Mar 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Ben Carson on HUD cuts, "nasty" Trump tweets and trans access to shelters

In an interview with "Axios on HBO," I asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson why homelessness among the transgender population is growing at 43% — far higher than the rise in homelessness in the overall population.

Driving the news: Carson offered the theory that "a lot of them are youth and their families don't welcome them," while saying his personal view is that the Bible teaches "we should love everybody and leave the judging to God."

  • So what about a rule he has proposed allowing single-sex homeless shelters to turn away trans people? Where should transgender individuals experiencing homelessness go? I asked.
  • Carson said he'd encourage women's homeless shelters to build separate sections for transgender people, or "better still, have a rooming situation where everybody gets an individual room." He said he'd be OK with that so long as the women's shelters felt comfortable with that situation.
Other highlights

1. The HUD budget: Carson said he doesn't actually want to eliminate some of the programs that his agency's latest budget calls for eliminating.

  • I asked Carson about a recent Twitter thread, #HumansofHUD, in which he shares inspiring stories of people lifted out of homelessness by programs his agency supports. He told the story of Jeanie, who grew up homeless but through HUD's HOME program received down payment assistance and first-time homeownership classes allowing her family to enjoy "their forever home."
  • Why, then, would Carson propose eliminating the HOME program and community development block grants? He said his real goal is modification. "The fact of the matter is, it's not going to be eliminated," Carson said. "It wasn't eliminated last year we proposed that; it wasn't eliminated the year before that."
  • So why propose it, I asked. "Because we need to get people recognizing that it cannot go on like it is," Carson replied. "It has to be fixed."
  • Carson declined to answer when I asked if he took any issue with the Trump administration's proposal to slash 15% from the HUD budget. He said he didn't want to give me an opportunity to say the Trump administration is divided over its budget.

2. Trump's tweets: When he was addressing local officials in California, Carson preached about the need to put politics aside and work together to solve the homelessness crisis.

  • I asked Carson how he squares that message with the fact that his boss, President Trump, uses the homelessness crisis as a political cudgel against Democrats — including his suggestion that Nancy Pelosi be thrown out of office for her "filthy" district.
  • Carson said he wouldn't mind if Trump stopped his "nasty" tweets, but that he thought Trump had toned it down recently. He also said he generally understands why Trump feels the need to hit back at his critics and get around the mainstream media.

Go deeper

Exclusive: Ben Carson says the minimum wage is too low

In an interview for "Axios on HBO," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson told me that the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage would be "very difficult" to live on and that in his view it should be higher.

Driving the news: "I don't have any problem with raising the minimum wage," Carson said. "My personal opinion is that it should be indexed."

Preview: "Axios on HBO" interviews HUD Secretary Ben Carson

On the next episode of "Axios on HBO," Jonathan Swan sits down for an in-depth interview with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who discusses how he wants to build tent cities for the homeless. Watch the full interview on March 8 at 6pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Coronavirus crisis drives housing advocates' push for rent and mortgage relief

Homeless people who live in tents along a underpass in Washington D.C. Photo by Michael S. Williamson: The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Affordable housing advocates are calling on Congress to do more to protect the fragile housing options for low-income workers who are at heightened risk of losing their homes as the COVID-19 public health crisis drags on.

Why it matters: Without a place to stay, it's next to impossible to maintain the "social distance" necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.