
In his own 2015 editorial, Carson also blasted HUD’s rule as a “government-engineered attempt to legislate racial equality.” He has not addressed the issue, however, since taking control of HUD. (Lynne Patton, a Trump family party planner turned HUD administrator, did please some Republicans when she accepted Westchester County, New York's analysis of its racial disparities --which had been rejected 10 times under the Obama administration.)
Some conservatives now view Carson as a traitor.
“With all the talk of Russian collaboration, I think we have finally found the smoking gun,” wrote Horowitz at the Conservative Review. “This administration is adopting the Stalinist social engineering of local communities. If this administration cannot categorically eliminate such an odious program overnight, it is perhaps a bigger scandal than anything Robert Mueller could ever uncover.”