WASHINGTON Jan 12 Ben Carson on Thursday told
lawmakers he is fit to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development, an agency that offers housing to the poor,
even though he has sometimes criticized its work.
"I understand housing insecurity," Carson, a retired
neurosurgeon who sought the Republican 2016 presidential
nomination, said in prepared remarks for the Senate Banking,
Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Carson endorsed some policies that subsidize rent and
homeownership and said a childhood of poverty and struggle made
him appreciate a stable home life.
"Simply put, it's difficult for a child to learn at school
if he or she doesn't have an adequate place to live," he said.
Carson, nominated for the HUD job by Republican
President-elect Donald Trump, has said some of the agency's
policies encourage racial tensions.
A federal program that promotes the development of rental
housing in neighborhoods where most people own their homes is a
mistake, Carson, an African-American, has argued.
"These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial
equality create consequences that often make matters worse,"
Carson wrote in a 2015 opinion article in the Washington Times
If confirmed as HUD secretary as widely expected, Carson
would oversee an agency with a roughly $40 billion budget that
not only helps the poor but underwrites mortgage loans for
HUD's Federal Housing Administration stands behind roughly
one in five home loans and $1.1 trillion in debt.
Carson has never led a government agency, a concern for
Democrats on the Senate committee, which was to question him on
In mid-November, an aide to Carson told The Hill newspaper
that Carson had removed himself from consideration for a Cabinet
post because "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience,
he's never run a government agency."
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the
committee, has said, "President-elect Trump made big promises to
rebuild American infrastructure and revitalize our cities but
this appointment raises real questions about how serious he is
about actually getting anything done."
HUD does not have the political profile of many other
Cabinet-level agencies, such as the Defense or Justice
departments. But with its sizable budget and power in the
housing market, it has been a political lightning rod.
Many Republicans have argued that taxpayers may once again
have to fund a housing market bailout because HUD stands behind
too many risky mortgages.
However, HUD housing guarantees can save homeowners money
day to day and thus such programs have lawmaker backing.
Outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro this week slashed HUD
fees for mortgage default insurance, which he said would save
the average HUD-backed homeowner $500 a year.
Carson could reverse that move if he is confirmed.
Trump attacked Carson when the two were vying for the
Republican nomination last year but Carson later became one of
his most prominent African-American supporters in the general
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Linda Stern and Bill