Politics

Ben Carson declared victory in East St. Louis, but it looks more like retreat and abandonment

US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson waits to speak during an event to honor the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act at the Department of Justice April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Carson

When Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced that he was returning public housing in East St. Louis, Illinois, to local control, he said that once upon a timethe residents were at risk, and the future of our children was at risk,” but “not anymore.” Carson said this weeks after a young woman was murdered in her East St. Louis Housing Authority home, her killer having come in through an unsecured window she’d repeatedly asked to have fixed.

Carson said “not anymore” although HUD inspectors had recently issued failing grades to nine of East St. Louis’s 12 public housing projects, estimating more than 5,400 violations, more than 1,300 of them life-threatening. Units have lead paint, and children growing up in the complexes have elevated lead levels in their blood. Mice, roaches, and bed bugs are common, and windows that don’t lock or are missing security screens are common, too. And that’s just the beginning of the problems. 

Carson said “not anymore”—although:

A recent assessment showed a staggering backlog of needed repairs at East St. Louis’ public housing complexes. The report said that it would cost $42 million to immediately renovate units and building systems to HUD standards and another $180 million over 20 years.

To put that in context, the housing authority only receives about $3 million each year from HUD for major repairs. It also receives about $9 million in federal operating subsidies, intended to cover the difference between the reduced rents charged to tenants and the estimated cost of managing the apartment complexes. Roughly three of every four dollars the housing authority receives comes from the federal government.

Carson, in other words, declared victory to cover up the fact that he was turning tail and running, abandoning the families of East St. Louis.


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