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Analysis: What the NY Times Got Wrong on HUD’s Fair Housing Policies

Phil Hall
Mar 29, 2018
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson has announced the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will insure mortgages on mixed-use developments under the agency’s Section 220 Program

Once again, it appears that the mainstream media is taking shots at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson. The latest volley was fired by the New York Times in a March 28 article with the titillating headline “Under Ben Carson, HUD Scales Back Fair Housing Enforcement.”
 
If one believes this new article, HUD under Carson is eager to bring the nation’s housing policy back to the Jim Crow era. As with the recent slew of anti-Carson coverage from the previous months—which was the subject of a March 6 analysis by this publication—the Times is playing loosey-goosey with the facts. Provocative claims are never reaffirmed with anything that could be mistaken as irrefutable evidence, and a mix of conveniently anonymous sources and agenda-driven opponents are given center stage for another round of Carson bashing.
 
Let’s start with the Times’ opening salvo:
 
“The Trump administration is attempting to scale back federal efforts to enforce fair housing laws, freezing enforcement actions against local governments and businesses, including Facebook, while sidelining officials who have aggressively pursued civil rights cases. The policy shift, detailed in interviews with 20 current and former Department of Housing and Urban Development officials and in internal agency emails, is meant to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects.”
 
If one is looking for the “20 current and former Department of Housing and Urban Development officials,” you will only find two that agreed to be quoted in this piece: Gustavo Velasquez, who served as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing during the last three years of the Obama Administration, and Jereon Brown, a HUD spokesman who offered an e-mail response challenging the notion of a slowdown in fair housing enforcement by noting “60 percent of the fair housing complaints we receive are disability related, and the majority of those have to do with service animals.”
 
Where are the other 18 people allegedly interviewed by the Times? Who knows? And Velasquez, we are told, works for “Urban Institute, a non-partisan progressive think tank in Washington.” Non-partisan and progressive? Hmmm.
 
The Times’ then insists that HUD’s abrupt aversion to enforcing fair housing laws coincided with “the decision this month by [Carson] to strike the words ‘inclusive’ and ‘free from discrimination’ from HUD’s mission statement.” In reality, no final decision to change the mission statement was finalized. What happened was that an internal memo detailing a proposed update the HUD mission statement was illegally leaked to the media.
 
The Times’ then claims, “Advocates for the poor and career HUD officials say that Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and his political appointees have begun weakening the department’s fair housing division at a critical moment.” None of these “advocates” or “career HUD officials” are identified.
 
The article then states, “The agency now has its greatest leverage to right past wrongs thanks to the $28 billion in disaster recovery Community Development Block Grants that Congress has appropriated to rebuild the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.” Huh? HUD has a long history of providing emergency assistance to states, counties and cities impacted by natural disasters, and HUD under Carson has been no exception. The “past wrongs” being corrected are never identified.
 
Next, the Times tell us that in “an e-mail in November, a top HUD official relayed the news that the head of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity division, Anna Maria Farías, had ordered a hold on about a half-dozen fair housing investigations given the highest priority under Mr. Carson’s most recent predecessor, Julián Castro.” For those of us who care to remember, Castro’s highest priority in 2016 was getting Hillary Clinton elected president, to the point that he was found to be in violation of the Hatch Act for using his cabinet position to champion her cause. (The Obama administration opted not to enact any punishment for this violation.) The article offers the scantest reference to a few cases without offering any insight on their merits, thus giving the impression that something must be foul simply because a complaint was raised.
 
We are then informed that “Ms. Farías, an official at HUD in the George W. Bush administration, has not initiated any high-priority cases of her own, according to agency officials. And she has made it clear that she does not intend to aggressively pursue cases that are not instituted ‘by my secretary,’ meaning Mr. Carson, according to an official who spoke with her last year.” Again, no one is on the record affirming this as fact, and Farías is not given a chance to respond.
 
The Times generously reminds us that the HUD Secretary is “the only African-American man in President Trump’s cabinet”—so much for Martin Luther King Jr.’s publicly stated dream for people to be judged by their character and not their skin color. The Times claims that “Carson told members of the Senate Banking Committee that he planned to delay another Obama-era rule that would have required local governments to create detailed plans to integrate racially divided neighborhoods.” However, the Times fails to inform us that this request came at the behest of many municipal governments that found the Obama-era requirements to be an onerous example of regulation by enforcement.
 
Then, we have a convoluted encapsulation of a discrimination complaint against the City of Houston that HUD settled on March 9. We are informed that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is African-American (really, is this necessary?) and a healthy amount of attention is paid to an “advocacy group” called Texas Housers, which filed a federal lawsuit demanding a tougher enforcement action against the city. The article never bothers to give us the city’s response to the lawsuit.
The article concludes that morale within the fair housing division “is sinking,” but no evidence is offered to back that up. And there are statements attributed to “two aides who requested anonymity for fear of retribution” that Farías “told her staff that it was her intention to root out people she viewed as ‘Obama plants.’” Farías, through a spokesman, denied that was ever said.
 
And there are some facts not mentioned in the article. On Jan. 22, HUD awarded $38.5 million to fight housing discrimination under its Fair Housing Initiatives Program, up from the $38 million level in 2016 and 2017. And since Carson took office, HUD has settled fair housing discrimination cases against multiple lenders, insurance companies, landlords, two California housing authorities and the State of Maryland. None of those settlements were ever reported in the New York Times.


 
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