The Department of Housing and Urban Development is considering changing its mission statement, according to a leaked March 5 memo obtained by the Huffington Post

The proposed statement removes anti-discrimination language and replaces it with phrasing that aligns closely with Secretary Ben Carson’s push for self-sufficiency. HuffPo writer Amanda Terkel reported that the memo, which was addressed to HUD political staff, said the statement was being updated to realign HUD’s mission with Secretary Ben Carson’s priorities.

From the report:

In a March 5 memo addressed to HUD political staff, Amy Thompson, the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, explained that the statement is being updated “in an effort to align HUD’s mission with the Secretary’s priorities and that of the Administration.”

“An organization’s mission is never static,” Thompson wrote in the memo, which was shared with HuffPost by a HUD employee. “A mission statement describes an organization’s purpose, what it intends to do, and whom it intends to serve. Most importantly, an organization’s activities must be embodied in its mission.”

She said the mission statement had been developed with input from both Carson and his deputy. It’s not clear whether the new language is final. Thompson asked the political staff to send along any “comments or suggestions.”

The new, proposed statement reads:

HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.

For comparison, here is the agency’s current mission statement, which still appears on its website and was last updated in 2010:

HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.

The changes cut HUD’s current mission statement from 63 words down to 23 and removes its written promise of “strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”

HUD said in a statement that the agency is considering “modest changes” to the mission statement to make it a “more clear and concise expression of the historic work this agency performs on behalf of the American people.”

The statement continued, “You can be sure of one thing—any mission statement for this Department will embody the principle of fairness as a central element of everything that we do.  HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans.”

Additionally, a Washington Post report cites an anonymous long-time HUD employee who said the administration has not consulted with career people in the process.

“It’s a significant symbolic shift,” said one longtime HUD employee who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation. “It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kinds of changes they are making. This administration has not included career people in these decisions.”

Following the report, both housing and civil rights groups have pushed back against the proposed changes, saying that removing the inclusive language goes against the Fair Housing Act.

National Association of Realtors President Elizabeth Mendenhall said:

“As Realtors join with our industry partners, allies and consumers throughout 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we believe that fair housing for all should remain a core part of HUD’s mission. The Fair Housing Act provides that HUD will enforce the Act and administer its programs and activities in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law, he exclaimed that fair housing for all – all human beings who live in this country – is now a part of the American way of life. 

“Not only is Fair Housing integral to the ethical commitment of our members, as outlined in the REALTOR Code of Ethics, it is critical to our ability to serve our customers, clients and the community. We look forward to continuing our work with HUD to advocate for inclusive sustainable communities free from discrimination.” 

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said:

“You have spoken of the squalid conditions of your childhood neighborhood in Boston; you have experienced first-hand the demoralizing wounds of segregation and racism, and for a time, according to your spokesman, benefitted from the safety net of housing subsidy. You must bring these experiences to bear in your responsibility to uphold the duties of your office.

“A drastic change to the department’s mission statement is a move that should not be made lightly, or in haste. Before accepting this change, you must confer with your staff in the field, and HUD stakeholders, who must live with the consequences of your actions.”

Zillow Chief Operating Officer Amy Bohutinsky said:

"With over 4 million instances of housing discrimination still occurring each year according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, it's clear more work needs to be done and HUD's plan to remove important anti-discrimination language from their mission statement takes us in the wrong direction. Fair housing doesn't happen by itself. We all have a role to play to ensure our communities are inclusive and diverse.”

National Low Income Housing Coalition President Diane Yentel said:

"It’s especially appalling, as we near the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, that Secretary Carson would signal this step away from Dr. King’s legacy. Federal housing policy created the segregated communities that exist today - and federal, state and local governments have an obligation to reverse these trends by furthering fair housing. This latest in a series of moves by Secretary Carson to deemphasize HUD’s role in creating inclusive communities is unfortunate – thankfully, the law trumps a mission statement, so those legal obligations remain.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said:

“Secretary Carson’s decision to remove anti-discrimination language from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s mission statement yet again demonstrates this Administration’s hostility to protecting the rights of vulnerable Americans.  The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 only a few years after the creation of HUD.  The Act’s fair housing principles prohibiting discrimination against African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups, and promoting residential integration have been at the core of HUD’s existence ever since.  It is outrageous that HUD would take such action on the 50th anniversary of the Act’s passage, a law passed immediately following and in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

This afternoon, Carson downplayed the various media reports on the changes, calling them "patently false" in a letter to HUD employees detailing the proposed changes. Read the letter below: 

Dear Colleagues,

By now, many of you may have read media accounts indicating that we’ve changed HUD’s mission statement and that these changes signal some sort of retreat from our legal and rightful role in protecting Americans from housing discrimination.  It’s not enough that I merely assert these news reports are patently false; it’s necessary that I personally address them and reassure you, the HUD family, that nothing could be further from the truth.

First, some background.  HUD’s current mission statement reads: “HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.”

A bit wordy perhaps but I agree with every word.  The Department’s mission statement has changed from time to time to capture the dynamic nature of our work.  It changed in 2003 and again in 2010.  Now, in 2018, we are considering another change to our mission statement and are seeking comments and ideas from our senior staff.  But the notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.  Yesterday, we issued a public statement to correct the record.    

“As in previous Administrations, HUD is considering modest changes to the Department’s mission statement to make it a more clear and concise expression of the historic work this agency performs on behalf of the American people.  You can be sure of one thing—any mission statement for this Department will embody the principle of fairness as a central element of everything that we do.  HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans.”

Next month, we will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.  In signing that landmark bill into law, President Johnson said, “Fair Housing for all, all human beings who live in this country, is now a part of the American way of life.”  I believe that and I know you do too.  The ideals of that law, and our continuing work to support them, are really quite simple—fair is fair.

Thank you for all you do to give meaning and substance to our mission.      

Sincerely,

Secretary Ben Carson