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HUD secretary visits San Felipe Pueblo amid housing shortage

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

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Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in June. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

SAN FELIPE PUEBLO – The top housing official in President Donald Trump’s administration toured a low-income housing subdivision about 30 minutes north of Albuquerque on Tuesday – his first “extensive opportunity” to visit a tribal reservation since taking office.

In meetings closed to the press, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson toured a 30-unit development built with help from low-income housing tax credits, and he met with about a dozen tribal leaders from throughout New Mexico at San Felipe Pueblo Day School.

He joked about the lack of grass and heard from the pueblo governor about a shortage of housing.

San Felipe Pueblo Gov. Anthony Ortiz said the tour and meeting were a chance to educate Carson and others about the need for funding and services.

The subdivision they toured, Ortiz said, isn’t big enough for the number of people in need.

“It really concerns me – alarms me – when there’s multiple families living in one home,” Ortiz said.

He and Carson met briefly with reporters after the tour. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican candidate for governor, also attended.

Carson said it was his “first really extensive opportunity” to visit a reservation since taking office, though he said he’d visited a tribal area in Montana earlier.

The administration, he said, is working on “finding ways to get more people trained and get more people real skills, so they can be involved in the building of their own homes, their own neighborhoods – but acquire the kind of skills that give them the independence to basically be self-sufficient in all areas of life.”

Carson said it was important for him to hear firsthand from tribal leaders about their most pressing problems and how the federal government can help.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 but withdrew from the race in March of that year.

He joined the Trump administration about a year later as secretary of housing and urban development.

Pearce said Tuesday that he is sponsoring efforts to reauthorize a federal program that provides block grants to tribes to address housing needs. The program has passed the U.S. House twice in recent years, he said, but failed in the Senate.

“If we can find more funding,” Pearce said, “the number of people needing homes on reservations is pretty dramatic.”

Marg Elliston, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, accused the Trump administration of using government resources to “put on a fake ‘congressional event,’ miles outside of Pearce’s district.”

Pearce is competing with U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, in the race for governor.