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HUD Secretary on Local Housing Regulations: ‘When in Doubt, Cut It Out’

New York City public housing.

New York City public housing.

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Ben Carson criticized California's state and local rules, saying they exacerbate problems with affordability and contribute to homelessness.

WASHINGTON — The secretary of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday argued localities should rid themselves of housing regulations exacerbating the national affordability crisis.

Ben Carson, speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2018 States & Nation Policy Summit in D.C., criticized the California Energy Commission for its May rule requiring solar panels on all new single-family homes and apartment and condominium complexes three stories or less—a climate change mitigation measure.

Carson said that kind of state regulation and local zoning like Los Angeles’ rules limiting 80 percent of its land to single-family constructions is “why you see people out with all those tents,” joking the people living in them probably make $60,000 to $70,000 in income.

Many local housing regulations fail to account for new building techniques, he added, but the federal government can’t simply change those ordinances.

“We have the ability to work with the localities that do have the ability to change them,” Carson told the gathering of conservative lawmakers.

The Trump administration has pointed to public-private partnerships, or P3s, as the way out of the housing crisis because they have a “vested interest in making sure that property remains viable,” Carson said. P3s can help get the approximately $30 billion backlog in public housing capital expenditures “under control” he added.

HUD recently completed its 100,000th rental assistance demonstration, or RAD, conversion of public housing—the program encompassing $6 billion in construction investment and 8,000 jobs generated.

Advocates of increasing affordable housing have criticized HUD under Carson as not focusing on the problem, as well as proposing rent hikes for people in public housing. Carson’s plan would raise the monthly minimum rent charged by public housing agencies from $50 to $150 and increase subsidized housing rent from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income.

Carson pushed back on the criticism the rental changes the Trump administration has floated would triple the rents of the most vulnerable, calling it “a bunch of crap.” The reforms would instead encourage work-eligible people paying minimum rent to find gainful employment, he said.

The HUD secretary blamed people “playing politics” for the Trump administration still not having appointed the agency’s inspector general

HUD is focused on helping low-income residents live in the same community where they work, Carson said, but that starts with localities curtailing their housing regulations.

“When in doubt,” Carson said. “Cut it out.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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