IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Carson's HUD trouble: 'No one knows what they are supposed to do'

As if his ethics controversies weren't enough, HUD Secretary Ben Carson's signature policy initiative is something of a mess.
Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.

Ben Carson's tenure as secretary of Housing and Urban Development has not been easy. Less than a year after assuming the cabinet role, for example, the retired physician allegedly ignored warnings from HUD attorneys and permitted his son to organize an official agency event in Baltimore -- where Carson's son is a local businessman.

There was also the mess in which the secretary struggled to keep his story straight about his very expensive taxpayer-funded furniture, as well as an incident in which he announced the departure of a HUD official who wasn't leaving the agency. (She later resigned under "madcap" circumstances.)

But Carson's focus hasn't been limited to dealing with controversies. The former presidential candidate, who was chosen to lead HUD for reasons that have never made any sense, has also come up with a signature policy initiative: EnVision Centers that are intended to serve as one-stop shops for low-income residents who rely on social services, such as job-placement programs and education.

Carson's "plan," for lack of a better word, was to create 17 of these EnVision Centers. NBC News reported yesterday that the Republican cabinet secretary hasn't yet created any, in part because so few officials know what he's talking about.

[E]ight months later, not one has opened and the program remains mired in confusion and bureaucratic tangles, according to interviews with HUD officials and staffers for nonprofits and housing authorities that have been designated as EnVision Centers.Some critics say the program appears to be little more than a rebranding of work that was already underway.

Chad Williams, executive director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, told NBC News, "No one actually knows what they are supposed to do. I was approached to run one, and I said: 'What does it do? Where's the funding?'"

Evidently, Carson didn't offer any new funding for the initiative, prompting Williams to balk. "EnVision Centers are a failed policy perception," he said. "I guess they give the image that HUD is doing something."

Others had similar reactions. Carson held an event to tout his idea at the Boys & Girls Club in Detroit in 2017, but soon after, the group decided it didn't want to be part of the EnVision Center initiative.

"It sounded great on paper," Shaun Wilson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, told NBC News. "But after the due diligence and understanding what resources were needed to make it successful, we decided not to pursue it."

A spokesperson for the cabinet agency said, by way of a defense, "Bureaucracy slows the process down. We are building an initiative that will help transform low-income communities by improving residents' abilities to achieve their American dream -- you can't do that with the snap of the fingers."

Or put another way, Carson apparently intends to keep pursuing the idea.