Spotlight Exclusives

Ben Carson Lauds Safe and Healthy Housing, Downplays Potential Rent Hikes for Low-Income People

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

From decaying buildings in low-income neighborhoods to communities ravaged by natural disasters, inadequate and unsafe housing has a clear effect on health outcomes, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said last week.

“Your home is the foundation of your security,” Carson said during an appearance last Friday at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). “And the poor, disabled, the elderly – these are the people who are most vulnerable.” Carson stressed the importance of safe, affordable housing, supplemented with policies and reforms that seek to help people, not “punish” them.

Carson highlighted the creation of new “EnVision Centers,” which seek to connect HUD-assisted families with access to support services. The centers aim to promote self-sufficiency through economic empowerment, educational advancement, and health and wellness. Carson emphasized that these centers use existing funding and are coordinated at the local level.

He also suggested that increased collaboration between HUD and the Health and Human Services Department could help to address the impact of inadequate housing on health. Carson said he has met with HHS Secretary Alex Azar to begin finding ways for the two agencies to better coordinate their efforts on issues like lead exposure, asthma, and data-sharing.

During a BPC panel that followed Carson’s remarks, Eileen Fitzgerald, president and CEO of Stewards Affordable Housing for the Future, said the key to addressing negative health outcomes is increasing the supply of affordable housing. She also argued for using housing as a starting platform for other supports and services.

Samuel Ross, CEO of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, urged healthcare organizations to recognize their impact and role in the communities they serve – not just through medicine, but as economic drivers, employers, and leaders in community engagement.

Donald Moulds, executive vice president at The Commonwealth Fund, emphasized that while government is not often in a position to quickly fund a new initiative, philanthropy can play a unique role in tackling these new opportunities.

Carson also continued to downplay the likelihood that a HUD proposal to raise rent for those living on housing assistance will take effect. An analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that low-income tenants in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas would face rent hikes of up to 20 percent under the new rule.

Carson defended the plan, saying that HUD was “dealing with only a $40 billion budget,” and that the rent hikes were going to affect very few people. He argued that the proposal was actually meant to prevent rent hikes on the disabled and elderly.

But he said the HUD budget has since increased, and that while the department “will do what is necessary based on the budget,” the rent hikes will likely not take effect.

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