How Petrified Should We Be for Hurricane Victims Now That Ben Carson Is the Head of HUD?

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the waters recede in parts of Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and other areas of Texas impacted by the horrific Hurricane Harvey, the agony of recovery efforts has begun.


Approximately 100,000 homes have been damaged, and the varying degrees of insurance—notably the lack of flood insurance in the flood-stricken Houston—present a unique conundrum for storm victims and the agencies in charge of assisting people who have suffered significant loss.

It is a similar conundrum that Florida residents will soon face as Hurricane Irma makes it way to the Sunshine State. Already, the massive storm—the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic—is pummeling every island in the Caribbean that comes across its path. It is unclear just how much devastation it will bring, but forecasters and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have offered scenarios nothing short of terrifying.


This hurricane season has shown itself to be quite the nightmare, but one’s fears only heighten after considering this nugget that makes this scenario all the more spine-chilling: Ben Carson is in charge of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Dr. Ben Carson, the brain surgeon who sounded like a damn fool throughout the entire Republican presidential primary season. To his credit, he sounded like a damn fool before the primary, given that he would do things like compare Obamacare to slavery, along with other random acts of asininity. Ben Carson, who often just stands there for decoration—probably because he was a neurosurgeon and self-help-book writer who somehow became the head of a federal agency despite having no experience in government, much less housing.

Back in March, Carson gave his first speech to his new department and made HUD employees take a “niceness pledge,” according to the Washington Post.

During that same speech, he also said this, according to New York magazine:

“Every human being, regardless of their ethnicities, or their background, they have a brain: the human brain. It remembers everything you’ve ever seen, everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head, and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus—and stimulate—and they would be able to read back to you, verbatim, a book they read 60 years ago.”

“You can’t overload the human brain,” Carson explained. “So we need to focus a little less on what we can’t do and a little more on what we can do. After all, this is America, the ‘can-do society’ — not the, ‘what can you do for me’ society.”


Carson’s first speech was to ask employees to take a niceness pledge while arguing against government handouts. This nitwit didn’t even pass his own pledge of kindness.

A month later, Politico reported:

Carson told Politico that policy proposals are in the works, but in public appearances the one-time presidential candidate is sticking to his stump-speech staples. He prescribes “godly principles” as a cure for the country’s political division and praises housing advocates for “putting God’s love into action.”

“Speaking of God, which I love to do; quite frankly, he’s a great guy,” Carson said on March 28, drawing friendly laughter during a speech to the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. “We should be grateful that God gave us variety. But you know what he didn‘t give us variety in? The brain.”


The month after that, NPR reported:

On Wednesday night, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — whose budget to help low-income households would be cut by more than $6 billion next year — added his own thoughts. He said in a radio interview that “poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind.”

Carson — who himself grew up in poverty to become a widely acclaimed neurosurgeon — said people with the “right mind set” can have everything taken away from them, and they’ll pull themselves up. He believes the converse is true as well. “You take somebody with the wrong mind-set, you can give them everything in the world [and] they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom,” Carson said.


Carson tried to clarify his comments, but, spoiler, he repeated the same sentiment with phrasing that was the Tia to its original statement’s Tamera. Not even Tahj or Tavior Mowry, but Tamera.

On the Monday following Hurricane Harvey’s landfall and the historic rainfall it quickly brought to Texas, Secretary Carson released a statement assuring that HUD would be there for victims in need.


“As FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] begins to assess the damage and respond to the immediate needs of residents, HUD will be there to offer assistance and support the longer-term housing recovery efforts,” Carson said.

What followed was a bulleted list of HUD’s efforts, but one wonders, can Carson get any of it done? This question is spurred not only by Carson’s own past remarks but also by a new report outlining just how poorly run HUD is under Carson’s leadership.


Days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, ProPublica published “Is Anybody Home at HUD?,” which highlighted the decimation of a vital federal agency under Carson.

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis noted that now-former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” back in February. The administration’s initial budget called for deep cuts to HUD—cuts the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein highlights “would slice away funding for long-term preparedness efforts, many of them put in place to address the sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”


No. 45 picked the perfect person to run an agency for which he and those around him have great disdain.

As MacGillis reports, the plan is going exactly as it is designed:

As I watched the hearings, it occurred to me that Carson was the perfect HUD secretary for Donald Trump, the real-estate-developer president who appears to care little for public housing. He offered a gently smiling refutation to accusations from any corner that the department’s evisceration would have grave consequences. After all, Ben Carson had made it from Detroit to Johns Hopkins without housing assistance, a point of pride in his family. Not to mention that Carson’s very identity — theoretically — helped inoculate the administration against charges of prejudice. (Just last week, Carson said, in the wake of racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, that the controversy over Trump’s support of white supremacists there was “blown out of proportion” and echoed the president’s “both sides” language when referring to “hatred and bigotry.”)


And like 45, Carson keeps family around where they don’t belong:

Then there was the mystery of why Carson’s family was taking such a visible role in the department. There was the omnipresent Mrs. Carson. Even more striking, however, had been the active role of the secretary’s second-oldest son. Ben Carson Jr., who goes by B.J. and co-founded an investment firm in Columbia, Maryland, that specializes in infrastructure, health care and workforce development, was showing up on email chains within the department and appearing often at headquarters. One day, he was seen leaving the 10th-floor office of David Eagles, the new COO, who was crafting a HUD reorganization to accompany the cuts.


An anonymous source told ProPublica of Carson: “People feel disrespected. They see Carson and think, I’ve been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse.”

Ben Carson is a religious zealot who makes the mistake of personalizing poverty in a way that is detrimental to those who know that for every rarity that is Ben Carson, there are many others who continue to languish in a system designed to keep them stuck where they are.


In reality, more often than not, people have to be given opportunities to get out of poverty. They need adequate housing, they need support and they need a helping hand. Even if Carson is a brain surgeon who doubles as a village idiot, one would think even he would understand that the difference between him and the man who gave him a job for which he is unqualified had everything handed to him—which promised him a much more certain fate than Carson had as a child.

It was already worrisome that a man who thinks poverty is a state of mind was in charge of an organization designed to help the poorest among us. It’s even worse now that the poorest of Houston have been affected by a natural disaster, only to seek refuge in an organization that lacks staffing, resources and competency.


HUD is supposed to rebuild homes, parks, hospitals and community centers. Carson behaves as if he couldn’t build a paper plane at his office in their building. How petrified should most of them be?

In response to the story, Carson said in an interview on Fox News’ Special Report: “I would say that you should ring the doorbell before you conclude that nobody’s at home. I don’t think they did a very good job at journalistic investigation there.”


Well, this is your chance to show and prove, you brain-dead brain surgeon. I don’t have much faith in you, but for the sake of my home state of Texas, Florida and whatever other areas are affected, I’m praying you don’t fuck up.

Michael Arceneaux is the author of "I Can't Date Jesus," which will be released July 24, 2018 by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, but go ahead and pre-order it now.

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Li'l Bitty Maggie Pie

What should be the goal of Housing and Urban Development?

(a) to develop housing in urban areas

(b) to figure out what EPMD meant by “I’m Housin’” and do that

(c) to lecture people in speeches so dull and cookie-cutter Breitbart barely covers it

(d) Sshh, he’s napping