Secretary Ben Carson’s stumble over a real estate acronym that he heard as Oreo dominated the headlines of a congressional hearing Tuesday about the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the attention it received overshadowed some other serious exchanges.
One came when the Democratic chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee criticized a plan to require that every member of families living in subsidized housing be in the country legally.
Now families can stay together — even if some members are undocumented — as long as someone in the family is eligible for the housing. The HUD-subsidized rent covers only the residents who are eligible — a child born in the United States, for example.
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“The Trump Administration proposal puts mixed-status families at risk of being evicted, separated, and left homeless,” said the chairwoman, California Rep. Maxine Waters.
Democrats are considering blocking the proposal, which The Washington Post reported could displace more than 55,000 children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, according to an analysis from HUD.
Carson said that taxpaying American citizens should be taken care of first.
“It’s not that we’re cruel, mean-hearted,” Carson said in defense of the potential change. “It’s that we are logical. This is common sense. You take care of your own first.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York raised HUD’s so-called “one-strike” rule that allows tenants to be evicted for one instance of criminal activity. She gave the example of someone stopped, frisked and found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana. His or her entire family could be evicted.
“I’m concerned here that the war on drugs has not been solely limited to incarceration and that the negative impact of the war on drugs has not been limited to incarceration, but also we have legislative rippling effects that also seems to have been codified in our housing system,” she said.
She asked whether Carson would support a case-by-case consideration over a blanket “one-strike” policy.
“I’m always in favor of more flexibility,” he said.
Rep. Katie Porter, another Democrat from California, whose questions prompted the Oreo mistake, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday that her questions were serious and not meant to be funny. Porter had asked Carson about REO, an abbreviation for real estate owned, as she probed the high rate of foreclosures on houses insured by the Federal Housing Authority. Carson’s agency oversees the FHA.
Porter, who earlier worked as a mortgage-settlement official, said on Morning Joe that “it’s been a well-known problem that FHA — the agency at the government that is designed to help first-time home buyers and moderate income home buyers, a part of HUD — has real problems in how it services mortgages and how it helps families in foreclosure.”
But in response to her question, Carson asked, "an Oreo?"
Told REO, he guessed that it was short for real estate organization, which was not correct.
On Fox Business Network's Varney & Co on Wednesday, Carson said he did in fact know what an REO was. He was having difficulty hearing, he said.
"Of course, I'm very familiar with foreclosed properties and with REOs," he said.