The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency charged with ensuring equal access to housing following generations of government-endorsed racial segregation, is considering removing the words “free from discrimination” from its mission statement.
The potential change, which caught the agency’s career staff by surprise, is part of “an effort to align HUD’s mission with the Secretary’s priorities and that of the Administration,” according to a March 5 memo sent to political staff obtained by HuffPost.
The proposed statement chops the current 63-word mission on HUD’s website down to 23 words — and puts an emphasis on “self-sufficiency,” a mantra that HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been touting in public appearances. The agency has confirmed the memo's authenticity and said the new statement has not been finalized.
It 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.”
Also gone are references to “inclusive communities,” consumer protections and “quality” homes for all.
“It’s a significant symbolic shift,” said one longtime HUD employee who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation. “It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kinds of changes they are making. This administration has not included career people in these decisions.”
Amy Thompson, HUD’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said in her memo that the working statement had been developed with input from Carson and others. She also asked political staff for feedback.
Lynne Patton, whom Trump has charged with running one of the agency’s largest regional offices, overseeing New York and New Jersey, said changes to the mission statement have been in the works for a couple of months. Patton said she personally solicited ideas from both career staff and political appointees in her region and submitted draft versions to the agency’s headquarters, and she considers it a work in progress.
"It's no secret that empowering people with the tools to ascend the economic ladder to self-sufficiency is one of the main missions of both this administration and Secretary Carson," Patton said. "Leadership simply wanted a motto that better reflects that goal, too."
Carson launched an initiative in December to put so-called EnVision Centers near public housing developments to foster self-sufficiency among the poor. The centers were to focus on character and leadership, educational advancement, economic empowerment and health and wellness. The New York Times reported this week that potential donors were skeptical that Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no professional experience in housing, could pull it off.
Carson in the past has criticized federal efforts to desegregate America's neighborhoods as “social engineering." He has delayed implementing an Obama-era rule requiring communities seeking HUD funding to study the impediments to fair housing in their areas, and he compared such attempts to integrate neighborhoods to the “failed social experiment” of mandated school busing.
Carson also tried to delay implementing an Obama-era rule that would give low-income families in two dozen metro regions greater access to housing in more affluent neighborhoods, where they would benefit from better schools, lower crime rates and more job opportunities. But a federal judge ordered HUD to comply starting January.
Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said removing anti-discrimination language from the agency's mission statement is the latest move by Carson to de-emphasize HUD's role in creating inclusive communities.
“Secretary Carson is sending a message to the country that he does not take discrimination in the housing market seriously. It’s especially appalling, as we near the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, that Secretary Carson would signal this step away from Dr. King’s legacy," Yentel said in a statement. "Thankfully, the law trumps a mission statement, so those legal obligations remain.”
Raffi Williams, an agency spokesman, characterized the proposed changes to HUD's mission statement as “modest” in an effort to articulate the agency’s work in a “clear and concise” way.
“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,” Williams said in a statement. “HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans.”
HUD’s mission revamp follows a similar effort at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which last month removed “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement.