Ben Carson wants to gut law banning housing discrimination

It would be a bonanza for banks if he succeeds.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Remember Dr. Ben Carson, the genius brain surgeon who spent most of his presidential campaign acting as a living demonstration of why great success in one field does not translate into even minimal competence in an unrelated field?

President-elect Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Carson is a leading candidate to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). And because Trump is Trump, he did it on Twitter.

By Tuesday evening, Trump’s serious consideration had apparently escalated into an outright job offer. In an interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, Carson said that Trump offered him a position in the cabinet and HUD secretary is “one of the offers that’s on the table.”

Carson, who, again, spent the bulk of his career in a job that has nothing whatsoever to do with housing policy, is an odd choice for this job. The current HUD secretary, Julian Castro, is a former big city mayor. The guy who held it before him led New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The guy who held it before him previously ran the Small Business Administration. The guy who held it before him ran the Dallas Housing Authority.

Typically, secretaries of housing and urban development are people who have professional experience working in housing or urban development.

Carson, however, has not been completely silent on housing policy. In 2015, he signed an op-ed in the Washington Times critical of the Obama administration’s efforts to desegregate neighborhoods. In that op-ed, Carson also criticized a Supreme Court decision which left intact a key provision of the federal law banning housing discrimination.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, every single federal appeals court to consider the question held that the federal Fair Housing Act permits what are known as “disparate impact” suits — that is, suits which permit the plaintiff to prevail if the defendant engages in a practice that has a discriminatory effect on racial minorities. If these suits are not allowed, victims of housing discrimination would need to prove that a defendant acted with the intention of discriminating on the basis of race, a task that is often impossible for the simple reason that humans are mind readers.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department used these disparate impact suits to score major settlements against banks engaged in discriminatory practices. DOJ, for example, entered into a $335 million settlement with the mortgage lender Countrywide after discovering that the lender “charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk.”

Nevertheless, housing discrimination persists:

In the housing sphere, a recent study on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that black and Asian homeseekers are shown or told about 15 to 19 percent fewer homes than whites with similar credit qualifications and housing interests. During the subprime lending boom, African Americans with good credit scores were 3.5 times as likely as whites with good credit scores to receive higher-interest-rate loans, and Latinos were 3.1 times as likely to receive such loans. And the Federal Reserve found that in 2009, African Americans were twice as likely to be denied a loan, even controlling for income and other qualifying criteria.

Carson believes that, despite this continuing discrimination, the Fair Housing Act needs to be weaker. In his Washington Times op-ed, the former surgeon labeled disparate impact suits “mandated social-engineering schemes,” and dismissed them as part of a “history of failed socialist experiments in this country.” Carson also aligned himself with a dissenting opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, which would have eliminated such suits under the Fair Housing Act.

So Trump’s leading candidate to lead HUD, a man who may currently be considering a offer to take over that department, would prefer to gut the law preventing housing discrimination — a decision that would come at great cost to people of color, but would be a tremendous financial boon to banks.