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HUD's Castro Worries That Housing Rule Could Be Rolled Back

Jan 9, 2017
Originally published on January 10, 2017 8:10 am

Outgoing Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro's office overlooks a stretch of the Washington, D.C., waterfront where several high-rent apartment buildings are being built, in a city where affordable housing is in short supply and homelessness is a big problem.

These are some of the same issues his successor will have to deal with as head of an agency that provides housing aid to 10 million low-income families.

Castro has been in his post for 2 1/2 years. Before that, he was mayor of San Antonio, where he got some experience with housing and community development. He's expected to be succeeded by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who says his main experience for the job was growing up poor.

Castro says he and Carson spoke by phone about a week ago, but didn't talk specifics.

"I just pledged that we wanted to make sure there's a smooth transition, and to make sure that he has everything that he needs as he heads toward his confirmation hearing," Castro says.

At the confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday, Carson will likely face questions about whether he's up for a job that he himself expressed reservations about taking, when it was offered by President-elect Donald Trump.

Castro thinks, like other secretaries before him, that Carson will grow to appreciate HUD's role once he learns more about it. Still, he's clearly worried that the new administration could roll back some key initiatives. Carson has strongly criticized a new HUD rule to get local communities to comply with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which is intended to reduce neighborhood segregation.

"I'd be lying if I said that I'm not concerned about the possibility of going backward, over the next four years," Castro says.

Carson has called the new rule excessive government regulation. He's also complained that government aid can make some people too dependent. Congressional Republicans have proposed time limits and work requirements for those getting housing assistance, to make them more self-sufficient. Castro thinks that's the wrong approach.

"The first things we need to do is to clarify misperceptions about the families who get HUD assistance," Castro says.

He says most are elderly, disabled or already working.

"I believe that the folks who live in public housing are ambitious, that they have tremendous potential and that we should invest in them. I don't believe that we should go back to the mid-1990s and scapegoating them and talking about doing away with HUD and so forth," he says.

Not that Carson has said as much. In fact, he's said very little. His confirmation hearing will be the first real chance the public has to see where he stands on programs, including one of the Obama administration's biggest achievements — moving tens of thousands of homeless individuals, mostly veterans, into permanent housing. That effort has had bipartisan support, but future funding is in doubt because Trump says he wants steep cuts in domestic spending.

"On the other hand, the president-elect has talked about investment in infrastructure, investment in other things. And so, it's possible that we're in for a surprise," Castro says.

He won't be around to find out. Castro is getting on a plane first thing on Inauguration Day, going back to San Antonio to work on his memoir.

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Julian Castro has been secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, for the past two and a half years. He has concerns about the direction the department will take under the new Trump administration Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio where he had some experience with housing and community development. His expected successor is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who says his main experience for the job was growing up poor. NPR's Pam Fessler sat down with Secretary Castro before he leaves his post.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Julian Castro's office is on the top floor of what he notes was once voted the second-ugliest government building in Washington.

JULIAN CASTRO: But the view is very nice.

FESSLER: The view's gorgeous.

It overlooks a stretch of the D.C. waterfront where several luxury apartment buildings are under construction, in a city where affordable housing is in short supply and homelessness is a big problem. These are some of the issues the new secretary will face. Castro says he spoke with Carson by phone about a week ago, but they didn't talk specifics.

CASTRO: I just pledged that we wanted to make sure there's a smooth transition and to make sure that he has everything that he needs as he heads toward his confirmation hearing.

FESSLER: Which is scheduled for this Thursday and where Carson will likely face questions about whether he's up for a job that he himself expressed reservations about taking.

I'm curious what you think.

CASTRO: There's no question that he's very intelligent, and I'm sure that he'll apply his skill to this position. And so I'm hopeful that the next four years will be fruitful ones in terms of fulfilling HUD's mission.

FESSLER: Which includes helping 10 million poor families with housing. Castro thinks, like other secretaries before him, that Carson will grow to appreciate what HUD does once he learns more about it. Still, he's clearly worried that the new administration will roll back some key initiatives. Carson strongly criticized HUD's latest effort to get local communities to comply with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which is intended to reduce neighborhood segregation.

CASTRO: I'd be lying if I said that I'm not concerned about the possibility of going backward over the next four years.

FESSLER: Carson has said the new rule is excessive government regulation. He's also complained that government aid can make some people too dependent. Congressional Republicans have proposed time limits and work requirements for those getting housing assistance to make them more self-sufficient. Castro thinks that's the wrong approach.

CASTRO: The first thing we need to do is to clarify misperceptions about the families who get HUD assistance.

FESSLER: He says most are already working or are elderly or disabled.

CASTRO: I believe that the folks who live in public housing are ambitious, that they have tremendous potential and that we should invest in them. I don't believe that we should go back to the mid-1990s and scapegoating them and talking about, you know, doing away with HUD and so forth.

FESSLER: Not that Carson has said that. In fact, he's said very little. His confirmation hearing will be the first real chance the public has to see where he stands on programs, including one of the Obama administration's biggest achievements - moving tens of thousands of homeless veterans into permanent housing. That effort has bipartisan support, but future funding could be threatened. President-elect Trump wants to make deep cuts in domestic spending.

CASTRO: You know, on the other hand, the president-elect has talked about investment in infrastructure, investment in other things, and so, you know, it's possible that we're in for a surprise.

FESSLER: Although Julian Castro won't be around to find out. He's hopping on a plane first thing on Inauguration Day, returning to San Antonio to work on his memoir. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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