Spotlight Exclusives

What a Trump Administration Means for Housing Policy

Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates, posted on

Compared to issues such as healthcare and taxes, housing policy has generally flown under the radar in the early months of the Trump presidency. A new website, CarsonWatch, is hoping to change that by monitoring the actions of the Trump administration and highlighting the importance of housing policy in combating poverty and promoting opportunity. Spotlight recently spoke with Guillermo Mayer, President of Public Advocates (the organization that launched this new effort), to hear more about the website. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe CarsonWatch?

CarsonWatch is an effort to monitor and prevent the Trump Administration, and specifically the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), from making decisions around housing that could exacerbate poverty and segregation and undermine the housing security of vulnerable, low-income Americans.

Our specific role is to provide oversight over HUD Secretary Ben Carson and the Trump administration. We’re teaming with grassroots organizers, lawyers, national policy experts, and others to watch over HUD. We’re looking for ethical breaches, cuts to housing programs, and a lack of enforcement of specific protections.

Public Advocates is proud to have the support of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and PolicyLink in this effort. We’re continuously looking for further engagement with other partners across the country as well.

What drove you to create this effort?

We are concerned that members of this cabinet hold values in direct conflict with the goals of the agencies they are leading. Ben Carson is one example. He has no experience in housing issues. He has previously made statements indicating that poverty is a choice.

His most definitive statement around housing was a rebuke of the Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. He equated the rule, which is designed to help address residential segregation and operationalize the Fair Housing Act of 1968, to social engineering.

Finally, we remain concerned about unethical behavior and the potential for policy that enriches the Trump business and its interests. During confirmation hearings, Carson refused to pledge that he would not steer resources towards Trump’s real estate efforts. We think the public needs to play close attention and hold them accountable.

Public Advocates started as a means for defending low-income communities of color. Our clients and partners rely on HUD for housing support and protections. California, where we are based, has a lot at stake when it comes to housing policy. We think by linking and amplifying the concerns of stakeholders across the country, we can play the role of watchdog.

HUD often doesn’t get the same attention as other cabinet departments. Can you talk about the role HUD plays, especially around issues related to poverty and opportunity?

We specifically focused on HUD for that very reason. HUD typically is in the background. It’s not the most noticeable agency, and yet, it is responsible for issues that are drivers of opportunity and equality. We have a housing crisis across the country. This is a time for strong leadership and greater investment in housing and community development, and recognizing that these issues are key drivers of economic opportunity and poverty alleviation.

What we want to do is to make sure that housing policy gets more attention from the public. Right now, you see tremendous political involvement from folks that are resisting Trump administration policies. We want to make sure that housing policy is a huge aspect of this political movement.

Do you see potential areas for collaboration with HUD or reasons for optimism?

It’s too soon to tell. So far, with the exception of a public statement that Carson made about enforcing civil rights laws, it’s been pretty negative. I wish I could believe him on civil rights protections. However, I want to see proof.

We’re also seeing the outlines of a budget that would decimate community development, housing affordability, and accessibility. We’re open to positives, but we’re preparing to resist negative developments, and that’s all we’ve seen so far.

We’ve talked a lot about concerns around Trump administration priorities. What sort of agenda or policies would you advocate for?

 We’re not focused on developing a specific policy agenda, but rather raising public awareness. That includes partnering with housing activists in cities across the U.S. and elevating their demands and work.

These local groups have been pushing for tenant rights, ensuring access to housing, and equitable development that doesn’t lead to gentrification. These people are doing positive work that stands as a contrast to what we see on the federal level. We want to help elevate their efforts and illustrate what is possible.

For instance, we’ve introduced legislation in the California assembly that would enshrine the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule even if it’s repealed at the federal level.

We want our cities and states to be sanctuaries for progressive housing policy. And we can provide exposure for these policies nationwide so others can model themselves based on best practices.

What advice would you give to people who care about these issues and want to get engaged?

I’d encourage people to think broadly about the systemic and interconnected drivers of poverty. An issue like housing impacts so many other issues from opportunity, to education, to community development.

The best way to get involved is to start locally. It’s helpful to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of your local community, and then you can decide for yourself if federal policy is mitigating or exacerbating these challenges.

Guillermo Mayer is President & CEO of Public Advocates Inc.

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