One of the arguments that has been made in support of Ben Carson's bid to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development — the Cabinet position to which he was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump on Monday — is that Carson has firsthand experience with public housing. Former Arkansas governor (and staunch Trump supporter) Mike Huckabee suggested in a tweet, for example, that Carson's having lived in public housing qualified him for the position, part of an attempt to rebut concerns about Carson's qualifications.
A review of Carson's childhood, though, demonstrates that he lived in stand-alone, private houses — albeit not always in economically stable neighborhoods.
Details are a bit murky surrounding Carson's early life. His mother, Sonya Carson, was born Johnie Lou Copeland in Georgia. She lived in Tennessee at around the time she was married to Robert Carson, at the age of 13 (according to Carson's telling of the story). They moved to Detroit, where, in 1950, they purchased a lot on Deacon Street for $1, according to records obtained by the Daily Mail. Carson was born the next year, and the family lived in the house at that location, 1860 Deacon St.
Eventually, to save money, the family -- without Robert, after Carson's parents divorced -- moved from Detroit to Boston, renting out the Deacon Street home. In Boston, they lived with Carson's aunt and uncle in two different homes, according to the Boston Globe.
One was a three-story building on Glenway Street.
The other was a single-family home on Stanwood Street. It was torn down to build a grocery store at some point after the Carsons lived there, but on a 1931 map of the Roxbury neighborhood, the home is listed as belonging to “A Rosengarter.”
Eventually, the family moved back to Detroit, living at first in what Carson has described as “a multifamily dwelling” across a set of railroad tracks from the city's Delray neighborhood. It's not clear where this was, exactly, but none of the city's public housing projects, past or present, are in the vicinity. It is a mostly industrial area, bounded by rivers on two sides and on the north by Interstate 75, which was likely under construction close to the time that the Carsons lived there. Railroad tracks crisscross the area. It’s not clear which were the ones Carson’s family lived near. Eventually, the family moved back to Deacon Street.
On Monday night, Carson's longtime adviser Armstrong Williams clarified on Twitter that Sonya Carson's hard work had kept the family from ever having to live in public housing, though he “grew up around many” who used the programs.
Dr. Carson's mother worked 3 jobs at a time to keep them out of public housing, but he grew up around many who utilized housing programs.
— Armstrong Williams (@Arightside) December 6, 2016
Huckabee then offered a mea culpa, blaming the New York Times, which had reported an original claim from Armstrong about Carson's history of living in public housing.
In actuality, the broader story is also revelatory: a young woman working to provide for her young family, making difficult decisions about how and where they could best get by.