Armstrong Williams, a friend and confidante of confused shopper Ben Carson, said after the 2016 election that Carson wouldn’t want a spot in the Trump administration because he didn’t think he was qualified to lead a federal agency. Over a year into Carson’s tenure as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, it appears he was very much correct.
The New York Times reports that, under Carson, HUD has decided to put the enforcement of fair housing practices—ostensibly the whole point of the agency—on the back burner:
In an email 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. The freeze would be in effect “until further notice,” the official wrote.
The investigations, known as “secretary-initiated cases” to indicate their importance, had been used in the past to set precedent and to put other localities and developers on notice.
One of those “secretary-initiated cases” involved Facebook (emphasis mine):
HUD had opened a case in late 2016 in response to a ProPublica article that said Facebook gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “ethnic affinities” from seeing their ads when their social media habits identified them as black, Hispanic or Asian-American.
But even before Ms. Farías was appointed, Mr. Carson’s aides ordered fair housing division officials to cancel a planned negotiating session with Facebook executives, leaving HUD to take Facebook at its word that the company’s “policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate.”
Then, after taking office, Ms. Farías sent a one-page letter to Facebook ordering, without explanation, the termination of a preliminary investigation into the company’s advertising practices.
Although HUD dropped the investigation, Facebook was sued in federal court on Tuesday by civil rights groups, which alleged that the company was violating the Fair Housing Act by letting housing advertisers exclude different racial groups. The Times also wrote that Farías has “not initiated any high-profile cases on her own,” and she’s privately indicated that she won’t unless Carson orders her to.
Farías is also apparently nixing officials who aggressively pushed the city of Houston to adopt fairer housing practices:
Ms. Farías, according to six current department officials, has told HUD managers that she intends to replace her top subordinate, Timothy Smyth, who played a central role in the Houston case. Bryan Greene, another senior manager, will be reassigned as part of the shake-up, the officials said.
Mr. Brown, in an email, said no one had been reassigned yet — but he added that it was “well within the assistant secretary’s authority after 120 days to reassign senior-level personnel.”
HUD spokesman Jerome Brown spokesman told the Times that “any programmatic changes are part of the routine recalibration undertaken from administration to administration,” and that the agency was “looking to streamline” enforcement and focus on other areas, such as sexual harassment. Why the agency can’t investigate sexual harassment complaints and fair housing violations at the same time is a total mystery.
None of this is really all that surprising, though. After all, the White House’s proposed budget for the agency slashed its funding by nearly $9 billion. It’s even less surprising considering Carson’s past statements and the fact that the president whom Carson serves was accused of breaking fair housing laws himself going all the way back to the 1970s.
While HUD is by no means perfect, it’s one of the very, very few organs of our government which was created for the specific purpose of helping to lift poor people out of poverty. Carson has made it a prime example of the sort of ineffective and destructive nonsense which has defined the Trump administration. Not only that, it’s a perfect illustration of the Republican strategy on governing in practice: run the government straight into the ground, complain loudly that it doesn’t work, rinse, repeat.
Put another way: if Carson wanted to convince people that HUD is utterly useless and not worth the hassle, would he be doing anything differently at all?