Ben Carson Backpedals On Removing Anti-Discrimination Language From HUD Mission Statement

Amanda Terkel
HuffPost

WASHINGTON ― In a message to employees at the Department ofHousing and Urban Development Thursday, SecretaryBen Carson assured them he was committed to ensuring fair and discrimination-free housing ― despite his proposal to remove such language from the agency’s mission statement.

Carson told staff in his email Thursday afternoon that he was considering changing the agency’s mission statement, but said the idea he was moving away from fighting for inclusivity was “nonsense.”

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“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,” Carson said. “But the notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.”

He added that he thinks the current mission statement is “a bit wordy” but that he agrees “with every word.”

The change to the mission statement is not yet final, so it’s not yet clear whether the criticism of the revisions will push Carson to keep the anti-discrimination language intact. But the backlash was significant enough that he felt the need to address it with employees.

As HuffPost first reported, a top HUD official emailed political staff at the agency this week to inform them that they were changing the mission statement to better reflect the priorities of both Carson and President Donald Trump’s administration. The proposed mission statement, which was developed in consultation with Carson, 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. 

That mission statement would be quite different from the current one, which is still up on HUD’s website. That one promises “strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” It also says these communities will be “free from discrimination”:

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.

Carson’s proposal attracted significant backlash. The Human Rights Campaign, which promotes equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, said it was “unconscionable that a federal agency created, in part, to fight discrimination is being led by someone who has long denied such discrimination exists.”

New York Magazine recently reported that under Carson, HUD has pulled projects meant to help the LGBTQ community, which included online training materials for homeless shelters to ensure equal access for transgender people.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director L. Francis Cissna recently informed employees that he was changing his agency’s mission statement as well, removing the phrase “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” 

Read Carson’s message 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

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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