Ben Carson tours Miami housing complex built with grant Trump wants eliminated

Housing Secretary Ben Carson toured a Miami apartment complex Thursday that one of his hosts said wouldn’t exist without the federal program that the White House wants eliminated.

“This building wouldn’t have come to fruition without the HOME fund,” Stephanie Berman, president of Carrfour Supportive Housing, said a few steps from Carson during his tour of one of the charity’s Miami properties, the Villa Aurora apartments.

The $950 million HOME program would end under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget for Housing and Urban Development, part of a 13 percent cut for the department that Carson heads.

Trump’s push for a leaner HUD has Miami’s local governments on edge, given the county’s loss of $6 million in homeless grants under the Obama administration and the millions more of housing and development funds that flow from Carson’s agency into municipal budgets. HUD’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program — commonly known as “CDBG” — also would end under Trump’s budget. That could mean a loss of $4 million a year in Miami alone, according to a city analysis.

Carson didn’t address the pros and cons of HOME or other funding, but cautioned against reading too much into reports on the president’s proposed budget.

“If you look at various budget stories, it says we’re going to eliminate HOME, we’re going to eliminate CDBG, this, that and the other,” Carson said, naming two HUD programs listed as being eliminated in Trump’s official budget proposal.

“What you need to concentrate on is: The parts of these programs that are functioning well — and that are maintaining people — are going to be preserved,” Carson said during a press conference at Hialeah’s Hoffman Gardens low-income townhouse development. “There may be a different nomenclature. We may not call it the same thing …We are clearly going to maintain these programs that are going very well.”

The former brain surgeon and one-time presidential candidate hopscotched through Miami-Dade’s federally funded housing properties Thursday, wrapping up a two-day tour of the Miami area with his wife, Candy Carson. It will be best remembered for his brief time Wednesday in a public housing complex’s malfunctioning elevator, a moment that drew global attention and countless social-media metaphors.

“We checked all the elevators,” Ronald Book, chairman of Miami-Dade’s homeless board, told Carson Thursday before they headed up to tour a seventh-floor apartment at Villa Aurora.

Opened in 2009, the 12-story Villa Aurora complex has 39 apartments reserved for people being assisted by the county’s homeless agency and 37 for low-income residents. It cost about $28 million to build, with most of that coming from a federal tax-credit program that’s not listed as being cut in the Trump budget. The HOME program contributed $1.5 million, according to Miami-Dade’s Homeless Trust, the agency that disperses tax dollars to local charities and providers.

Book cited the proposed cuts in a letter last week to members of Congress from Florida, saying nearly 300 women and children are receiving rental assistance alone through HOME money administered by Miami’s Lotus House.

While the proposed Trump cuts to HUD have caused alarm in Miami and beyond, Washington insiders have dismissed the president’s proposal as more a wish list than a road map to future funding. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami-Dade and a rare Trump supporter among South Florida’s congressional delegation during the campaign, told reporters at Villa Aurora that Congress, not the White House, will be deciding HOME’s fate.

“The president doesn’t do the legislating. Congress does,” said Diaz-Balart, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees HUD funding. Asked if he backed the HOME program, Diaz-Balart pointed to the existing legislation authorizing HOME’s current budget, which came through his panel. “If I didn’t support the HOME funding,” he said in the Villa Aurora lobby, “it wouldn’t be in my bill.”

Villa Aurora was Carson’s second stop in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. His public schedule included a visit to the Versailles Cuban restaurant off Southwest Eighth Street — best known as Calle Ocho. At the iconic walk-up window, Carson was joined by Linda McMahon, the former pro-wrestling magnate named by Trump to head the Small Business Administration.

The locale made sense: Versailles is arguably Miami’s most famous restaurant, and a family-owned business that has leveraged its high profile into a lucrative chain of cafes at Miami International Airport that generate about $7 million a year in sales, according to county figures.

But the photo op detoured a bit from normal practice when Carson and McMahon both opted to skip Versailles’ signature Cuban coffee. Carson followed McMahon’s lead and ordered a chicken empanada, which the two ate in a private dining room kept off limits to press.

Carson press secretary Raffi Williams explained outside: “He’s not a big coffee drinker.”

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