Metro Weekly

Ben Carson removes nondiscrimination language from HUD’s mission statement

Department spokesman downplays revision as "modest changes," claiming HUD is "committed" to inclusivity

Ben Carson — Photo: Gage Skidmore

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has green-lighted a change to the agency’s mission statement that removes language referring to “inclusive” communities and HUD’s goal of ensuring they will be “free from discrimination.”

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,” according to The Huffington Post.

Going forward, the new mission statement will read: “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.”

The statement previously read: “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.”

“An organization’s mission is never static,” Thompson wrote in the memo. “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.”

Thompson said in the memo that the new statement had been developed with input from Carson and HUD Deputy Secretary Pamela Hughes Patenuade. It is not clear whether the revised language is final or a draft that could yet again be amended. Thompson asked political staff to send along any comments on the revised statement.

But HUD spokesman Raffi Williams downplayed the changes to the mission statement when talking to The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel, calling them “modest” and arguing that similar revisions have been made under past administrations. Williams said the aim of the revision was 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,” Williams told Terkel. “HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans.”

But the elimination of language that explicitly stresses inclusivity has raised red flags among LGBTQ advocates.  They note that Carson bristled at the notion of LGBTQ people receiving “extra rights” in his confirmation hearing, even as he swore under oath that he would continue to carry out HUD programs intended to provide LGBTQ people equal access to housing and temporary shelters. That, coupled with his past anti-LGBTQ statements during his campaign for the White House in 2016, and afterwards, as a Trump surrogate, has failed to persuade his critics that he is as committed to combating discrimination as his predecessors from past administrations.

Last August, New York Magazine exacerbated those concerns when it published an article highlighting how HUD has been run under Carson’s leadership. Aside from the problems of Carson’s ideology that housing assistance is problematic because it creates an over-reliance on government programs, his acquiescence to deep budget cuts, and oversight of an agency that has become stagnant in terms of new initiatives, author Alex MacGillis reports that programs or studies focusing on the LGBTQ community have all but been killed under Carson’s watch.

According to MacGillis, HUD leadership yanked online training materials that were designed to help homeless shelters comply with agency rules requiring them to provide equal access to transgender people, including allowing them to access shelters that match their gender identity. The agency axed a survey intended to monitor progress on initiatives aimed at reducing LGBTQ homelessness in Cincinnati and Houston, and forced its Policy Development and Research division to dissociate itself from a HUD-funded study on housing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

With that information in mind, the Human Rights Campaign denounced the revision of HUD’s mission statement as a signal that the agency will no longer prioritize equal access to housing programs when it comes to the LGBTQ community.

“This is another effort by the Trump-Pence administration and Secretary Carson to erase LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities from key protections and language across agencies,” HRC Legal Affairs Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

“Secretary Carson has a troubling history of denying that LGBTQ people encounter discrimination, calling the fight for full equality a demand for ‘extra rights,'” she added. “It is unconscionable that a federal agency created, in part, to fight discrimination is being led by someone who has long denied such discrimination exists.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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