Politics

Carson Grilled About Lead Paint and Mold in Public Housing

How to pay prompts heated exchange

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was grilled about his agency’s handling of lead paint and mold in public housing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was peppered with questions by lawmakers over the department’s handling of lead paint and mold in public housing, leading to a heated exchange over how to pay for fixing the issue.

At a House Financial Services Committee oversight hearing Wednesday, Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, D-N.Y., quizzed Carson on the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 funding request, which called for zeroing out the department’s public housing capital fund, a source used for repairs to public housing.

She raised the case of the New York City Housing Authority, which on June 11 entered into a $1.2 billion consent decree with the Justice Department over numerous living conditions issues, including for failing to meet federal lead safety requirements and to properly conduct inspections of housing facilities.

The agreement requires the appointment of a federal monitor for five years to oversee remediation and capital repairs, which Velazquez said didn't square with the administration’s funding request.

“How were you expecting NYCHA to meet these terms and these upgrades when you requested zero dollars for the Public Housing Capital Fund for FY 2019?” Velazquez asked. “It is great that you are exercising proper oversight, but money talks.”

Things got heated from there. Carson pointed to funding from the department’s rental assistance demonstration program, but Velazquez interrupted. She noted that the Government Accountability Office reported in March the department has only limited ability to measure the impact of such programs.

“In light of that, are you going to reassess the responsibility and role of HUD in providing capital funds to make repairs and to deal with the issue of mold and lead across the country?” Velazquez asked.

Carson questioned the report’s findings on the rental assistance demonstration program, saying, "you know, we could have a real discussion about the GAO’s finding with RAD.”

“Oh, you’re going to question now the GAO?” Velazquez retorted. After Carson started again by saying the department is “continuing to provide significant” capital funds to the NYCHA project, she interrupted again: “You requested zero capital. You cannot have it both ways.”

The previous day, Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, testified before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, arguing for increased funding to the public housing capital fund.

Fee testified there may be more than 9,000 children living in NYCHA units with lead paint, and that federal dollars should go toward improving buildings’ overall systems because abatement may not solve the issue in the long-term.

“We’re not investing the dollars to deal with the underlying building issues,” Fee said. 

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