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Yvonne Abraham

Ben Carson is Trump’s stooge at HUD

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testified before a House committee on Tuesday.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testified before a House committee on Tuesday.(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

It’s not cruelty enough for the Trump administration to separate and traumatize families trying to cross the southern border. No, they must wreak havoc on vulnerable families inside this country too, even if it leaves tens of thousands of US citizen children at risk of homelessness.

If they succeed, 249 poor families in Boston alone will lose their public housing or rental vouchers. Most of the people in those families are citizens or legal residents — including 266 children under 10.

The latest salvo in this brutal campaign comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. That would be the same Ben Carson who, at a bruising congressional hearing last week, failed to grasp even basic concepts related to his agency’s work. For anyone capable of shame, it would have been humiliating. Carson — who has a knack for surgery, nepotism, and not much else, it seems — was positively proud of his ignorance.

He is the perfect stooge for an administration that cares nothing about HUD’s mission of housing poor families, and everything about deploying yet another arm of government to further its nativist goals.

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Which brings us to a new HUD proposal to purge undocumented immigrants from federally-subsidized housing — and their US citizen family members along with them. Right now, families that include undocumented immigrants are allowed to live in subsidized housing, but the subsidies themselves are prorated, given only to citizens and legal residents. In Boston, a family of four living in public housing might pay $450 per month. With one undocumented family member, they’d pay $774. With three, it would be $1,422.

We house poor families, even when they include undocumented members, because those immigrants do not live on their own island, cut off from the rest of us. They are inextricably bound to citizens: as parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. To refuse to allow them to live together in subsidized housing would be to separate families, or force them into homelessness. We used to agree that was unacceptable.

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Carson claims this rule is all about freeing up spots for US citizens. Nationally, 4.2 million families are waiting for public housing or Section 8 vouchers, and “it seems only logical that tax-paying American citizens come first,” he told lawmakers last week. Yes, the shortage of housing for poor Americans is an unmitigated crisis. But this rule won’t fix it; HUD’s own analysis found it would cost more, and actually reduce the housing supply.

And let’s be real: This administration doesn’t care about housing poor people in the first place, citizens or not. It has proposed HUD budget cuts so deep that they “would in essence put us out of business,” said Bill McGonagle, head of the Boston Housing Authority.

The BHA provides 25,000 families with housing or Section 8 vouchers. Of those, 850 include members ineligible for subsidies, meaning they are undocumented. But 69 percent of the people in families facing eviction are legal residents or citizens. Nationally, HUD estimates, some 55,000 children who are residents or citizens could lose their housing. Babies and bathwater come to mind.

In addition to inflicting pain on vulnerable people, the rule would effectively press housing authorities into immigration enforcement, requiring them to collect detailed data on undocumented immigrants and eject them from their homes. And the city would have to manage the devastating consequences, a prospect at which Mayor Marty Walsh is incensed.

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“All Bostonians — every single one of them — are entitled to safe and accessible housing,” he said. “As a country, we have to stop drafting cruel policy changes like this one.”

McGonagle, who has spent a career housing poor families, has one question when it comes to Carson: “How can a surgeon who took an oath to first do no harm propose such a cruel policy?”

There are several possible answers, each of them too dispiriting to contemplate.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham