Congressman Price Delivers Opening Remarks at THUD Subcommittee Hearing with Secretary Carson

March 20, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (Mar. 20, 2018) – Congressman David Price (D-NC) will deliver the following remarks at the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (THUD) hearing with Secretary Ben Carson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Rep. Price intends to ask Secretary Carson several questions about recent ethical lapses at the Department, gentrification in communities, and critical HUD programs that promote affordable housing and community development.  Rep. Price serves as Ranking Member on the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee.

            Remarks as prepared.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to join you in welcoming the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, as he makes his second appearance before this Subcommittee. 

HUD’s mission to provide affordable housing, foster community development, and protect both renters and homeowners from discrimination are as important today as they’ve ever been. 

Access to stable and affordable housing has broad, positive impacts.  It leads to better health and education outcomes and higher lifetime earnings, especially for children.  Providing families with affordable housing not only improves lives, it can lift entire communities.  Without safe housing, how can we expect people to find and maintain employment, go to school, or raise a family?

Yet today, in no state can a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent.  In addition, just one in four families eligible for federal housing assistance gets the help they need—25 percent!  What does that say about our national priorities?

For years, nearly all of HUD’s affordable housing and community development programs have been underfunded compared to demonstrated need.  These programs serve some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the elderly, the disabled, children, veterans, and single parents trying to make ends meet.   It’s not an exaggeration to say that America—the most prosperous nation in the world—is in the midst of a housing crisis. 

Unfortunately, the Department’s FY 2019 budget request doubles down on last year’s request, which was roundly rejected on a bipartisan, bicameral basis.  This year’s request includes $41.2 billion in funding offset by $10 billion in receipts.  The total budget authority provided in the request would be lower than the FY 2017 enacted level by approximately $7 billion, or 15 percent.

Since more than three-quarters of HUD’s budget is devoted toward simply maintaining current residents in housing, cuts of this magnitude would disproportionately impact community development and other grant programs.

For example, Community Development Block Grants, a flexible source of funding for hundreds of urban and rural communities to help meet the needs of low and moderate-income people, would be eliminated.  The HOME program, which is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to produce affordable housing for low-income families, would also be eliminated.  Even the SHOP program, which is used by Habitat for Humanity affiliates and other reputable non-profits engaged in the “sweat equity” homeownership model, would receive the axe. 

My colleagues and I have heard from hundreds of local elected officials and housing leaders in our home districts.  Their message is overwhelmingly clear:  These programs play a critical role in the creation and preservation of affordable housing and community facilities.

Unfortunately, there’s more.  Yet again, the budget request proposes eliminating the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a highly successful program that leverages outside investment to transform and revitalize struggling communities.  And in a new wrinkle, the Department’s request would eliminate the Public Housing Capital Fund, despite a massive maintenance backlog in our deteriorating public housing stock.

Finally, the Housing Trust Fund, which doesn’t even constitute discretionary budget authority, would yet again be eliminated in the request.  These mandatory funds are derived from contributions by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Housing Trust Fund has only recently been tapped by the states, but already it is being used to finance the development, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable housing for low-income people.

These sweeping program eliminations are unrealistic and unacceptable.  If you wanted to ensure that Congress would not take your budget request seriously, then I’m afraid your mission has been accomplished.

I haven’t even touched on the numerous reductions proposed in the budget.  And when you look at core housing assistance programs like Section 8 vouchers, it appears that the Department’s requests are inadequate and that current low-income tenants could be at risk of losing assistance. 

I’d also like to register my serious concerns with the Department’s so-called rent “reforms” which would essentially shift HUD program costs onto residents.  Raising minimum rents and eliminating longstanding deductions for medical expenses and other costs could have serious repercussions for the people who rely on housing assistance.  If such changes are to be considered, they are best left to the authorizing committees. 

The current state of housing in America should force us to ask tough questions about our national priorities.  Unfortunately, looking at this budget proposal, it’s clear the Trump Administration’s priorities lie elsewhere.  It’s a heartless request that demonstrates a pinched and narrow vision of America.

Before I close, I want to register my frustration about several major ethical lapses that have occurred at the Department.  Failure to control funds and provide legally required notifications to Congress is bad enough.  What is even more disturbing are the apparently false public statements that attempted to obscure the truth about the Secretary’s involvement in this matter, as well as the reassignment of the whistleblower who brought these problems to the public’s attention.  These mistakes are compounded by the unusual roles that members of the Secretary’s family have taken on at the Department.  Public office is a public trust, and even the appearance of impropriety can severely damage our institutions.  I will give you the opportunity to address these issues and encourage you to be as responsive and forthcoming as possible.

Mr. Secretary, I look forward to your testimony today and working with you and my colleagues to ensure HUD has the resources that are necessary to complete its vital mission.