Little Rock It has become a modern foundation of public policy, following Rahm Emanuel, now the Mayor of Chicago, and earlier when the comment was attributed to him when he was chief of staff for President Obama, to “…never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Like Katrina a dozen years ago, many governmental policy makers saw the $28 billion in community development recovery funds going to Houston, the Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as just such an opportunity. They might have been right except for the devastation being wrecked on the Housing & Urban Development department by Hurricane Ben Carson, its turn-back-the-hands-of-time Trump secretary.
Carson claims he’s not going soft on the mission of HUD to assure fair and equal housing and therefore to combat racism in public policies. This claim is despite the fact of all evidence to the contrary. He has removed the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement according to a report in The New York Times. He has put a hold on various fair housing investigations he inherited from the Obama administration. He canceled a settlement conference with Facebook over fair housing violations in their ad targeting that have led fair housing organizations from around the country to join in filing suit against the department and Facebook in federal court in Manhattan recently. He has gone soft on big developers over disability access. He tried to reverse an Obama pilot, years in the making, that would allow section 8 vouchers to be used in more affluent neighborhoods.
Most disturbingly is the way HUD and local officials have handled a housing development in Houston, long recognized despite its gung-ho growth and prosperity in recent years as one of the most segregated cities in the country. Before the Obama administration turned over the keys to the HUD building, they had slapped back hard at Mayor Sylvester Turner’s attempt to nix a 233-unit mixed income, racially diverse project called Fountain View in the upscale, largely white area around the Galleria. Under Carson’s regime, a watered-down settlement was approved that bypassed HUD’s own lawyers and negotiated directly with Turner, despite his opposition to the project. A proposed $14 million penalty that the developers would have had to pay to the Houston Housing Authority if the Fountain View project was scuttled also disappeared from the negotiations.
Not surprisingly, since HUD under Carson no longer has much interest in enforcing fair housing, national and local groups have now sued the city and HUD to block $5 billion in funds that are desperately needed for rebuilding neighborhoods until this issue is resolved. This is a classic devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. For the sake of rebuilding Houston, are we supposed to join HUD and say racial discrimination is now hunky-dory? We know that any delays in recovery funds can be fatal to neighborhoods. On the other hand, allowing continued racial segregation, HUD-sanctioned or not, in Houston or any other city will eventually kill the city’s very heart and soul.
The choice seems clear. Even if Carson and HUD are now OK with racial discrimination in housing and elsewhere, we must oppose it at every opportunity, no matter the pain.