On January 12, 2017 at 10 a.m. EDT, the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will meet in open session to conduct a hearing on Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination to be HUD Secretary (link to hearing can be found here).

In light of this hearing and the impact that any HUD Secretary would have on Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and Local Redevelopment Agencies (LRAs) across the country, NAHRO has put together four broad questions that we hope Dr. Ben Carson addresses in some form during the hearing.

What role does Dr. Carson believe the federal government has in providing affordable housing to low-income Americans? How interested and engaged will he be in the services that PHAs and LRAs provide to their communities? 

A famed neurosurgeon, Dr. Carson has never worked within the field of housing or urban development before. How do his qualifications as a surgeon translate into an understanding of complex, long-standing federal housing and redevelopment programs? How he leads HUD will greatly depend on whether he believes the federal government has an important role in the provision of affordable housing to low-income Americans or not. As someone with minimal experience in housing and urban development, it will be critical for Dr. Carson to articulate his vision of HUD’s role and how that will translate into his leadership of the agency.

It will also be important to discern how interested and engaged he will be as Secretary regarding the operation of public housing agencies (PHAs) and local redevelopment agencies (LRAs). This is a critical question to begin understanding the role that Dr. Carson feels PHAs and LRAs have in moving HUD’s agenda forward. His response will shed insight into the role he sees the federal government having in ending poverty and providing housing to those in need. His responses could also demonstrate the level of federal regulation he views is necessary to fulfill HUD’s mission compared to the level of local decision making required to successfully carry out these programs.

At this point, it is unclear if Dr. Carson views PHAs and LRAs as top priorities within HUD. We are currently unsure if his priorities will focus on the concerns PHAs and LRAs face, or if he will focus on other programs within the Department. PHAs and LRAs will be unable to carry out their missions if HUD does not operate effectively and efficiently. As such, it will be critical for Congress to ask Dr. Carson about how he will ensure program delivery and funding for PHAs and LRAs are properly deployed.

Will Dr. Carson ensure that residents of public housing have access to safe, secure housing by promoting modernization efforts, whether through increased funding or through increased access to private capital?

The public housing inventory faces a mounting capital needs backlog, but Capital Fund appropriations continue to lag dangerously behind accruing modernization needs. At the same time, funding for operations has endured deep cuts, forcing PHAs to forego critical maintenance functions and further jeopardizing the long term sustainability of many properties. Each year, PHAs receive enough funding to address only about half of their newly occurring physical needs. Recent unfunded regulations from HUD have increased PHAs’ challenges in meeting the needs of their residents and properties. In light of these significant cuts to federal funding, there is a need for improved access to capital financing tools for PHAs. NAHRO would like to understand what Dr. Carson would do as Secretary to ensure PHAs can access additional capital for these critical modernization efforts if Capital and Operating fund appropriations remain underfunded.

Dr. Carson’s answer may also shed insight into the role that housing could play in an infrastructure bill as a means to access capital for public housing modernization. If questions by members of Congress address President-Elect Trump’s promise of a substantive infrastructure bill, Dr. Carson could provide better insight into whether he would push and encourage Congress to include housing in such a bill.

Does Dr. Carson believe that communities can best meet the needs of their residents through local decision making processes, or will he promulgate a top-down, regulation-heavy approach within the Department?

PHAs and LRAs can best meet the needs of their properties and communities when they have access to a range of options from which to select. Local decision making is critical for the successful operation of PHAs and LRAs and ensures that PHAs and LRAs implement policies that make sense for their local communities. Often when HUD implements a one-size-fits-all approach, HUD encroaches upon established policies that have proven effective at the local level. Through this question, we would glean whether Dr. Carson believes in allowing local jurisdictions to determine appropriate policy solutions or if he would prefer to implement a far-reaching national one-size-fits-all approach.

Recently, there has been discussion regarding the regionalization of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This is one example of a potential top-down regulation-heavy approach to limit PHAs and LRAs’ ability to serve their communities based upon local knowledge. Mandatory regionalization directly interferes with local decision making processes and assumes that small PHAs are ineffective in carrying out their mission. This is simply not true. PHAs are in the best position to decide if working with other PHAs makes sense for them and their local communities.

Often, PHAs face challenges due to meeting burdensome and time consuming federal regulations that can go against local decision making process. Reducing government oversight requires a combination of legislative and regulatory action. At the end of Dr. Carson’s hearing, it will be important to understand what his stance on local control and discretion will be.

How will Dr. Carson address capacity issues at HUD, especially if President-Elect Trump enacts a hiring freeze on the federal agency?

Currently, HUD is staffed at historically low levels. President-Elect Trump has called for a hiring freeze on federal positions once he takes office. How will Dr. Carson ensure HUD is able to operate efficiently and provide on-time delivery of program management and funding? PHAs and LRAs are negatively impacted when HUD faces a backlog in the delivery of their services and funding.

Furthermore, NAHRO has already expressed concern about HUD’s capacity to complete successful and streamlined RAD transactions, especially if the cap on conversions is lifted. More administrative capacity is required from HUD to increase their internal capacity for the RAD program. How will Dr. Carson ensure the successful closing of RAD transactions if HUD capacity further decreases?

NAHRO is also concerned that the expansion of the MTW demonstration by 100 PHAs from 39 to 139 will put considerable stress on HUD’s MTW office. In the short term, HUD must be responsive and available to provide technical assistance on the potential cohort policy provisions and the application process for the PHAs that are interested in joining the MTW program. In the long term, HUD must have the capacity to collect and analyze the required data from the PHAs without placing a burden on the PHA that may skew the data being collected, specifically on the cost savings of operating MTW.

More information on NAHRO’s 2017 Transition Report to the Incoming HUD Administration can be found here.

Dr. Carson’s confirmation hearing can be streamed live on Thursday, January 12 at 10 am Eastern Time here.

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