Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has big plans if he is confirmed for his role as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), not the least of which includes strengthening agency housing programs that serve the nation’s seniors and low-income households.
During a nomination hearing on Thursday, Carson testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, during which the HUD Secretary-Designate fielded questions from Senate Republicans and Democrats about his objectives for HUD and the future of the agency under his leadership.
The Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) was largely absent from discussion during the nearly three-hour hearing, with issues such as improving the health of public housing units and the potential for housing programs to help low-income households move up the socioeconomic ladder commanding much of the spotlight.
“When we talk about HUD traditionally, most people think about putting roofs over the heads of poor people, but it has the ability to be so much more than that,” Carson said during his testimony. “We must revisit the ways we do things in order to give people an opportunity to climb the economic and social ladder.”
Throughout the hearing, Carson repeatedly called for a more “holistic approach” to housing finance policy, particularly through the collaboration of various government agencies such as the Departments of Education and Labor, for instance.
“We must include the areas of healthcare, education, jobs, and the skills to do them, in addition to transportation, as we develop the best approach,” he said. “In order to provide access to quality housing for the elderly, disabled, and low-income, we need to work across silos, and I intend to do that at HUD, should you confirm me.”
If confirmed to serve as the 17th U.S. HUD Secretary, Carson said he plans to embark on a “listening tour” to hear from boots-on-the-ground housing stakeholders across the country in efforts to better understand and ultimately address the unique housing challenges they face.
He also said he would take a hard look at current housing policies, including the recent 25 basis point reduction in the annual mortgage insurance premium on certain Federal Housing Administration loans announced earlier this week.
“Certainly, if confirmed, I’m going to work with the FHA administrator and other financial experts to really examine that policy,” he said.
When pressed about his lack of housing policy experience by Senate committee members, Carson, whose biggest claim to fame is being the first neurosurgeon to separate twins joined at the back of the head for the first time in history, credited his medical background for his ability to develop creative solutions for complex problems. Carson’s medical career includes directing pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.
“Throughout his career, Dr. Carson has achieved a great deal of success,” said Committee Chairman Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) during the hearing. “He has demonstrated a fervent intensity for improving the lives of his fellow Americans, and his intellect, leadership and life experiences are unique, valuable assets for leading an agency like HUD.”
Though not officially confirmed to the HUD Secretary position just yet, overall senate lawmakers expressed that they look forward to working with Carson on improvements to programs that would produce cost savings, reduce burdens on local housing authorities and encourage self-sufficiency. And this includes the reverse mortgage program, too.
“Another issue this Committee has worked on is strengthening the HECM program,” said Sen. Crapo. “I look forward to working with [HUD Secretary-Designate Carson] on this program.”
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