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Housing Advocate: It’s Scary That Trump HUD Secretary Pick Ben Carson Thinks Poverty Is a Choice

Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember for District 45 and chair of the city’s Housing and Buildings Committee, speaks about HUD pick Ben Carson.

Donald Trump has picked retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson to serve as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Trump picked Carson even though the doctor has no experience in housing or urban policy. Last month, Carson told The Washington Post, “Having me as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water, quite frankly.” For more, we speak with Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember for District 45 and chair of the city’s Housing and Buildings Committee. He has spent much of his career fighting for affordable housing.


AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show looking at Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who Donald Trump has tapped to be secretary of Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Trump picked Carson even though the doctor has no experience in housing or urban development. Last month, Dr. Carson told The Washington Post, quote, “Having me as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water, quite frankly.” Dr. Carson’s top adviser, Armstrong Williams, has also admitted this lack of experience could be problematic. Williams said last month, quote, “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience. He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency,” Williams said.

HUD is a $48 billion agency, which oversees public housing, ensuring low-income families have access to safe homes and neighborhoods. During a recent interview on Fox News, Dr. Carson said he was qualified in part because he grew up in the inner city.

NEIL CAVUTO: What would steer you to take a job for which a lot of folks say, “Hey, you have these ample medical degrees, and one of the nation’s top neurosurgeons. What do you know about doing this?”

DR. BEN CARSON: Well, I know that I grew up in the inner city and have spent a lot of time there and have dealt with a lot of patients from that area and recognize that we cannot have a strong nation if we have weak inner cities.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump’s choice of Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development has alarmed many housing advocates and Democratic politicians. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Carson as a “disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice.” Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee responded to Pelosi by tweeting, “Ben Carson is first HUD Sec to have actually lived in gov’t housing. Fancy Nancy Pelosi says he’s not qualified; is she racist or just dumb?” Huckabee later retracted his tweet after it came to light that Dr. Carson had never actually lived in public housing.

Carson’s views on housing have also faced criticism. He’s been a vocal critic of HUD’s fair housing rule, which requires local communities to assess patterns of income and racial discrimination in housing. Carson has described the rule as a, quote, “mandated social-engineering scheme.” Carson said, quote, “This is just an example of what happens when we allow the government to infiltrate every part of our lives. This is what you see in communist countries.”

Well, to talk more about the implications of Dr. Carson becoming head of Housing and Urban Development, we’re joined by Jumaane Williams. He is a New York city councilmember, chair of the city’s Housing and Buildings Committee. He’s spent much of his career fighting for affordable housing.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on Dr. Carson as HUD secretary?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: I think I called it ill-advised, irresponsible and hovers on absurdity. And some of those actually could be used to describe many of the recent appointments that we’ve heard about. Obviously, this one struck a nerve, having been in the housing world, chairing Housing and Buildings in the City Council.

I just know that the impact can be, and probably will be, unfortunately, magnificent in the wrong direction, in terms of what’s going to happen in the city. We are suffering crippling homelessness, record high in homelessness, not having enough affordable housing in the city. We actually have been pleading for additional funding dollars, particularly when it comes to Section 8 vouchers. We have a — we had a good idea that this may be cut under a Trump administration. And now, Dr. Ben Carson, who has no experience at all — it’s not just in housing; nothing to do with policy, nothing to do with government — it’s very disconcerting that this would be the pick that he’d give. And maybe — I was thinking, maybe because it had the word “urban” in it, Trump felt that he needed to have someone with some melanin in his skin; otherwise, I couldn’t figure out why not something that fit the skill set that he had.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you weren’t always a critic of Dr. Carson. You grew up on his legacy, his reputation.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. My mother gave me a copy of Gifted Hands. It was — he was someone that I actually looked up to, the story that was laid out in the book, in the movie. It was so disappointing to really find out who he really was. And it turns out he even misrepresented many of the things that were in the book. And so, it was a — in my eyes, and, I think, many people like me — a kind of fall from grace of who we thought he was and who he turned out to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Someone recently joked, it’s not like housing and urban development is brain surgery, but that’s actually the problem.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: And, sure. Housing, it’s not a plaything. It’s not something that you can just play around with. It is, I believe, the rubric of family. It is the glue for a healthy community. And to have someone that really wants to dismantle any government involvement in making sure that every community has access to that is very scary. We should be worried.

AMY GOODMAN: During the primary campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly lashed out at Dr. Carson, seizing on passages from Carson’s autobiography, when he admitted he had a pathological temper. This is Donald Trump speaking on CNN a year ago.

DONALD TRUMP: Other people said he said in the book — and I haven’t seen it; I know it’s in the book — that he’s got a pathological temper or temperament. That’s a big problem, because you don’t cure that. That’s like, you know, I could say — they say you don’t cure, as an example, child molester. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological — there’s no cure for that. Now, I didn’t say it; he said it in his book. So when I hear somebody is pathological, when somebody says, “I went after my mother with” — and he’s saying it about himself —


DONALD TRUMP: — with a hammer, and hit her in the head, I say, “Whoa!” I never did. You never did. I don’t know anybody that ever did, personally. But that’s a big statement. When he said he hit a friend of his in the face with a lock, with a padlock, right in the face, I say, “Whoa! That’s pretty bad.”

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Donald Trump a year ago. Your thoughts, Jumaane Williams?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Sure. Well, I mean, but we’ve learned that Donald Trump can say whatever he wants and switch it a minute later, and nobody really cares. Talking about what someone went through in their childhood, obviously, is a little suspect, particularly when that person has obviously come far from that particular position. But what’s scary is that Donald Trump has his own sordid history when it comes to discrimination — in housing, in particular. And so, there you have what he stands for when it comes to housing — by the way, this housing wasn’t even mentioned very often in the campaign, which is another scary thought. Then you have Dr. Ben Carson, who wants to dismantle everything that’s put in place to prevent housing discrimination.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to that history of Donald Trump. Earlier this year, former victims of racial housing discrimination at units operated by the Trump family spoke out. In 1973, the Nixon Justice Department sued Donald and his father, Fred Trump, for discriminating against African Americans in New York. One African-American woman who was denied an apartment at Fred Trump’s Wilshire Apartments in Queens spoke to The New York Times. This is Mae Wiggins.

MAE WIGGINS: It was 52 years ago. My friend and I applied for an apartment in the Wilshire in Queens, New York, and we were both told that there were no vacancies. I realized that there were vacancies, because they still had the ads running, and I was pretty sure it was because of the color of our skin. I have always felt that the Trump Organization was biased. And I will go to my grave with that thought.

AMY GOODMAN: According to The New York Times, the first time Donald Trump was mentioned in the paper was in 1973 in a front-page article headlined “Major Landlord Accused of Anti-Black Bias in City.” The ’73 article quoted Donald Trump responding to the charges. He said, quote, “They are absolutely ridiculous. We never have discriminated and we never would,” unquote. Well, the Trump family settled with the Justice Department in 1975 with a consent decree that they were later accused of breaking. Jumaane Williams?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: And one of the important points here is that even as the trial and everything was going forward, one of the biggest complaints that he has wasn’t that they didn’t do anything, was that they were being singled out, as if to say this was commonplace amongst a lot of companies, why just single his out? And so, it is very nerve-racking that you now have a president who believes in discrimination, I think, particularly when it comes to housing — he has an experience doing that — and then he appoints someone who wants to — who doesn’t believe in the Fair Housing Act, who doesn’t believe in the recent improvements to the Fair Housing Act put in place by President Obama to affirmatively make sure that people have access to fair housing. And we have to do things that are affirmative. The situation we’re in was put in affirmatively. Right? And so we have to have affirmative plans to reverse it or to correct many of the things that we believe are wrong. And Dr. Ben Carson, one, doesn’t believe that, unfortunately, which is something that is a policy decision, but, on top of that, just has absolutely no experience at all when it comes to anything related to anything that HUD does. And one has to try to figure out why these are the appointments that are being made.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Ben Carson speaking in 2013, about the challenges of his childhood, with a local radio station in Baltimore.

DR. BEN CARSON: Having grown up in dire poor, the thing that I hated the most in life was poverty. I just hated poverty. But as I began to read those books, particularly about people’s accomplishment, I began to realize that poverty was really more of a choice than anything else and that I could change that. And it just really depended on how hard I wanted to work.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. —


AMY GOODMAN: — Ben Carson talking about poverty as a choice.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: He said poverty is a choice more than anything else. I don’t — I’m just astonished by that comment. And I have a feeling that both he and the president-elect believe that. That’s what’s particularly scary. That’s why we believe the billions of dollars that the state receives is in jeopardy now, which is only going to exacerbate a problem that already is huge.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, you refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a City Hall meeting in September. What were you protesting?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: I’ve been protest — I have personally not said it in a very long time. I always stand, out of respect. I decided to stay seated and kind of do what Kaepernick was doing and people were doing across the country, really to say that there is a problem here when it comes to police violence and gun violence, that I believe is being ignored by not giving the proper resources to communities. And I defy anyone now to tell me about patriotism and what America stands for, while we’ve elected a man who ran on everything that’s anathema to what people say that America stands for.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember, chair of the New York City Housing and Buildings Committee, thanks so much for joining us for this hour.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! That does it for the show. Special thanks to the staff and crew at Riverside Church who helped with our 20th anniversary celebration: Darvin Darling, Michael Arias, Temishia Johnson, Nancy Vallladares, Richard Glassey, Tanya Dunlap. And a special thanks to Democracy Now! staff who helped with the event: Erin Dooley and Jahmaiah Lewis, Karen Ranucci, David Prude, Paul Huckeby, Sam Alcoff, Charina Nadura.

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