Public-private partnerships and changing zoning laws are key to building affordable housing, the U.S. government’s top housing executive said while visiting Las Vegas on Thursday morning.
“Where is the money? In the private sector,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. “If you can create programs that allow them to make money while at the same provide funding which allows us to ameliorate the living environments for other people, I don’t know how you get better than that.”
Carson toured the showroom floor of the the National Association of Home Builders’ annual convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center, then gave a 30-minute address to an audience of hundreds at the Westgate casino-resort.
He said that HUD wants to privatize more of its aging public housing inventory through a rental assistance program that uses private investments to revitalize low-income housing. The program was responsible for North Las Vegas’ only public housing complex, Rose Gardens, to be rebuilt last year.
New public housing projects will be smaller and more targeted than those of the past, Carson said.
“They’re tailored to the communities,” he said. “They’re not built in the middle of a block of homes in an established neighborhood. You put them on a periphery.”
Local zoning regulations must be shifted away from single-family home lots to multifamily housing, Carson said. Governments that kept “archaic state and local regulatory barriers” will have decreased chances at receiving HUD grants.
“It’s time to untie the hands of our nation’s home builders by putting the ‘free’ back into the free market,” he said.
Carson praised innovations in home building he saw on the conference’s showroom floor as critical to protecting homes from the destruction of both natural disasters and mundane problems like mold. He promised that HUD would speed up the adoption of new techniques, technologies and materials.
“The wheels of change roll slowly, about the speed of a crippled snail, but we are giving that snail a wheelchair, and I think it’s going to make a big difference,” Carson said.
And he unveiled that HUD is expediting the process of financing affordable housing projects by making to easier to combine the federal tax credit program with HUD loans for the construction and rehabilitation of rental housing.
While the Nevada Legislature is considering many tactics to build affordable housing — including rent control, inclusionary zoning and tax credits — Carson declined to support or approve any of the proposals.
“We don’t find it useful to get into battles,” he said in an interview before his speech.
During the interview, Carson responded to recent criticism of his initiative to open centralized hubs for low-income housing residents to receive social services in 17 communities nationwide.
Not one EnVision Center has opened since the program was announced last June, according to a NBC News report. HUD officials told NBC that housing officials are still gathering input from community leaders and residents about their needs before opening the centers.
“The EnVision Centers are a new concept, and there’s a lot of groundwork has to be done,” Carson said Thursday. “Very good progress is being made with that, but it doesn’t happen it instantly.”
Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority executive director Chad Williams, told NBC that the centers are a “failed policy perception,” told the Review-Journal that he couldn’t open one without additional funding and staffing from HUD.
“I think it’s unnecessary,” he said of the EnVision Centers. “We could set up something similar in our own offices.”