BALTIMORE — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson came here Wednesday to defend President Trump’s harsh depiction of the city, saying, “There are problems in Baltimore, and you can’t sweep them under the rug.”

Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who built his career at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the city has to be “willing to address” the problems it faces.

“It’s sort of like a patient who has cancer: You can dress them up and put a nice suit on and try to ignore it, but that cancer is going to have a devastating effect,” he said while standing outside Hollins House, a federally funded housing complex for senior citizens in the congressional district of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). “You have to be willing to address that issue if you are ever going to solve it.”

Trump has been at the center of a firestorm since Saturday over repeated attacks on Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and his majority-black legislative district, which the president described on Twitter as a “rodent infested mess.” The president called Cummings “a racist and a bully,” and tweeted that Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, was a “very dangerous & filthy place.”

No state or city officials appeared at Carson’s news conference, which was announced Tuesday night and was originally slated to be held on an open lot that belongs to a church, across the street from the eight-story apartment complex.

The event was hastily moved to an alley behind the complex after Gregory Evans, a member of Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ, told Carson’s aides that no one had asked permission to hold an event on the church property. Evans said that Carson was trespassing and that if the federal government wanted to hold the event there, it should have asked the church. “This is our property,” he said.

Evans declined to address Trump’s tweets but said it is “obvious” the federal government has not done enough to help the city. “You can see the dilapidated housing,” he said.

Carson, the only African American member of Trump’s Cabinet, was touring the apartment complex when Evans approached his staff. Carson said the church’s refusal to allow the news conference on its lot was an example of “animosity” that is stifling efforts to address problems.

“It’s so important that we’re willing to talk and to work together,” Carson said. “A church said to ‘get off of our property’ — a church — when we’re talking about helping people.”

He did not make any policy announcements at the news conference but highlighted opportunity zones, a tax-incentive effort pushed by the Trump administration to boost economically distressed communities.

And he tried to lessen the war of words between the White House and the city, saying there “are a lot of good things in Baltimore, but there are a lot of bad things, too.”

Carson said he has spoken with Trump in recent days about what can be done to improve Baltimore, and the president is “very willing” to work with city leaders and with Cummings.

“We have to learn to work together and realize we’re not each other’s enemy,” Carson said.

As a Democrat heading the Oversight Committee, Cummings has played a lead role in investigating Trump administration policies, including reports of inhumane treatment at migrant detention centers.

His district includes both poor and more-affluent areas of Baltimore, and parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. Compared with other congressional districts, it is relatively wealthy and highly educated.

Wednesday’s news conference was the second time in three days that Carson forcefully and publicly defended the president.

On Monday, hours after the Rev. Al Sharpton chided Trump for “bigoted and racist” remarks and for having a “particular venom for blacks and people of color,” Carson appeared on Fox News and echoed the president’s depiction of Baltimore.

Carson also rejected criticisms of Trump’s tweets as racist, citing rising wages and a drop in the unemployment rate, the president’s efforts to help the manufacturing sector and his embrace of prison reform.

“All of these things are happening,” Carson told Fox. “These are not things that a person who is a racist would do.”

Not far from where Carson spoke Wednesday, a woman in a wheelchair sat outside Hollins House in the morning heat. She said she was angry over Trump’s comments about Cummings and Baltimore and thought the remarks were racist “because he knows black people live here.”

“I live here. I don’t have trash; I have a clean place,” said the woman, who is African American and declined to give her name.

She added that Trump needs to “look at his own family,” noting that the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, owns Baltimore-area housing complexes where there have been code violations and reports of infestations of mice.

“First of all, what city doesn’t have rats?” the woman said. “He picked on Baltimore because our congressman is talking about how they are treating the people coming into the country.”