Nearly 600 civil rights groups wrote to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Friday, asking that he reconsider his proposal to remove anti-discrimination language from the agency’s mission statement.
“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse course and retain language in your agency’s mission statement that reflects one of HUD’s most important responsibilities: enforcement and promotion of the Fair Housing Act,” the 573 groups wrote, noting that many of them worked with HUD to make sure that the commitment to inclusivity was included in the first place.
The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying or securing financing for any housing.
Carson has come under significant criticism since HuffPost first reported Wednesday that HUD was changing its mission statement. A top HUD official emailed political staff at the agency this week to inform them of the proposed change, intended to better align the mission with the priorities of President Donald Trump’s administration.
The proposed mission statement, which was developed in consultation with Carson, 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.
That statement would be quite different from the current one, which promises “strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” It also says these communities will be “free from discrimination”:
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.
On Thursday, Carson tried to do some damage control. He emailed the employees at HUD and insisted that he would remain committed to fighting discrimination ― even if the mission statement changes. He said he finds the current one “a bit wordy” but still agrees with “every word” in it.
The 537 civil rights groups ― which include the NAACP, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union ― said that since HUD is tasked by Congress with enforcing the Fair Housing Act, HUD needs to use all of its authority to “eradicate housing discrimination and promote healthy, safe, and inclusive neighborhoods that are full of the opportunities that help people thrive.”
“Eliminating any reference in HUD’s mission statement to the agency’s role in ensuring that communities across the nation are free from discrimination suggests that you do not see this as an important part of HUD’s mission,” the groups added. “We sincerely hope this is not the case and that you will take immediate steps to correct this unfortunate impression.”
HUD did not provide a comment on this letter and instead referred HuffPost to Carson’s message to staff from Thursday.