The eyes of the housing industry will be trained to Capitol Hill on Thursday, as Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon, and President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to the lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, appears for his confirmation hearing.
Based on the reception that Trump’s early nominees received in the Senate, Carson is likely to receive spirited questioning from the Democrats on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
In a letter sent to Carson in advance of his hearing, one of the most well known Democrats on that committee revealed the types of questions Carson should expect.
In fact, in the letter sent to Carson, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laid out the exact questions she wants Carson to have an answer for when he appears before the committee – 35 of them, in all.
In Warren’s letter, which can be read in full here, she questions Carson’s lack of experience in housing and poses a series of pointed questions about specific housing issues, including how Carson will manage HUD, how Carson will pursue fair housing in his time at HUD, and Carson’s views on enforcing federal housing laws.
“Although you have many accomplishments in the medical field, there is relatively little in the public record that reveals how you would further HUD's mission to ‘create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,’” Warren writes to Carson.
A large section of Warren’s letter focuses on Carson’s approach to federal housing laws, including the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule announced by the Obama administration in 2015.
As Warren writes, under that rule, cities and towns that receive federal funding are required to examine their local housing patterns for racial bias and to design a plan to address any measurable bias.
Warren writes that in that op-ed, Carson suggested that the Obama administrations efforts to pursue fair housing were tantamount to what might be found in “communist countries.”
So Warren asks: What did you mean by these statements? Will you implement and enforce this rule as written if you become HUD Secretary?
Warren also asks for Carson’s view of the Supreme Court’s 2015 “disparate impact” decision.
In a 2015 Washington Times column, you noted that the Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project amounted to a "social-engineering [scheme]" with "unintended consequences" that "lurk in the shadows." In that decision, the Court upheld the "disparate impact" standard: the notion that policies may violate the Fair Housing Act if the policies disproportionately harm minorities regardless of whether or not there is "smoking gun" evidence indicating that that was the intent of the policy.
What did you mean by this statement? Despite your views on this decision, will you commit to direct HUD to work with Department of Justice to continue to advance disparate impact claims against public or private sector actors who violate the principles laid out by the Court in the Inclusive Communities decision?
Warren also asks Carson if plans to continue to enforce the FHA’s lending rules in the same way that the Obama administration did.
Warren asked what Carson’s plans are for the use of the False Claims Act, which the Obama administration used to pursue a number of lenders for violating FHA lending standards.
Here’s Warren again:
In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, banks allegedly engaged in criminal behavior involving the sale of faulty loans to the FHA for the purpose of accessing taxpayer-backed mortgage insurance. Since the crisis, banks including HSBC, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase have entered into multiple settlements with the Department of Justice and FHA over this illegal conduct, with over $4 billion in fines paid by large financial institutions.
Will you commit to continuing to strictly enforce these underwriting standards in order to protect taxpayers from fraud?
There a number of other questions that Warren poses to Carson, which again, can be read here.
But here’s how Warren closes her letter to Carson:
“HUD's housing and development programs impact the lives of millions of Americans,” Warren writes. “The agency deserves a strong, capable leader who believes in its mission and has the interest, ambition, and administrative ability to carry out that mission. I hope you will answer the questions in this letter so that the Senate - and the American people - can understand better how you plan to lead this agency.”
Carson will appear before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern.