WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats sharply criticized Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday, accusing his agency of failing to enforce fair housing laws.

"HUD is responsible for combating housing discrimination," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told Carson at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. "I was hoping you" would follow the law.

Carson defended his record, saying HUD is involved in many pending lawsuits against wrongdoers.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson
"We simply gave local officials the option of implementing the law now or by 2020. So we did not delay it. That was a mischaracterization," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. Bloomberg News

"We are constantly involved in lawsuits that we have brought against people for housing discrimination," Carson said. "We try to create a fair environment for all people in all of our policies."

But Warren pointed to a delay in implementing Obama-era regulations designed to force local governments to take steps to undo and prevent racial segregation. In 2015, HUD implemented a mandate that requires communities requesting community development block grants to analyze obstacles that minorities face in securing housing and propose plans to address them. But the Trump administration delayed the effective date of that rule until 2020.

"You even said that you won’t review whatever information that cities had already submitted to HUD," Warren said.

Carson argued that HUD was petitioned by "dozens and dozens of cities and municipalities to delay it because of the costs" of implementing the regulations.

"We simply gave local officials the option of implementing the law now or by 2020. So we did not delay it. That was a mischaracterization," Carson said.

Warren continued to press Carson, who is facing criticism for spending $31,000 in taxpayers' money on a new dining room set for his HUD office.

"The biggest scandal in your tenure is your unwillingness to do your job and enforcing laws to reduce housing discrimination and segregation across this country," the Massachusetts Democrat said. "It is HUD's job to help end housing discrimination. You said you would enforce this law. You haven't and that's the scandal that will get you fired."

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., also took Carson to task for housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The Nevada senator noted that HUD removed references on the department's website to protections for LGBT people.

She also noted that Carson has failed to respond to a letter by 28 senators on the issue. Carson replied that HUD did not have a general counsel in place until December.

"You can't tell us to deal with this complex legal issue and not give us the people that we need to do it," Carson said. "It is a complex legal issue that must take into account the rights of all the constituents who are involved and not just one point of view."

The secretary noted that the Senate Banking Committee didn’t approve HUD general counsel Paul Compton until mid-December.

"We have spent a lot of time talking about this issue" since Compton starting working at HUD, Carson said. A response should be coming soon, he said.

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