By nature, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional administrator in New York and New Jersey is a low-profile job. Then came Lynne Patton.
She was something of a celebrity ever since she published a YouTube video defending Donald Trump against claims of racism in May 2016 and spoke at the Republican National Convention a few months later, but her June appointment to lead HUD’s regional operations became tabloid fodder. “The Wedding Scammer” was the headline that ran in the New York Daily News, referring to Patton’s connection to the family. She helped plan Eric and Lara Trump’s wedding, although she points out that she wasn’t the wedding planner.
Prior to HUD, she spent eight years as a vice president at the Eric Trump Foundation and had no experience in public housing, which some critics were quick to pick up on.
The Real Deal sat down for an interview with Patton, who said she soon plans to release a 10-point plan for the future of New York’s public housing.
You’ve been at HUD for almost a year and at your current job for five months. You’ve been in the press a lot. Do people recognize you on the street? Usually they do because of my ever-present sunglasses on my head [laughs]. But I’ll be honest with you; the last two years has really been like a public roller coaster. I think people more or less have been recognizing me ever since I spoke at the Republican National Convention.
You had little experience in public housing prior to your appointment. What have you been doing over the past couple of months just to get up to speed? There are several of us in our appointed offices that have arguably less experience in that discipline, but I think that’s what the American people voted for this time around. They wanted maybe folks from the private sector to bring more of a business perspective. With that said, since I’ve landed I’ve established monthly meetings with HUD’s most institutionalized stakeholders, such as NYSAFAH [New York State Association for Affordable Housing] — which is obviously a group of developers. This administration is extremely developer-friendly, given the president’s background.
Have you been meeting with real estate industry executives to discuss policy? Oh, yeah. For example, I have an upcoming meeting with REBNY [Real Estate Board of New York] President John Banks. One of the points in my 10-point plan I hope to implement is to promote the sale of HUD’s single-family homes.
Who are you in regular contact with in the White House? I would say I have friendships with almost everybody in senior leadership there. We talk often and on a regular basis about everything from the holidays to of course priorities that face the housing community to certainly issues that face the White House. This is a very tight and close-knit administration. We were a very bare-bones campaign. The majority of us are still serving the president of the United States. I am extremely close to the Trump family. We talk and text regularly.
What are some of the specific things you’ve brought up or pushed for in the White House? As it stands right now, there’s nothing more critical and important to me than the private activity bonds and their place in the tax reform. It’s imperative that we keep these bonds in the tax reform; the problem, though, is that the president has a lot of nonnegotiable deliverables. It’s imperative that we try to identify another avenue for the 10-year, $39 billion tax interests that the PABs bring to the table.
[Editor’s note: PABs, which are used to finance infrastructure projects, will continue to be subsidized under the new tax laws.]
Have you been advocating for fewer cuts in HUD’s funding? Yes, yes, yes. And I think that’s where my unique position with this administration and of course with the president and with the secretary really comes into play. It’s about identifying a compromise that best suits the needs, particularly here in Region II. And I think I can certainly impress upon the president, when that day comes, to take that into consideration.
Is it easy to convince him of the necessity to fund public housing? You know, I think it’s something that he already supports.
I mean, he proposed a massive cut to the department’s budget. What he’s supporting is the efficient and effective allocation of taxpayer dollars, something that has been long abused in government. It doesn’t mean [programs] are just going to go away. For example, when we were on our listening tour, $30 million in CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] money just vanished in Dallas. These are things that the American people just can’t sustain. The days of misappropriation are pretty much over. One of the things that is also very important to the secretary and I is identifying pathways to self-sufficiency for the residents. To me it’s always been about promoting less of a traditional and more of a transitional mindset as it pertains to affordable housing.
Secretary Ben Carson said he plans to reinterpret the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires local governments to come up with rules against housing segregation or risk losing block grants. What’s your take on the rule? One of the things I plan to roll out with my 10-point plan is to host monthly meetings with [civil rights] advocates to identify ways we can work together. There is really nothing more important than fair housing to the HUD legacy. It’s certainly one of the reasons why HUD was created in the first place, to provide fair housing for folks who were being discriminated against based on race. What’s interesting now is that the discrimination we see most prevalent is disability.
Just to make sure I understand you: You’re basically saying the biggest discrimination in housing today is no longer based on race, but based on disability? I wouldn’t say that. I’m saying more of our cases nationally, the volume of complaints. There’s no question that race and religion continue to be discriminatory factors in terms of housing.
To get back to the AFFH rule. Why reinterpret it? What’s wrong with it? I don’t know if anything is wrong with it, I just think that it needs to be sort of reinterpreted and applied in today’s environment. I think it certainly continues to be relevant. I really have to defer to the secretary on the larger-scale policy of that.
For years, HUD argued that Westchester County failed to comply with a federal consent decree requiring it to speed up the racial integration of its neighborhoods. How is it that HUD has now decided that Westchester is complying with the terms of that settlement? Because they did. The result would be the same no matter who the RA [regional administrator] was. The implication was that “Here’s the racist Trump Organization, I mean Trump administration, coming in and totally agreeing to the sort of racist analysis of impediments that Westchester had put forward.” But that’s not accurate at all. Not to mention that I’m black [laughs]. In case you haven’t noticed.
While we’re on that subject: You’re a public figure. You comment on things that have nothing to do with public housing from time to time. You published a Facebook post in the wake of President Trump’s Charlottesville remarks, defending him. What made you do that? I think politicians on both sides conceded that there are folks that had their reasons for being involved in that situation. I think arguably some people would say it began with the statue protests. I think what President Trump meant with those statements was what he’s been saying all along, which is, first and foremost, there is no excuse for racist and bigoted behavior. He has disavowed white supremacy groups from day one. No different than folks on the left side, there are folks on the right side that also sometimes take these hot-button issues to a degree that they shouldn’t through violence and through measures that the president disagrees with. And all he was saying is that there are folks on both sides of the fence that are guilty of that. I don’t think there’s any one of us who can disagree with that. I know President Trump is not a racist man.
But the point was more that he implied a moral equivalency between Nazis and counterprotesters by saying there are bad people “on many sides.” Not at all. I think what the media did was conflate the fact that this was kind of giving Nazis a pass. He’s never done that. Never. As the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there is literally no amount of money in the world that he could pay me or that HUD could pay me to represent a bigoted or intolerant administration. I just wouldn’t be here.
I read that you got involved with the Trumps through Michael Cohen. Can you tell me how that came about? Really what happened was Michael Cohen and I kept running into each other at various fundraisers and events in the city … One day, I think, he went up to me and was like, “Who are you and why are you always where I am?” And I was like, “I was just about to say the same thing to you.” And from there it became clear to him that I possessed my own Rolodex of influential contacts that he thought might prove beneficial to the Eric Trump Foundation. And that’s how I connected with them. To this day, I consider Eric and his wife family.
What’s your response to the allegations that the foundation basically funneled money to Trump entities? You know, as much as I wish I could get into that, I no longer speak for the Eric Trump Foundation, so I would encourage you to contact them directly.
—This interview has been edited for length and clarity.