Housing Under Trump: Bizarre and Scary

Housing Under Trump:
Bizarre and Scary

December 2016

For New Yorkers for whom housing is a crucial issue, President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dec. 5 was both bizarre and scary. Dr. Carson, who is a retired neurosurgeon, has no housing experience and has never worked in public policy. Three weeks before his appointment was announced, a close friend told The Hill that he didn’t want to take the post because “he feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency.”

The appointment is “ill-advised, irresponsible and hovers on absurdity,” City Council Housing Committee chair Jumaane Williams said in a statement. “Carson’s utter lack of qualifications, combined with the hostility he has expressed towards fair housing and social programs does not bode well, especially with Republicans in control of Congress and the Presidency,” Mayor Bill De Blasio told reporters.

Dr. Carson will now be in charge of a federal agency with a $47 billion annual budget. It funds and regulates much of the nation’s public housing, funds and administers vouchers and other rental-assistance programs for five million low-income families, enforces fair housing laws, and helps prevent homeowners from going into foreclosure. He has called government housing-aid and anti-discrimination programs “social engineering” and said that they create a culture of “dependency.” 

Although some of his supporters have claimed that Dr. Carson lived in public housing during his childhood, in fact he did not; advocates  for public housing and Section 8 vouchers fear cuts to funding for them. “Cuts to these programs would leave low-income families homeless and in the streets, hungry, and without the necessary support during times of crisis,” says Priscilla E. March, a Community Voices Heard leader who lives in the Lincoln Houses in Harlem. “We will continue to fight for the right kind of change: funding low-income housing, education, and communities.”

The New York City Housing Authority is already severely cash-strapped, with a deficit of nearly $17 billion. It relies on funding from HUD for 40 percent of its income. The Section 8 voucher program has been closed to new applicants in New York City since May 2007, with a few small exceptions. Trump showed his attitude about public-housing tenants, who are mostly urban low-income people of color, with his comments about the horrors of “inner cities” during the campaign. 

Advocates believe it is likely that his administration will attempt to privatize public housing. This would increase gentrification pressure and displace thousands of people who cannot afford housing on the private market. 


Desegregation and Fair Housing

Trump ran afoul of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 at the beginning of his career in real estate. He and his father were accused of refusing to rent to black tenants, tagging them for discrimination by marking a “C” for “colored” on their applications for apartments. After counter-suing the federal government and Trump complaining that it was forcing him to rent to “welfare recipients,” the two signed a consent decree where they did not admit guilt, but agreed to desegregate their properties.  

Dr. Carson has likened the Fair Housing Act to the “failure of school busing” and “what you see in Communist countries.” This leaves advocates concerned that landlords will feel safe to continue to push black and brown families out of gentrifying neighborhoods, even if they have a legal right to stay, and especially if they’re vulnerable.


Tenant Harassment and Rent Regulation

New York’s rent regulations are governed by state law, not federal law, which means Dr. Carson has no direct control over it. However, with a free-market fanatic HUD secretary and a landlord in the White House, rent-regulated tenants have a right to feel nervous. 

Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have both harassed rent-regulated tenants to get them out and convert their apartments into housing for the rich. In a city where more and more neighborhoods are feeling the pressure of rising prices, will their administration create an atmosphere in which landlords and developers feel they have free rein to harass tenants?

New York’s immigrant community is already being taken advantage of by predatory landlords, as many don’t speak English well, understand U.S. laws well, or fear they will be deported if they complain. Despite Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that New York will be a sanctuary city and protect them, increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric is causing many to fear that immigrants will be driven further into the shadows, where they will be more vulnerable. 

“During the campaign, housing policy was almost never mentioned, other than in vague soundbites to describe how difficult life is for Black people, who President-elect Trump always correlated with ‘inner cities,’” Councilmember Williams said. “His casual regard during the campaign for such an important issue that affects millions has come full circle with this nomination.”

Now more than ever it’s a time for tenants to organize, build power, and fight back against an administration that shows no concern for them. It is also a call to the tenants’ rights movement to become more intersectional around race and class, and to stand together across traditional dividing lines.