Carson: 'Real Compassion' Is Tackling 'Perverse Incentives' That Continue Cycle of Poverty

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to the media after he toured the Hunter Plaza Apartments in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, on March 29, 2017. (Paul Moseley/Star-Telegram via AP)

WASHINGTON – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said the “new HUD” focuses on fostering “self-sufficiency” among low-income Americans so they have a better chance of finding a “pathway” off of government assistance.

Carson told the story of a young woman who voiced her frustration at HUD for not finding her large family a government-subsidized apartment fast enough.

“In one group, a young lady stood up and she was very angry that it had taken the housing authority so long to find her a five-bedroom apartment because she had all these children and was even more angry because the dining room set had a scratch on the table. But as I was thinking about that, I said, this young woman probably has never known any other life. Her mother probably lived here and her grandmother probably lived here and she doesn’t even understand what is out there and what the American dream is all about,” Carson said at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference.

“And that is one of the reasons that you will see from the new HUD, such an emphasis on self-sufficiency, because I think that is real compassion – getting people out of poverty and helping them to find the pathway. It is a double win because for each person you get out of that dependent situation, it is one less person you have to pay for and it’s one more taxpaying contributing member of society,” he added. “So this is the way we have to begin to think about these things.”

Carson said HUD has been “engaging” in discussions about rent reform to end “perverse incentives” that have been built into the public benefits system over time.

“For instance, instead of assessing a person’s income annually, assessing it every three years – because when you’re in government assistance, it’s based on the amount of money you make and the system has all these perverse incentives, so if you are working a job and are offered a raise you may well not take it because now your income goes up and your rent goes up,” Carson said.

“You certainly aren’t going to want to get married to somebody who has an income because now your rent goes up or you may lose your apartment altogether – all of these perverse incentives we built into the system. And I actually believe a lot of people who are stagnant in these systems, if we create the right environment, would be happy to get a job and to use the talent God has given them. We have to provide that opportunity for them,” he added.

Carson encouraged Christians not to get “caught up” in the “partisan hatred” in today’s political environment. He mentioned the controversy surrounding the purchase of a $31,000 dining room set for his office at HUD.

“At HUD these days we get accused of many things, subject of fake stories written in such a way that the venom is dripping off the pages, there is so much hate out there; I actually find a lot of the stuff quite amusing, like this furniture stuff. There’s probably no one on earth who cares less about furniture than I do and probably no one who is more thrifty than my wife, but they needed that narrative,” he said.

“It’s just a bunch of craziness, but the people in this room really should play no part in getting caught up in all the partisan hatred, you know, somebody has to be the adult and that, I think, that probably should be the Christians out there.”