What Ben Carson could do as secretary of HUD
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE formally nominated Dr. Ben Carson for the position of secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) yesterday.

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As a former surgeon, Dr. Carson will undoubtedly bring an important health perspective to the federal agency. Other than that, however, it’s hard to know in what direction he will take HUD. That doesn’t mean he won’t make a great pick, however — here’s what we look for in an outstanding HUD secretary.

1. Address America’s affordable housing crisis

The hottest job markets in America also have some of the most expensive housing, making it difficult for low- or even moderate-income Americans to participate in those booming economies.

The country’s 30 largest metro areas represent 54 percent of the national gross domestic product — and real estate in these places demands a 74 percent rental premium over drivable suburban neighborhoods. This is a problem in smaller cities and even rural areas too, where the most bustling neighborhoods are often too expensive for the people who work there. HUD’s next secretary could become a champion for making housing more affordable in all these places.

2. Build affordable housing in places with affordable transportation

Building affordable housing in a neighborhood without affordable transportation shoots everyone in the foot. It makes it even harder for low-income Americans to get out of poverty, and it misses an important opportunity to make transit-friendly neighborhoods less economically segregated.

Transportation is the second-highest household expense for most Americans. For some low-income households it’s their highest cost. HUD’s next secretary can help reduce this financial burden on families by building new housing near public transit.

3. Eliminate barriers to investment in disinvested communities

Many real estate developers want to build in disinvested communities, but finance rules forbid or strongly discourage these projects. 

Small-scale development and mixed-income, mixed-use development are just a few examples of development types that are in high demand but discouraged by regulation. The next secretary can change regulations to reduce or eliminate these barriers.

4. Realize that federal investments can be a tool for economic growth

Companies across the country are relocating to walkable, urban locations. The next HUD secretary can make sure the agency invests in ways that support this, helping metros be more economically competitive and making sure Americans of all income levels can participate in that growth.

5. Help communities remain resilient to natural hazards

American communities face increasing risk from natural hazards, and HUD's next secretary can help keep communities safe and remain resilient in the face of these threats. Implementing resilience strategies before disasters strike can prevent effects from escalating, protect vulnerable populations and help local communities and economies rebuild stronger, as well as achieve greater return on public investments.

6. Create more housing choices

There’s not enough housing stock in walkable communities, and the stock there is isn’t what people want. While there is a growing shortage of multi-family housing, the nation’s current supply of single-family homes is estimated to exceed future demand for at least the next 25 years. The next HUD secretary can help address that shortage by investing in more diverse types of housing.

7. Support walking

America is facing an epidemic of obesity and heart disease, and how we’ve built communities plays a part in that. The next HUD secretary — particularly one with a background in medicine — can and should support housing where active transportation options like walking, bicycling and wheelchair rolling are safe and convenient.

8. Don’t cut the safety net

HUD provides a crucial safety net, helping to make sure individuals and families don’t wind up sleeping on the street. This is a fundamental role of HUD, and one the next secretary should take seriously.

The secretary of Housing and Urban Development has enormous opportunity, to help individuals and families, to revitalize neighborhoods, and to help people of all income levels better participate in our economic success. Dr. Carson has a lot to learn about these issues; I hope he’ll consider these priorities while setting his agenda.

Geoff Anderson is the president and CEO of Smart Growth America. Follow Smart Growth America on Twitter @SmartGrowthUSA


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.