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US Housing Secretary Visits Jacksonville, Touts Local Nonprofit And ‘Self-Sufficiency’

Ryan Benk
HUD Secretary Ben Carson sits down for a roundtable discussion with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (Left) and Operation New Hope's Kevin Gay (Right).

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said he’s impressed with the work of a Jacksonville nonprofit that helps ex-offenders re-enter society.

Carson heard a number of their stories when he toured the downtown campus of Operation New Hope Friday.

After his tour, Carson sat down for a roundtable with graduates of the program and local officials. He heard stories of resilience and redemption, like ex-convicts’ learning new skills and climbing the ranks in new careers.

Carson called the program “the very best” he’s seen during his cross-country tour. Operation New Hope helps people achieve the kind of independence that, in his mind, is the only way out of poverty and hardship, he said.

“And that certainly is the message that this administration is going to be pushing in a very, very hard way, in particularly at HUD — reformulating our programs in such a way that we concentrate on the people. The housing is a part of the foundation,” he said.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has been criticized since taking over HUD, first because he lacked experience in housing and lately because his agency spent lavishly on office furniture — including a$31,000 an office suite dining room set  — and a leaked memo suggested he intends to strip anti-discrimination language from the agency’s mission statement, asABC News reported.

In response, HUD officials have said the agency won’t look away from discrimination cases but has simply shifted focus — something that’s common from administration to administration. Carson said he wants HUD to lean more toward fostering what he calls “self-sufficiency.”

“[It’s] one less person we have to pay for in the penal system or the welfare system. [It’s] one more tax-paying, productive member of society who may discover a new energy source or the cure for cancer. I mean, we have enormous resources in our society that we’re not taking advantage of,” he said in Jacksonville.

A recent study byReveal and the Center of Investigative Reporting found that African-Americans and Latinos living in the Jacksonville metro area are twice as likely to be denied conventional home loans as whites, even if they earn the same salary. According to Reveal, many of the city’s lending institutions are regulated by Carson’s agency.

WJCT News was unable to ask Carson about the study because his staff said he had gone over budgeted time and could not answer press questions.

It wasn’t Carson’s first time visiting the River City. Last April he touredthe troubled public housing complex Eureka Garden as renovations began there. The apartment complex’s owner, Tennessee-based Global Ministries Foundation, came under fire after residents went public with conditions like black mold and rotting stairwell supports.  

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.