MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In a situation that may be emblematic of things to come, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson got stuck in an elevator while touring affordable housing in Miami.
Carson was with Heat legend Alonzo Mourning at the Courtside Family Apartments, at 1699 NW 4th Avenue, when his elevator car came to a grinding halt. The HUD secretary was stuck inside for about 15 minutes until Miami firefighters got him out.
— Ben Carson (@SecretaryCarson) April 12, 2017
The beginning of Carson’s visit to Miami could be a metaphor for public housing, where hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting lists, and thousands of units are shut down every year because of decay and disrepair.
He’s in town as part of a national listening tour. He wants to hear from people and organizations that rely on and support public housing.
Carson acknowledged the problem as he met with the local leaders on his “national housing listening tour.”
“We have three to four times as many people in this country in need of public housing than we are providing right now,” Carson said.
While Carson met with the folks in dress clothes at a project community center, folks in street clothes protested outside.
The Trump administration is proposing slashing HUD’s funding this year by more than $6 billion. It bodes more people homeless.
“Experts and advocates have said the overall reduction in HUD’s budget will put tremendous strain on the nation’s housing authorities, which manage public housing and rely heavily on federal funding,” according to a recent Washington Post report.
The significant cuts to maintenance funds would affect the backlog of repair work in public housing buildings nationwide – including elevators like the one that Carson got stuck in.
“We need funding for housing. Housing is a human right!” shouted the demonstrators.
Many of those who showed up to hear what Carson had to say wondered if he understood the problems that plague public housing.
“We lose out, you know, we’re the people who end up losing out and end up getting the bitter end of the stick,” said Shantay Wallace.
Wallace, a mother of three, knows all too well the difficulty in finding a place to live. She was lucky to get an apartment at Courtside, but not before months of searching.
“You’ve got to look for a place that’s affordable, for one somewhere that’s affordable and nice that, you know, would want to stay with your kids. The process was very, very hard,” said Wallace.
She hopes the secretary’s listening tour and experience will show him the need to fight for funding.
“No cuts please, we don’t need the cuts, we need the money. We need the funding for the housing, for the kids, I mean, think about our future and our kids,” said Wallace.
Carson toed a conservative line.
“People are in the mindset that only the government can solve these problems,” Carson said. The housing secretary said more private investors need to get into public housing.
“There’s a lot of money right now in America that’s been sitting on the sidelines for many years,” Carson said.
Carson toured the mammoth Liberty Square complex, one of the oldest, most dilapidated in the country, with developer Jorge Perez of the Related Group.
Perez’s company will spend hundreds of millions of dollars rehabilitating Liberty Square, and reap profits through government subsidies.
Perez said private investors will stay away from public housing in droves if the government doesn’t provide a steady profit incentive.
“Not only do you need not to cut housing programs, but you need to increase the funding from the federal government for these programs,” Perez said.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez thanked Carson for approving the Liberty Square project, but echoed worries over housing cuts.
“We want to make sure that the secretary understands the importance of public housing, affordable housing, and the needs of the people not only of Miami Dade County but throughout the country, and that he takes that message back to the president,” Gimenez said.
Carson told CBS4’s Rudabeh Shahbazi in a one-on-one interview that he can figure it out, cut costs.
“We are concerned about efficiency and effectiveness,” Carson said in the interview.
Critics would counter though you don’t have to be a brain surgeon, and Carson is one, to know that when it comes to oxymorons, among the great ones is “government efficiency.”
Carson’s lasts stop on his visit to South Florida was Florida Memorial University in Miami gardens. The secretary renewed a program that grants paid internships to FMU students, to work and learn at HUD.
Thursday, Carson is scheduled to meet with Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Commissioner Esteban Bovo and other local officials.