As President-Elect Donald Trump nominates members of his Cabinet to run the federal government, civil rights and advocacy groups for the poor and disadvantaged groups are worried.
Nominees to national security, Departments of Energy, Justice, Energy Environmental Protection Agency, Education, and HUD have been critical of the progressive policies of these agencies before and during the Obama Administration.
For example, at the Department of Justice, Senator Jeff B. Sessions has been tapped to run it, despite his known record of hostility to civil rights and advances by Blacks and LGBTQ people.
Betsy DeVos, who has been nominated to lead as Education Secretary, is an advocate of charter schools and decreased federal oversight of policies protecting poor and disadvantaged children.
Congressman Tom Price has been nominated for Health and Human Services (HHS) and has vowed to repeal Obamacare. He supports elements of privatizing parts of the Social Security safety net.
And then, there is neurosurgeon and supporter, Dr. Ben Carson whom Trump has nominated for the HUD post.
To put historic perspective to their concerns, they are looking back three decades ago.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Clarence Thomas to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency designed to investigate job discrimination and impose remedies via court or sanctions.
Thomas, a 1979 Yale law School graduate, had served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
When Thomas left the EEOC, after eight years, to assume a federal appeals court seat and then the U.S. Supreme Court, he was criticized for deterring the agency from carry out its mission.
He left a huge backlog of non-investigated employment discrimination cases. His policy was to engage complaints only if they were easily proved.
To this day civil rights groups fighting employment discrimination say the EEOC still has not recovered from Thomas’ era.
Reagan also appointed Samuel Pierce as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Pierce was Reagan’s only African-American cabinet member and served the length of his presidency. HUD, like the EEOC, was a creation of Lyndon Johnson Administration’s “Great Society’s” push to end poverty and discrimination in the nation.
Called by housing advocates as “Silent Sam” Pierce during his tenure, he oversaw reduced appropriations for low-income housing by nearly half, and funding all but ended for new housing construction.
Billions of dollars were funneled to developers who used the department to weaken housing discrimination laws. This led to sustained segregation of neighborhoods especially in the urban centers.
So when Trump announced that neurosurgeon and supporter Dr. Ben Carson would be nominated for the HUD post, advocates for affordable housing and barriers to discrimination, were alarmed.
Dr. Carson admits he has no administrative or policy experience beyond criticizing programs used to assist low income and minority people find an affordable roof over their heads.
HUD funds most of the public housing programs used by poor families, the disabled, and low wage earners, unable to pay market rental units.
HUD also pays for the Section 8 vouchers used by the same class of people to secure affordable housing outside of public housing, if they have no income or pay a disproportionate amount of it for housing.
Norfolk, Virginia has a large share of the region’s public housing units and vouchers in the region, run by Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, (NRHA) which also helps develop affordable housing options for residents as well.
In 2011, President Obama and the Congress agreed to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion through a combination of spending cuts and increased tax rates, under the Budget Reduction Act and it impacted many of the public safety net programs, including housing assistance.
According to Ed Ware, the press spokesman for NRHA, the number of Section 8 vouchers is at 2,900, lower than in the past.
NRHA and other agencies have been strapped for funds, and have sought other funding sources to expand housing programs for the poor and maintain physical integrity of the units which exist.
NRHA is a member of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) which is being proactive.
NAHRO has submitted to the Trump Transition team a list of priorities outlined in a document called “Transition 2017.”
The plan calls for more funding for affordable housing, partnering with private entities to build affordable housing, economic development in underserved areas, fighting homelessness, rehabbing public housing in the urban corridors and on native Americans reservations.
Ware said that NAHRO is taking a “wait and see” approach on the direction The Trump team will take on the housing issue. He said despite Carson’s criticism of current housing policy, he may bring the priorities of HUD to the new regime’s attention.
Ware said NAHRO members hope that the Trump Administration will be a partner in working to “rebuilding the inner cities.”
Other advocacy groups, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and its partners have begun working to deter reversals Trump nominees are expected to impose.
NLIHC was formed in 1974 and is dedicated to public policy to assure people with the lowest income access have affordable and decent homes.
“We strongly urge this new administration to seize the opportunity to address the full scope of affordable housing challenges for families with the greatest needs,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Protecting and increasing investments in affordable rental housing for extremely low income families should be a top priority of a Trump administration.”
NLIHC is urging the new administration to seize this moment of political change to implement solutions to the affordable housing crisis faced by the lowest income households in America.
NLIHC notes that there are 10.4 million extremely low income households in the U.S., those with incomes at or below 30 percent of their area median income, but just 3.2 million units of rental housing are affordable and available to them.
As a result, 75 percent of these households spend more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities, and hundreds of thousands of individuals are homeless.
“From our perspective the nomination of Dr. Carson is concerting because of he has little experience in housing policy administration,” said Sara Nicholson the Director of Housing Policy for NJIHC. “We know the solutions to the problems, so does HUD. But we need someone with experience in doing so to help poor people.”
Nicholson said she fears a further reduction in funding for Section 8 vouchers.
She noted that funds for such assistance may be shifted away to the defense department.
“This could increase the changes of many poor people becoming homeless because they can’t find safe and affordable housing” said Nichols. “Dr. Carson is on the record opposing fair housing laws, calling them social engineering.”
Nicholson said housing advocates are also worried about a Carson-led HUD department reemploying the “welfare to work” policies imposed in the 1990s, to limit dependence on safety net programs by poor people struggling against the tide of poverty, discrimination and shrinking employment options.
These policies, would limit how long poor families can access public housing or vouchers and impose work requirements which may negatively impact also caregivers, the disabled and elderly.