Ben Carson – Florida Politics

HUD approves Florida’s $616M disaster recovery plan

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that Florida’s $616 million disaster recovery plan was approved.

Carson said the money will be for housing issues, via the Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Recovery program.

The Secretary also expressed confidence in Florida’s stewardship of the funds, saying that the state’s recovery and mitigation strategies are a “model” for the country, and the disbursement signifies “continued commitment” from the White House to post-Irma recovery.

Among the uses for the funds: housing repair; land acquisition for workforce housing; voluntary home buyouts; business recovery; and assistance for people who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s devastation on the island.

Scott said, “It’s great news that we were able to secure critical funding from HUD that will directly benefit the families who were most affected by last year’s storms. This $616 million will enable communities to build new affordable housing and to replace homes lost in the wake of last year’s hurricane season.”

“Through this program,” Scott added, “we can continue to move forward with long-term affordable housing solutions for displaced families as well as provide grants to businesses who were impacted by the storm.”

Per the media release from the Governor’s Office, “As required of the plan, more than 80 percent of the funding will be used to address needs in the hardest-hit counties and ZIP codes. These areas, determined by HUD, include Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties, as well as ZIP codes 32136, 32091, 32068 and 34266.”

Scott noted that $20 million of the money would go to affordable housing, spotlighting particular needs in the hard-hit Keys and Collier County.

Monies will also go to helping people repair and replace homes. Scott said.

“The money will come in quickly,” Scott said, and “will get out in a logical manner.”

The money should come through later this summer, per the Department of Economic Opportunity, and will be disbursed this fall.

Ben Carson decries mass incarceration, wants ‘right thing’ done on cannabis policy

In Jacksonville on Friday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson decried mass incarceration and factors that contribute to it, seemingly including his own administration’s cannabis policy.

In his remarks, both at the roundtable and in the very limited time this reporter spoke to him as the elevator door closed, Carson suggested that there may be a more robustly pragmatic policy debate in the White House currently than is generally thought.

Carson deviated from Republican orthodoxy throughout his remarks, including by noting, as many on the left have, that America has “5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”

“There’s something wrong there,” Carson added.

Carson also spoke to another contributing institutional factor; namely, the warehousing of inmates.

“People go in with no skills or education, and come out with no skills or education,” Carson noted.

“Purely looking at the cost of someone who is incarcerated versus someone who is trying to bolster the economy,” Carson noted, “the difference is night and day. When we start to think about it that way, what it costs to train somebody, what it costs for someone to go to college, it costs more to keep somebody incarcerated.”

“It’s also costing us their own positive contributions and one of the things we need to realize about our young people is that we have so many in our penal system, particularly young black males, is that for every one we can keep from going down that path of self-destruction, it’s one less person we need to be afraid of or protect our family from,” Carson added.

“One less person we need to pay for in the penal system or the welfare system, one more taxpaying productive member of society,” Carson said, adding that “this certainly is a message this administration is going to be pushing in a very very hard way particularly at HUD, reformulating our programs in such a way that we concentrate on the people.”

Of course, Housing and Urban Development, whose mission Carson has set out to reform toward a model of “self-sufficiency,” typically has little to do with the penal system.

One party with more of a stake in how that business is conducted: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has taken a hard line position on cannabis law enforcement that is out of step with virtually the entire Democratic Party and, increasingly, many Republicans who see the War on Drugs as an expensive and failed boondoggle.

We chased after Carson when his remarks wrapped and asked him, in context of his remarks about the penal system, if he endorsed Sessions’ stance on cannabis.

Despite a handler trying to curb the interaction, Carson offered an answer, albeit an opaque and interpretable one.

“I’m hoping that as a society we will try and do the right thing with cannabis,” Carson said, as the elevator door closed.

As the Trump administration progresses, and electoral reality sets in during the midterms and the 2020 vote, perhaps there will be more clarity on what that means — and perhaps that “right thing” will come to bear in public policy, which is currently inchoate nationally on marijuana.

Julian Castro visits St. Pete, praises Southside CRA program

Julian Castro came to St. Petersburg Friday, where he took a tour of the flagship offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC).

During his visit, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary praised the work of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in helping give ex-felons opportunities for a second chance, as well as (politely) take issue with proposed federal cuts to city programs that have proposed by Donald Trump‘s administration.

From 2009-2014, Castro served as San Antonio Mayor before Barack Obama named him to serve as his HUD Secretary in the final two years of his administration. Castro was glad to appear on behalf of Kriseman, highlighting the mayor’s work on the city’s Southside.

“I’m happy to see this kind of great work that is going to provide greater opportunity for folks who have paid their debt to society, folks who are willing to work hard for a second chance in life,”  Castro said Friday morning.

PERC is the lead agency of the CRA Workforce Development Council, working to increase employment within the South St. Pete CRA.

As an ex-offender outreach program, PERC provides a variety of re-entry services to those released from prison or with criminal backgrounds. Services include resume writing assistance, anger management and life-skill classes, an outpatient substance abuse group and job placement assistance.

Castro and Kriseman took a tour of the David T. Welch Center for Progress and Community Development building on 16th Street South, hosted by Michael Jalazo, PERC’s CEO and executive director.

Taking questions from reporters after the tour, Castro was circumspect about his successor, Dr. Ben Carson, whose appointment by Trump was criticized because he came without previous government and never managed anything close to the size of HUD, an agency with a $47 billion budget to help 5 million low-income families.

Castro hopes Carson would “pushback” on Trump’s proposed 2018 budget that seeks to cut $6 billion in HUD spending.

Programs eliminated in Trump’s budget plan would include HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and the National Housing Trust.

Jalazo wasn’t so shy in criticizing the cuts, saying those who dismiss that news doesn’t realize that those cuts directly affect cities.

“You’re talking about some of the community development block grants, you’re talking about the different kind of financial institutions that go into communities like this,” he said. “We’re really concerned on the local level.”

“It’s easy in Washington D.C. to talk about ‘slashing a budget,’ but we feel the effects at the local level and amongst the most vulnerable communities,” Castro added.

During a candidate forum earlier this month, former two-term Mayor Rick Baker said he would absolutely fight CDBG cuts impacting St. Petersburg.

Kriseman thanked Castro for helping to intervene in the Commerce Park-area of South St. Pete. In 2014, Kriseman realized the city was facing the loss of several million dollars from HUD, money used to generate jobs “that hadn’t been created under the last two administrations.”

“The secretary was kind enough to give us time to do things differently,” Kriseman said, adding the city used those funds — that it did not have to pay back — to purchase the Tangerine Plaza site in the Southside.  Currently, the site sits empty after War-Mart departed earlier this year.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

HUD Secretary Ben Carson says senior housing is top priority

Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson spoke Monday about the importance of using public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for seniors.

The neurosurgeon-turned-housing-secretary gave a 30-minute speech to senior housing and health care providers at the 54th Annual LeadingAge Florida Convention in Orlando.

Carson, who took the job in March, said senior housing was one of his top priorities.

“We have to help more people age in place, keep their health and their homes and retain their physical and financial independence,” said Carson, who told the crowd of 300 attendees that his mother has Alzheimer’s disease. “As a physician, son, aging American and HUD secretary, this is personal for me.”

Carson said his mother tried living in a health care facility and hated it. She’s now living with her favorite niece.

“Fortunately, we had the financial means to allow her to make that decision,” he said. “I’m very concerned about seniors who become destitute and are forced into low-income housing. Many look to HUD for housing but the brutal reality is the market is becoming more expensive and housing prices are surging in inner cities like New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago.”

To combat the problem, Carson said HUD is encouraging public-private partnerships by requiring developers to provide affordable housing, while meeting the needs of their high-end buyers through creative financing and leveraging. The government provides seed money, while the developers are the primary source of the funding.

“This is a win-win for residents, developers and taxpayers,” he said. “Seniors must not become economic refugees in their own country, forced out of housing by their nation’s own economic progress.”

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said Carson’s visit opened the lines of communication between health care providers and HUD. He said his members are struggling to provide more services to Florida’s growing aging population with less funding.

“We’re trying to provide affordable housing for our growing senior population when the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” Bahner said. “We have a supply and demand problem that must be addressed.”

Bahmer said seniors wait from six to seven years for affordable housing in Central Florida, three to five years in Jacksonville and four to eight years in South Florida, where more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list.

“The sad truth is that a lot of the elderly on our waiting lists will never be able to be housed,” said Juana Mejia, vice president of housing development and operations for Catholic Housing Management. “Our services are not just about providing bingo anymore. We have to find housing and financing in more creative ways.”

Mejia said she is currently partnering with a developer in Coral Springs to rehab a property that will provide 214 units for seniors.

Carson said they are increasing funding from $432 million to $510 million in the 2018 budget to improve HUD’s affordable housing program that provide vouchers to seniors for rental subsidies.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program is the only federally-funded housing program designed specifically for older persons. It offers capital advances that finance construction, rehabilitation and purchasing of affordable housing properties for seniors.

To qualify for the subsidies, people must be at least 62 years of age and have incomes below 50 percent of their area’s median income. The average resident’s age in Section 202 housing is 79, and the average annual income is $10,018, according to figures from AARP. Ninety percent of the residents are women.

LeadingAge is a nonprofit whose 250 members care for seniors at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. The LeadingAge convention at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate continues through Wednesday.

Ted Yoho gets pushback for challenging HUD’s ‘Housing First’ policy

Last week, North Florida Republican Ted Yoho co-signed a letter — along with 22 of his Republican colleagues — calling on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to review the agency’s ‘Housing First’ policy.

The lawmakers claim Housing First puts a tough strain on homeless shelters in Florida and across the nation.

GOP lawmakers say that policy, which actually began in the George W. Bush administration under former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, “removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety.”

“In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities, forcing communities and providers to maximize services for certain populations — chronically homeless adults — at the expense of other equally worthy populations — families, youth, and children — and particular program models, regardless of local circumstances, needs, or a program’s effectiveness to lift participants out of poverty,” the legislators write.

Housing First emphasizes finding secure shelter in the community first, in contrast to homeless programs that insist on preconditions such as sobriety or psychiatric care and moving through transitional housing.

Yoho and his cohorts complain that HUD’s current procedures in proving such assistance have come at the detriment of homeless families, youth, and children at risk.

Dawn Gilman is the CEO of Changing Homelessness based in Jacksonville. She submits the Continuum of Care grant application for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, which is in Yoho’s district,  where veteran homelessness has dropped in her region by over 80 percent since adopting the Housing First policy.

Regarding the criticism by Yoho (and others) that families and youth are not being served as well under Housing First, she considers that as more of a resource issue.

“We have limited resources, so each community has to prioritize,” she says. “HUD gives us an incentive, to prioritize for those most vulnerable.”

Similar reductions in homelessness in communities using Housing First has been duplicated around the nation.

For example, under Housing First, the state of Utah has reduced their number of homeless people from nearly 2,000 people in 2005 to less than 200 as of the end of 2015, according to an NPR report.

In Colorado, officials reported a 73 percent reduction in emergency service costs for chronically homeless individuals with disabilities, for a 24-month period, as compared to the 24 months before entry under Housing First in 2012.

Sara Romeo is the CEO and executive director of Tampa Crossroads. She said it would be the absolute worse move by HUD to return to the old model to fight to end homelessness.

“The Housing First Approach is proven and we could actually see an end to homelessness in a few short years if everyone is following this new practice,” she says. “For over 50-years the shelter model did not end homelessness. The housing first model is actually working to humanely serve and assist homeless families. We have used this model to end veteran homelessness in Hillsborough County where our vet population has decreased from over 3000 to under 200 over the past 5-years. We should not continue to fund any agency who thinks the emergency shelter model is a means to ending homelessness.”

Over the years, Films has met with members of Congress like Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson and John Rutherford, each of whom have been interested in what Changing Homelessness has been doing. She’s scheduled to meet with staffers from Yoho’s office soon.

Gilman says that while Florida definitely has a higher number of homeless families with children than in other parts of the country, there are better, more effective ways of dealing with that issue then to jettison the Housing First approach.

Ted Yoho urges Ben Carson to reverse Obama-era ‘Housing First,’ reinstate homeless shelter funds

Gainesville Republican Ted Yolo, joined by 22 other House Republicans, co-signed a letter calling Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to reverse the “Housing First” emphasis in policies during the Obama administration.

“Housing First” philosophy holds that the best solution for homelessness is moving people into permanent, independent housing as quickly as possible. In order to implement those guidelines, HUD began increasing programs following that approach, cutting support for traditional shelters.

GOP lawmakers say that because of Housing First, successful homeless shelters in their districts have lost federal funding; they believe Carson needs to review the policy now.

“The Housing First approach may work for some, but it isn’t — and can’t be — the answer for all,” says California Republican Darrell Issa, who also signed the letter to Carson. “This misguided policy has caused some of the most effective homeless assistance programs in our district to walk away from the funding they need to help families get back on their feet.”

Federal officials have acknowledged that the change represents a major shift, with some programs receiving federal dollars in the past are now cut off, making it a more cost-effective way to reach the ambitious goal to end homelessness by 2020 set out by the Obama administration.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has also endorsed the approach.

The text of the letter:

Dear Secretary Carson:

We are writing to you to express our concerns about current U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policies and priorities regarding homelessness assistance.  It has come to our attention that HUD’s current procedures in administering such assistance have put homeless families, youth, and children at risk, in addition to jeopardizing holistic-based programs that work to alleviate the effects of poverty by supporting sobriety, work, and accountability.

As you know, in recent competitions for the Continuum of Care program, one of the program priorities articulated by HUD has been the “Housing First” approach, which focuses on providing immediate access to housing, prioritizing providers that offer services to clients on a voluntary basis, rather than those programs that require sobriety or participation in education, work, training, or service programs.  Under this policy, HUD now gives considerable preference based on a program’s commitment to using the Housing First model, placing programs that do not use that model at a severe disadvantage in receiving financial assistance.

By implementing its preference for the Housing First model, HUD has removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety.  In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities, forcing communities and providers to maximize services for certain populations — chronically homeless adults — at the expense of other equally worthy populations — families, youth, and children — and particular program models, regardless of local circumstances, needs, or a program’s effectiveness to lift participants out of poverty. Communities as a whole, which benefit from having these programs, are now unfortunately and unfairly penalized by the elimination or decline of such programs.

We strongly urge you to thoroughly review the Department’s procedures with respect to providing assistance to programs combating homelessness and to appropriately exercise your authority in providing support for these types of programs that include families, youth, and children and the community-based program models that serve them well by enabling them to increase their incomes and educational attainment, maintain sobriety, and acquire permanent life skills that will help prevent them from returning to a life of homelessness.

In order to support these families and their children, we also urge you to end the recommended scoring guidelines that currently punish programs that prioritize work, education, and sobriety. We believe that families have the best opportunity to escape dependence on public assistance when they are supported in their recovery and given education, training and work opportunities.

We look forward to working with you to break the intergenerational cycle of family homelessness by promoting programs that serve families and provide safe and drug free housing.  Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Robert Rische in Congressman Issa’s office at (202) 225-3906 or robert.rische@mail.house.gov.

Sincerely,

Darrell Issa (CA-49)
Don Bacon (NE-02)
Andy Barr (KY-06)
Mike Conaway (TX-11)
Scott DesJarlais (TN-04)
Trent Franks (AZ-08)
Glenn Grothman (WI-06)
Randy Hultgren (IL-14)
Mike Johnson (LA-04)
Doug LaMalfa (CA-01)
Roger Marshall (KS-01)
Mark Meadows (NC-11)
Luke Messer (IN-06)
Alex Mooney (WV-02)
Gary Palmer (AL-06)
Steve Pearce (NM-02)
Robert Pittenger (NC-09)
David Rouzer (NC-07)
Steve Stivers (OH-15)
Mark Walker (NC-06)
Joe Wilson (SC-02)
Ted Yoho (FL-03)
Ted Budd (NC-13)

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Donald Trump administration, will be the keynote speaker for the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner scheduled for June 9.

That announcement was made Tuesday night by Deborah Tamargo, the chair of the Hillsborough GOP, at the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Dennis Ross will also appear at the dinner, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A native of Detroit, Carson grew up poor and was raised by his single mother, eventually graduating from Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School.

In 1984, Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. At age 33, he was the youngest doctor in America to rise to that position.

Carson earned worldwide recognition in 1987 when he led the team performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins, Benjamin and Patrick Binder, who were joined at the head. The procedure took five months of planning, and the surgery was over 22 hours using a 70-person team. He is also credited with discovering hemispherectomy, a procedure where half a brain is removed in a patient to cure certain brain diseases causing seizures.

Carson documented his life story in an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which made him a national hero, particularly among African-Americans. He has written several books since, including “One Nation,” which became a New York Times best-seller in 2014.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian.

After ending a Republican bid for president in 2016, Carson — an early Trump supporter — became Trump’s pick for HUD secretary in February 2017. The U.S. Senate confirmed him March 2 on a 51-48 vote. He was a controversial nominee because of his lack of experience in either housing or development, or government in general.

Ben Carson gets stuck in elevator on Miami housing tour

The Miami leg of U.S. Housing and Development Secretary Ben Carson‘s national listening tour started with a glitch.

Carson got briefly stuck in an elevator after a visit Wednesday to the rooftop of the Courtside Family Apartments, a complex co-developed by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and his non-profit AM Affordable Housing.

The Miami Herald reports that Mourning arrived a few minutes late, so Carson and Miami-Dade County Public Housing Director Michael Liu began the tour without him. They got stuck along with five other people on the way down.

The elevator descended safely but the doors were jammed, so Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews had to pry them open. Carson smiled as he emerged from the elevator, and Mourning apologized profusely.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson talk HUD reform in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s Eureka Garden apartment complex has been in the news for a number of years.

First came the crime reports. Then came reports about mold, broken windows, gas leaks, and other infrastructural nightmares for the 400-unit HUD complex on Jacksonville’s Westside.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called for reforms to the HUD process, and for new ownership.

And right now, the ownership transition is underway.

Millennia Housing Management took over the management of the complex from the still-current owners, Global Ministries Foundation.

MHM is ready to put capital in; however, until formal transfer of the GMF portfolio concludes, there’s only so much they will invest.

And therein lies an issue for the long-suffering Eureka Garden residents.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson has made Eureka a focus, discussing issues at the complex during his 2016 campaign, and visiting the apartments during his last Congressional recess.

Tuesday saw Lawson double down — accompanied by another newcomer to Washington, D.C., in HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Rubio.

_____

At a church near Eureka Garden, the politicians sat down with Jacksonville City Councilmen and other local stakeholders, as Secretary Carson discussed his plans for reform.

Before doing that, he lauded local officials for demonstrating the “leadership” that has brought the issues at Eureka into the “spotlight.”

Carson described a holistic vision of reform, one which went beyond subsidized housing.

The Secretary advocated for community clinics, “so the Emergency Room doesn’t become the primary care vehicle.”

He also advocated the importance of education, making the case for vouchers, and for more changes to the Section 8 model.

Among those proposals: a “housing savings account,” which would allow residents to save a bit of money every month, either to defray the cost of repairs (“doors scratched up” and other such issues).

“If those things aren’t happening,” Carson said, money “starts to accumulate,” and after a number of years, there may be sufficient money for a down payment on a house.

Carson, after musing on problems with America’s multi-party system, and people outside the country watching to see if they should “destroy [Americans] or wait for them to destroy themselves, noted that there’s “a lot of hysteria about people going to be thrown out onto the street.”

Carson says that won’t happen; however, America’s ponderous national debt requires a focus on using money efficiently and effectively, with an eye toward getting the greatest “bang for the buck.”

Part of that strategy: public-private partnerships, with “federal money leveraged with the private sector.”

President Donald Trump wants a $1T investment in infrastructure; much of that, Carson said, will go to housing.

Carson also wants “vision centers” near HUD complexes, which will be “places where young people can learn about careers.”

____

Rep. Lawson told us about how he made the visit happen, writing Secretary Carson in February.

“I told him he really needed to come to Eureka Garden,” Lawson said.

Lawson sees the changes at Eureka — which look to be complete in the next couple of years, pending the transfer of the property — as a model for the rest of the country, potentially.

While Rep. Lawson isn’t completely sold on concepts like housing savings accounts, saying they might have more utility for younger people rather than older residents, he appreciates Sec. Carson’s interest, and anticipates a strong working relationship while both are in Washington.

Pam Bondi to host White House ‘women’s empowerment panel’ Wednesday

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is D.C. bound this week, once again increasing speculation that she might be eyeing a job in the White House before her term ends in 2019.

Bondi is scheduled to moderate a “women’s empowerment panel” Wednesday, featuring some of the top women in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Panelists include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Verma has played a role in the Trump administration’s early messaging in the Sunshine State.

Last weekend, she was part of the Jacksonville pitch of the Affordable Health Care Act, a pitch that proved ill-fated as Republican support for the Obamacare reform didn’t even make it to a floor vote before the Trump Administration had the bill pulled.

The panel comes on the heels of a trip to Washington, D.C. on Monday, where Bondi met with Trump and two Cabinet secretaries on children’s issues.

According to POLITICO Florida, Bondi brought former Tony Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccanneers football coach who has become a children’s rights advocate; Derrick Brooks, the former Florida State University and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Fame linebacker who co-founded a charter school; and Mark Merrrill, an activist with All Pro Dads with her to talk with DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson about children’s issues.

Bondi said she was happy with her work in Florida, and told POLITICO Florida she was working on “some special projects with the White House.”

An early supporter of Trump, Bondi has often been mentioned as a someone who might join the Trump administration. Bondi has long dismissed rumors, saying she was happy with her current job.

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