The Missing Headline
By Nick Abbott (Harvard Undergraduate)
“You’ve Got Fail: Pence Used Private Email—And Got Hacked!”
“Can Jeff Sessions be Prosecuted for Perjury?”
‘The Mystery of Trump’s Man in Moscow: Carter Page”
The start of the March 2017 news cycle came in like a lion, and at its current pace shows no signs of going out like a lamb come the end of the month. Scandal, intrigue, and RUSSIA (!) dominate the headlines of left-leaning and mainstream websites alike. ‘The Administration’s Russia Scandal,” so says Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, “Shows no sign of stopping.”
“Ben Carson Confirmed As HUD Secretary.” That headline did not see the light of day. The morning following Carson’s confirmation as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development did not see a mention of the event—not on the front webpages for The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, or Slate at the very least.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Democrats lambasted their Republican colleagues for devoting time and taxpayer dollars to investigations and scandals instead of working on the issues that matter to the American people. Having lost the election, it seems many Democrats have found it best to adopt their opponents’ tactics, calling for resignations and special investigations into alleged misdeeds, rather than maintain a strictly “on the issues” focus.
The lack of attention paid to Carson’s confirmation bears out this misalignment of priorities well. The department Dr. Carson now oversees is a crucial one. Over the next four years, HUD must face the challenges of a housing affordability crisis, the debilitating effects of eviction, and an impending boom in the demand for senior housing that the current supply cannot sustain.
Smart leadership of this department can provide and has provided solutions to our nation’s housing problems. A strong Federal Housing Administration allowed the housing market to rebound following the 2008 crash, when banks were unwilling to give out loans. A push toward rapid rehousing and housing first policies has led not only to cost savings, but a nearly 50% reduction in veteran homelessness. Innovative initiatives like the Service Coordinator Program, Support and Services at Home, and ConnectHome have given public housing residents access to health assistance, the Internet, transportation, and other services—all while potentially paying for themselves by diminishing costs to Medicaid, Medicare, and other government services.
At his confirmation hearing, Democratic senators did not put up much of a fight. Rather than focus on any of the issues that actually matter to the housing insecure population, Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed Dr. Carson to ensure “that not a single taxpayer dollar … will financially benefit the president-elect or his family.” While this exchange garnered favorable reviews from Salon and New York Magazine, it did nothing to protect the programs that struggling families rely on to make ends meet.
Democrats did choose to mount a resistance to Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education, nearly pulling off the feat of sinking her nomination. Nevermind that—although she is unqualified—Dr. Carson is far more underqualified. Nevermind that—although the Department of Ed does important work—Carson can hurt the state of housing much more so than Devos can hurt the state of education. The fact remains that teachers unions are a powerful force within the Democratic Party, one that can stir up fierce resistance to an appointee whose rhetoric threatens them (even if her department lacks the power to do much about it). Unfortunately, the poor and housing insecure don’t have that same clout.
In the run-up to 2020, Democrats have a choice to make. They can choose to mimic their Republican colleagues by crying scandal and seize the spotlight with headline-grabbing questions. Or they can choose to focus on the issues that have impacts on real people: fair housing, rental assistance, revitalizing neighborhoods, staving off foreclosure, protecting the vital Low Income Housing Tax Credit from tax reform, and insuring mortgages to open up lines of credit. If they choose the former, they cannot claim to be the Party of the people who care about the latter.
*Here's one way author Nick Abbott suggests you can get involved: The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is a public-private partnership responsible for the creation of nearly 3 million affordable apartments since its inception. This crucial program is the most effective incentive for private developers to create more affordable housing in order to address the current affordability crisis. Even if Secretary Carson does not stand up for LIHTC, you can call your representative and tell to them to vote NO on any tax reform bill that curtails or eliminates this important financing mechanism.