The Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed Wednesday that it is considering removing language about anti-discrimination efforts from its mission statement, a move one advocacy group called "appalling."
The agency confirmed that a leaked draft of the new mission 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 Huffington Post first reported that a memo to employees this week said that the changes were being made to better match the priorities of the administration and Secretary Ben Carson.
The draft of the new statement references "self-sufficiency" which Carson has emphasized, even reportedly making comments that public housing shouldn't be "too comfortable." HUD is expected to support a legislative proposal to encourage more "self-sufficiency" from recipients of housing benefits, according to its proposed budget. Advocates say that proposal could lead to more work requirements and higher rent for low income families who rely on housing assistance.
A HUD spokesman confirmed that the agency is looking at changes to its mission statement but that it would still continue fair housing programs of work.
"As in previous Administrations, HUD is considering modest changes to the Department’s mission statement to make it a more clear and concise expression of the historic work this agency performs on behalf of the American people," HUD's Communications Director Raffi Williams said in a statement. "You can be sure of one thing—any mission statement for this Department will embody the principle of fairness as a central element of everything that we do. HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans."
HUD's main goals are to ensure quality, affordable housing are available for people all over the country, according to its most recent strategic plan. The agency provides grants to fight housing discrimination and investigates possible violations of fair housing laws.
The agency's current mission statement reads that the agency'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."
That statement was written in 2010 and HUD said it was also revised in 2003, indicating that both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations made changes.
Under the Trump administration, the agency is working to make its mission more "clear and concise," according to its statement, which could include removing language about discrimination.
Advocacy groups that work on housing issues put out statements asking Carson not to change the agency's mission statement. Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement that removing anti-discrimination language sends a message that Carson does not take the discrimination in housing seriously.
"It’s especially appalling, as we near the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, that Secretary Carson would signal this step away from Dr. King’s legacy. Federal housing policy created the segregated communities that exist today - and federal, state and local governments have an obligation to reverse these trends by furthering fair housing. This latest in a series of moves by Secretary Carson to deemphasize HUD’s role in creating inclusive communities is unfortunate – thankfully, the law trumps a mission statement, so those legal obligations remain," Yentel said in a statement.
The head of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization, wrote a letter to Carson on Wednesday asking him to confer with staff and stakeholders before accepting the change.
“You have spoken of the squalid conditions of your childhood neighborhood in Boston; you have experienced first-hand the demoralizing wounds of segregation and racism, and for a time, according to your spokesman, benefitted from the safety net of housing subsidy. You must bring these experiences to bear in your responsibility to uphold the duties of your office," National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial wrote in the letter.
The chief operating officer of Zillow Group, an online real estate company, also said that removing anti-discrimination language from HUD's mission statement is a move in the wrong direction.
"With over 4 million instances of housing discrimination still occurring each year according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, it's clear more work needs to be done and HUD's plan to remove important anti-discrimination language from their mission statement takes us in the wrong direction. Fair housing doesn't happen by itself. We all have a role to play to ensure our communities are inclusive and diverse,” COO Amy Bohutinsky said in a statement.
The Huffington Post reported that the memo included language for a new statement but HUD said it was a draft and nothing is final.