When President Trump named Ben Carson to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development last year, HUD’s career employees took it personally. How could the president insult people who had worked all their lives in housing policy by picking someone to preside over them who knew basically nothing about it?
But it didn’t stop with Carson, Trump raided HUD with a “beachhead” team that also consisted of few people with policy experience. Instead it included the likes of Trump campaign employee Victoria Barton, Trump Organization party planner Lynne Patton, Douglas Elliman broker Barbara Gruson and Maren Kasper, a young, former executive of the single-family investment platform Roofstock.
Kasper, according to a new report in ProPublica, turned out to be the most influential of the Trump delegation, and also tended to butt heads with Shermichael Singleton, personal aide to Carson who was ousted shortly after the inauguration for having written an editorial critical of Trump the previous fall. According to Singleton, Kasper acted like she was effectively the temporary Secretary of HUD in the weeks before Carson was officially confirmed for the post by the Senate.
When Carson finally arrived to begin his tenure at HUD, he didn’t assuage any of the concerns of the career staff. Some saw it as an opportunity to rise within the department and began trying to curry favor with the secretary regardless of their own politics. Others saw it as an excuse to slack off, ProPublica reported.
Eventually, the new ideology of the Trump administration began affecting the real work of HUD. The department started to require official approval for conferences outside the office, in one case keeping an employee from attending a homelessness conference in Ohio where “some of the other speakers there leaned left.” The department also began removing homelessness materials from its website that referenced transgendered individuals, an unsurprising move given Carson’s deep evangelicalism. Meanwhile, Carson was generally AWOL from the department’s Washington headquarters, and new appointees needed to fill vacancies were scarce.
Employees told ProPublica that Carson also seemed mostly unphased by the nearly $7 billion the Trump White House announced it wanted to cut from the HUD budget, 15 percent of the department’s current funding. To ease concerns, Carson told housing advocates that those cuts, which would affect everything from housing vouchers for the poor to funding for housing code enforcement in New York City, would simply be made up for by infrastructure spending.
“I’m not sure he understood how that would work,” HUD landing team member Jimmy Kemp told ProPublica. “He was probably repeating what had been told to him.”
In June, Kasper left her post as White House adviser to HUD to go work for Ginnie Mae and Carson began filling up more posts with new personnel who also had no housing policy experience. They include the voter fraud conspiracy theorist John Gibbs, Sharia law protester Beth Van Duyne and of course Lynne Patton, who was named as HUD’s liaison for the New York region, a post once held by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
But perhaps the most curious thing about Carson’s first six months as HUD Secretary is the ubiquitous presence of his wife, Candy, a former real estate professional who ProPublica reports has used “we” when referring to the management of HUD. Carson frequently appears to be looking for approval from while on the job, according to the ProPublica report.
“We’re really excited about working with — ” Mrs. Carson said when introducing herself to HUD employees in March. “Well, he’s really,” she said. [ProPublica] —Will Parker