By now we should be used to getting whiplash from following the Trump administration’s reversals. But the latest about-face on affordable housing in the suburbs from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is so dismally cynical and dishonest that it still manages to shock.
In an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Carson and President Donald Trump claim they’ll save America’s suburbs from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s “dystopian vision of building low-income housing units next to your suburban house.”
So mixed-income neighborhoods are now dystopian? Just last year, Carson gave a very different opinion when he toured an affordable housing development in north Minneapolis.
“These units are very nice; I think anybody would want to live in [them],” Carson said on the tour, according to the Star Tribune. “They look just like any apartment that you would find anywhere in the country, and that’s what you want to see; you don’t want to see a situation where, ‘Oh, those are for low-income people’ and ‘These are for middle-income.’ You want to have a mixed neighborhood.”
While he was in Minneapolis, Carson praised the city’s landmark decision to eliminate single-family zoning, thus opening more communities to higher-density housing that tends to be more affordable and racially diverse. Minneapolis leaders were clear about the goal of the policy: to reduce economic and racial segregation that is exacerbated when entire neighborhoods are closed to apartments, townhouses and other types of multifamily housing.
Now, apparently, Carson and Trump believe that policy is the centerpiece of liberals’ evil plan to “take that American dream away from you.” Who, exactly, is the “you” in that sentence? Clearly it’s not the many millions of hardworking people who can’t afford to buy a home near jobs and good schools because the lack of housing supply has driven up prices.
Carson and Trump also criticize a proposal by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that don’t agree to add more mixed-income housing. Again, Carson was rather keen on that idea in 2018. He told the Wall Street Journal that he was working on a rule to require communities to loosen zoning restrictions in order to qualify for construction grants for roads, sewers or other infrastructure projects.
“I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant” to take a look at their zoning codes, Carson told the Journal.
We shouldn’t be surprised by anything Trump and his appointees dish up these days. He is desperate to win re-election and willing to try anything, including lying about fair housing laws and employing fearmongering and racist dog whistles about the threat that affordable housing dwellers pose to suburban homeowners. He’s pandering to the most base instincts of NIMBYs who equate more housing with crime and declining property values.
Voters should recognize Carson’s change of tune for what it is, and note whose interests he’s really serving.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES