Real Estate

Reports: HUD to spend $165K on furniture, purchased $31K dining set

Former staffer says she was demoted for pushing back on spending

A report published late Tuesday in the New York Times said that officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent more than $31,000 on a new custom dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017. And according to another report in The Guardian, the agency is planning more furniture upgrades to the tune of $165,000. 

The New York Times' report explains the table was purchased a month after a whistleblower complaint was filed against Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, for pressuring department officials to locate money for the redecoration efforts. The purchase was made right around the time the White House circulated its plans to cut HUD programs by billions of dollars, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush reported.

From the New York Times’ report:

The purchase of the custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch came a month after a top agency staff member filed a whistle-blower complaint charging Mr. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, with pressuring department officials to find money for the expensive redecoration of his offices, even if it meant circumventing the law.

The NYT further reported that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it,” Raffi Williams, HUD's communications director, told the paper. “In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money."

The NYT’s report also stated that HUD officials did not seek approval from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees for the purchase, despite federal law requiring congressional approval “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if the cost exceeds $5,000.

Again, from the NYT report:

Mr. Williams said department officials did not request congressional approval because the dining set served a “building-wide need.” The table is inside the secretary’s 10th-floor office suite.

The decision was made by a “career staffer” who selected the company, Sebree and Associates, which is based in Mr. Carson’s longtime hometown, Baltimore, from a list of preapproved federal contractors, Mr. Williams said.

Additionally, The Guardian is reporting that HUD has agreed to spend $165,000 on "lounge furniture" for the agency's headquarters, in addition to the new dining set purchased for Carson’s office.

The Guardian's Jon Swaine reports that HUD officials signed a contract last September with an Indiana-based seller for the furniture, according to a federal procurement record.

The paper also reported that Williams said in an email Tuesday evening that further records on the lounge furniture contract were not immediately available.

In another report from The Guardian, Helen Foster, a now former chief administrative officer for the agency, says she was demoted, in part, for refusing to spend more than the allowed amount to redecorate Carson’s office. 

Foster said she was pressured multiple times to "find money" beyond the $5,000 limit for redecorating, in a November 2017 complaint obtained by The Guardian. In one instance, Foster said a supervisor told her that "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair."

In another instance in the complaint, Foster was told during a one-on-one meeting on February 10, 2017 with HUD Acting Secretary Craig Clemmensen, that the administration "has always found money for this in the past."

Carson, who is reportedly under investigation regarding his family's involvement with the agency, has not publicly responded to the reports. 

HousingWire reached out to HUD for a response and comment and will update this article when those become available to us.

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