On March 22, HUD Secretary Ben Carson testified at a Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing titled "Oversight at HUD" and responded to questions regarding HUD’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget and rent reform proposals, recent actions on fair housing, and oversight at the agency.
Echoing much of his testimony at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing earlier that week, Carson defended HUD’s FY 2019 budget and rent reform proposals, encouraged self-sufficiency for low-income households, and suggested that the recently established Opportunity Zones program could serve in place of HUD programs the Administration has slated for elimination, including the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME).
Secretary Carson also spoke about HUD’s Section 3 Economic Opportunities program, suggesting that HUD will enhance the program and "put teeth" into it but provided no further clarification. NCSHA understands from other sources that HUD intends to publish a new proposed Section 3 rule in the coming months.
During the hearing, Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sharply criticized the Administration’s proposal to reduce HUD’s budget and impose rent increases on vulnerable households. Brown also expressed his concern that HUD had experienced "one controversy after another" under Carson’s leadership, and went so far in his opening testimony to question whether he had made a mistake in voting in favor of the Secretary’s nomination last year.
Other Committee members asked Carson about specific program cuts. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the funding reductions "premature," saying that the agency needed level or perhaps increased funding, and encouraged Carson to assess the effectiveness of programs before cutting them. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) questioned Secretary Carson’s logic that the Opportunity Zones program would be an adequate alternative to HUD programs, especially in poor, rural communities like those in his home state.
Committee members also asked Secretary Carson about several actions HUD has recently taken regarding fair housing. Carson defended HUD’s decision earlier this year to suspend implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, adding that the decision came after municipalities complained about compliance costs. He also rejected any assertions that proposed changes to HUD’s mission statement deleting language related to creating "inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination" suggested an intent to ignore the agency’s statutory fair housing obligations. Finally, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) brought to the Committee’s attention that HUD has still not responded to a July 2017 letter she and 28 other Senators sent requesting that HUD reinstate guidance that protects LGBTQ people from housing discrimination. Carson acknowledged the letter and said the delay was because the Senate had not confirmed HUD’s General Counsel until December 2017.