When Ben Carson first took the reins of American public housing — a system plagued by a $49 billion repairs backlog, in which entire complexes regularly lack heat and hot water in the winter — his greatest concern was that its tenants might be too comfortable in their lodgings. As the New York Times reported last May:
As he toured facilities for the poor in Ohio last week, Mr. Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-housing secretary, joked that a relatively well-appointed apartment complex for veterans lacked “only pool tables.” He inquired at one stop whether animals were allowed. At yet another, he nodded, plainly happy, as officials explained how they had stacked dozens of bunk beds inside a homeless shelter and purposefully did not provide televisions.
Compassion, Mr. Carson explained in an interview, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”
But Carson has taken a decidedly different view of the value of creature comforts when it comes to his own accommodations (apparently, the Housing secretary bestowed so much “compassion” on his constituents, he had none left to spare for himself).
On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that a career official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development had filed a lawsuit alleging that Carson’s wife had instructed her to “find” extra (read: an illegally high sum of) money to refurbish her husband’s office — and that when she refused to honor this request, the Carsons had her punitively demoted.
Helen Foster said she was told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” after informing her bosses this was the legal price limit for improvements to the HUD secretary’s suite at the department’s Washington headquarters.
… Trump last September nominated Suzanne Israel Tufts, a veteran Republican operative from his home county of Queens, New York, as HUD’s assistant secretary for administration, a position that Foster said subsumed her job. Foster was moved to the role of chief privacy and FOIA officer.
Now, people allege a lot of things in lawsuits. And one might have reasonably taken Foster’s account with a grain of salt — after all, would anyone really say, “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair”?
But on Tuesday night, the New York Times confirmed that this is exactly the kind of thing that the leadership of HUD would say. The paper reveals that, while the department was planning billions in cuts to federal spending on public housing (austerity that is all but certain to increase the nation’s homeless population) late last year, HUD spent $31,000 on a custom dining-room set for Carson’s office.
The purchase of the custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch came a month after a top agency staff member filed a whistle-blower complaint charging Mr. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, with pressuring department officials to find money for the expensive redecoration of his offices, even if it meant circumventing the law.
… Mr. Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it, said Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” he added.
In other words: If it were fiscally possible to buy a decent dining-room set for less than $31,000, the Housing secretary surely would have done so.