The Department of Housing and Urban Development is finding itself mired in another scandal, this one over proposed changes to its mission statement that remove anti-discrimination language.
HUD is charged with ensuring equal access to housing, is considering removing the words “free from discrimination” to its mission statement, according to a Washington Post report.
The proposed changes cut the agency’s current, 63-word mission statement down to 23 words, and also eliminate references to “inclusive communities,” consumer protections and “quality” homes for all, according to the Post.
A March 5 memo to HUD staff said that the proposed change is part of “an effort to align HUD’s mission with (Secretary Ben Carson’s) priorities and that of the Administration.” Still, the change reportedly came as a surprise to the agency’s career staff.
The original statement reads:
“HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.”
The new statement reads:
“HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.”
The proposed change isn’t just about wording, a longtime HUD employee told the Post.
“It’s a significant symbolic shift,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid retaliation. “It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kinds of changes they are making. This administration has not included career people in these decisions.”
“Although such statements don’t reference all the organization’s activities, the chosen words signal priorities and intent – both to internal staff and to outside clients or partners,” Jenny Schuetz and Andre M. Perry wrote for the Brookings Institution. “Changing a mission statement is both symbolically and practically important, as activities or programs that can’t be clearly linked the mission statement are more likely to be cut when budgets are tight.”
Schuetz and Perry said that Carson was “abdicating HUD’s historic responsibilities” in “both word and deed,” noting that the department has already backed away from two Obama-era programs designed to provide poor and minority families with improved access to high-opportunity neighborhoods.
But Lynn Patton, who runs HUD’s regional office overseeing New York and New Jersey, said that the statement is still a work in progress – and that it reflect’s Carson’s commitment to helping disadvantaged people gain self-sufficiency.
“It’s no secret that empowering people with the tools to ascend the economic ladder to self-sufficiency is one of the main missions of both this administration and Secretary Carson,” she told the Post. “Leadership simply wanted a motto that better reflects that goal, too.”
Carson has been embroiled in scandal lately over revelations of lavish spending on office furniture. He was also accused of participating in a “smear campaign” against the HUD official who complained about the spending.