The Real Deal New York

Ben Carson has yet to visit NYC, and has no plans to do so: Olatoye

HUD secretary sent his adviser, who showed little interest in public housing
By Konrad Putzier | May 31, 2017 05:10PM

Ben Carson (credit: Getty Images) and Shola Olatoye

After three months on the job, Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson has yet to visit New York, the city that swallows a huge chunk of his agency’s budget, New York City Housing Authority chair Shola Olatoye said Wednesday.

Olatoye said she invited Carson twice in writing and once in person but has not received a formal response.

Carson did send his senior adviser, former Eric Trump Foundation vice president Lynne Patton, to the Big Apple a few weeks ago. But Olatoye claimed Patton showed no interest in visiting any housing units or discussing a federal program to improve affordable housing stock. Instead she visited a community center in the Bronx.

Carson is “very taken with this concept of, he calls them Vision Centers,” Olatoye said, referring to the HUD secretary’s April proposal to create spaces offering young people career guidance. Olatoye recalled that he brought up these centers during their sole meeting to-date. “I was sort of thinking how do I respond in the most respectful way and say: community centers, right?” she said. “New York actually was the leader and ran 405 of these in our history and we have them all throughout our portfolio but we had to close them because we don’t have any funding.”

Earlier this month Carson said that he doesn’t want public housing to be too nice because that could create “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”

Olatoye held the briefing to update reporters on the NextGeneration NYCHA 10-year plan, which launched two years ago and aims to preserve New York’s public housing stock. But the event was overshadowed by President Trump’s budget proposal, released two weeks ago, which seeks $6 billion in HUD funding cuts.

Olatoye reiterated that a proposed 68 percent cut to HUD’s capital budget would cost NYCHA more than $200 million. She said she doesn’t believe the proposed cuts came from HUD itself, in part because few job openings in the agency have been filled and “there’s no one there.”

NYCHA already has over $17 billion in unmet capital needs.

It’s far from certain that the proposed $40.7 billion HUD budget passes Congress, and Olatoye said she plans to travel to Washington, D.C. soon to talk to legislators. She claimed many Republicans are taking a “very transactional” approach to HUD funding. “This is also being considered in the context of tax reform,” she said, “and there’s a deal to be made.”