Dear Dr. Ben Carson

We have sent our letter inviting Dr. Ben Carson to visit Philadelphia to the offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in anticipation of his confirmation as Secretary. Thank you to the 76 organizations and 283 individuals who signed onto our letter. 

Dear Dr. Carson,

Congratulations on being nominated to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We strongly agree with your recent statement that we can’t have a strong nation if we have weak neighborhoods in our cities. Indeed, Philadelphia’s community development corporations (CDCs) and allied organizations exist to create and maintain strong neighborhoods. HUD plays a valuable role in our work, so as you develop your top priorities pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate, we hope you’ll consider these recommendations:

Get to know Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and other non- and for- profits on the front lines of equitable neighborhood revitalization.

In your confirmation hearing, you pledged to conduct a listening tour to hear from people with “boots on the ground.”  We invite you to Philadelphia so you can listen to CDCs, neighborhood groups, other non-profits, and for-profits that rely on HUD resources and programs.  We build and manage affordable homes so that our neighbors with low-incomes have safe, quality places to live, and can escape homelessness.  We repair existing homes that have become unhealthy or unsafe because the homeowner can’t afford critical repairs, and we provide housing counseling to help those facing foreclosure save their homes. 

We run job-training programs, recruit small businesses to fill vacant storefronts, and make our neighborhood commercial corridors safe, clean, and attractive to spur economic activity. As neighborhood-based organizations, we are driven by the needs of our residents, and rely on their guidance and participation in our work, as we develop solutions from the ground-up.

You have raised concern about top-down programs that don’t have the desired outcomes, so we think you’ll like the solutions we’re generating from the ground-up here in Philadelphia. 

Address the affordable housing crisis in Philadelphia and other cities.

Philadelphia has an affordable housing crisis, which is worsening.  There are more than 70,000 extremely low-income households that are paying an unsustainably high percentage of their income on rent. Our city lost over 23,000 units of low-cost rental units between 2000 – 2014, waiting lists for affordable homes are decades long, and thousands are turned away from homelessness services each year.  Current HUD programs ranging from support of public housing, grants to non-profits for housing development and services, and other programs are effective, but are vastly under-resourced.  We hope you will continue the programs and strategies that work, and engage Philadelphia’s affordable housing experts in coming up with new, innovative solutions that would allow us to solve the affordable housing crisis under your tenure as HUD Secretary.    

Be an advocate for boosting the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the HOME Program, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).   

To do the work described above and more, we rely on federal funds from HUD, which we use to leverage more state and local government funding, private philanthropic dollars, and private sector equity.  These investments not only transform people’s lives and neighborhoods, they pay off:  investments by Philadelphia’s CDCs contributed $5.1 billion to the Pennsylvania economy over a twenty year period, creating over 37,000 jobs.  Our locally funded Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund, which provides gap financing to projects that rely heavily on CDBG, HOME and LIHTC, has led to 9,655 construction jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs over a ten year period, boosted property values nearby, and generated tax revenue that funds police, fire, schools, and other vital services.  

Unfortunately, over $40 million in funding cuts for Philadelphia’s annual CDBG and HOME program allocations have made it increasingly difficult to meet our community’s needs, and recent proposals from Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and President-Elect Trump to withhold CDBG funds from cities like Philadelphia over unrelated policy disagreements threaten our work even further.  We hope you will be a steadfast advocate for protecting CDBG and HOME, and push for restoring lost funding so we can create healthy, sustainable neighborhoods.   

We are glad to hear that there is strong support from the Republican caucus in the Congress to maintain and strengthen the LIHTC program, and we hope you will also join us in advocating for this vital affordable home financing tool.

Take another look at the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH).

We believe that every Philadelphian should have the opportunity to choose to live in a great neighborhood, and that every Philadelphian’s neighborhood should be a great place to live. Research has shown that children in poor families have a greater likelihood to escape poverty in their lifetimes if they grow up in quality neighborhoods, which helps them become self-sufficient.  

Philadelphia was one of the first cities to submit its Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) to HUD, and it represents a balanced approach to achieving both of those goals by planning to make land and resources available to create affordable housing opportunities in distressed neighborhoods, as well as in neighborhoods that already provide opportunity.  It also sets other goals to help provide affordable housing assistance to communities that have historically been underrepresented.  This plan was developed locally, with input from neighborhood-level stakeholders, and we would love your help to ensure we have the resources and support from HUD to implement it. 

In closing, we hope you’ll rely on the expertise and experience of Philadelphia’s leaders in community development as you step into your new role.  CDCs and allied groups here in Philadelphia and in many communities across the country are on the front lines in fighting poverty and distress, and we look forward to working with you as a partner in that work.  We welcome you to visit us here in Philadelphia to discuss more.