Carson likely to roll back housing equality rule

Carson likely to roll back housing equality rule
© Greg Nash

Ben Carson, President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE's pick to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), signaled Thursday that he might roll back an Obama administration regulation aimed at reducing housing discrimination in cities.

In an exchange with Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell Brown2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story MORE (D-Ohio), the ranking member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Carson said he agrees with the spirit of a regulation that puts teeth in the Fair Housing Act — but not the rule in practice.

"As you probably know, that act says that we want people who are receiving HUD grants to look around and see if they find anything that looks like discrimination, and then we want them to come up with a solution on how to find the problem," Carson, 65, told the panel.

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"They’re not responding to people saying there’s a problem, they’re saying go and look for a problem and give us a solution."

Brown was asking about the Obama administration's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, released in 2015, that has drawn ire from many conservatives and is sure to be a focus of Thursday’s confirmation hearing.

It requires those receiving a specific kind of HUD grants to generate data related to housing occupancy by various factors, including race and income level. Then, those same cities or regions must prove they are addressing inequality issues.

Republicans in Congress have attempted to defund any measures to allow enforcement of the regulation.

"We have people sitting around a desk in Washington, D.C., and deciding how things should be done," Carson said. "I don't have any kind of problem with affirmative action or at least integration, but I do have a problem with people on high dictating it when they have no idea what’s going on."

Earlier in his testimony, Carson said he wanted to go on a "listening tour" to hear from local housing officials and longtime career officials in Washington who may have good ideas.

But it is unclear where Carson stands on fair housing regulations.

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president More oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems MORE (D-N.J.) clarified with Carson that the rule charges local communities with assessing their own income inequality and racial bias and making "genuine plans to address them" — not having federal officials dictate to municipalities.

"That is not top-down," Menendez said, asking if Carson would be committed to ensuring that access to fair housing remains intact.

Carson said that has been decided by the Supreme Court is therefore the law of the land.

"Of course, if confirmed, I will enforce it," he said.

Two hours into the hearing, freshman Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) also asked about the Fair Housing Act and the Obama administration regulation that strengthened it.

The law is "one of the best pieces in legislation we’ve had,” she said.

"LBJ said no one can possibly question it, and I agree," Carson said, referring to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Fair Housing Act into law.

Would Carson continue enforcing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, Masto asked.

"I will be working with the local HUD officials and the community to make sure that fairness is carried out," he said, remaining noncommittal. 

At times, there seemed to be confusion between the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and a Supreme Court decision that kept another aspect of the Fair Housing Act intact.

Decided in 2014, the court ruling said the law allows people to bring lawsuits based on housing practices that have an overall discriminatory effect, regardless of whether the practice was intentionally discriminatory.

While running for president, Carson called the regulation and the ruling a “mandated social-engineering scheme.”

“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse,” Carson wrote in a Washington Times op-ed in 2015. “There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous.”

But Carson told the committee that those comments were taken out of context.

He reiterated that he believes HUD has a role to play in helping alleviate poverty and inequality, and tied his experience in medicine to housing.

“There is a strong connection between housing and health, which is of course my background,” Carson said in his prepared remarks to lawmakers. “Where one lives should not cause health problems."