Congressman Denver Riggleman Questions HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Opportunity Zones and Rural Development
Washington D.C. - Congressman Riggleman questioned Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Tuesday in a House Financial Services Committee hearing. Riggleman asked about how HUD was incentivizing opportunity zones to help support economic growth including in southside Virginia.
"Another topic I would like to address is opportunity zones and the reason there is because I have the biggest district in Virginia. It is actually bigger than six states. It is bigger than New Jersey and we have the most, even though we have one of the eleven districts, I think we have 18% of the opportunity zones throughout the entire state," said Congressman Riggleman. "They were created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to stimulate economic growth and job creation. Could you discuss some of things HUD is doing to incentivize economic growth in low-income communities through opportunity zones and do you see the criteria for designating opportunity zones changing or expanding in the future?"
Opportunity zones were established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to spur growth in rural areas. Working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development is another way Congressman Riggleman is keeping his promise to grow the economy in southside Virginia.
You can watch Congressman Riggleman's full questions here, and a full transcript of the exchange can be found below.
Thank you madam chairwoman and ranking member McHenry. Secretary Carson, I appreciate you taking the time to answer all of our questions today. Having escaped poverty and lived in public housing, you certainly bring an important perspective. To me, the housing challenges we are facing today and we are grateful to have you here. In your June 20 testimony before the financial services committee, you mentioned the issue of the FHA having to deal with what you called very archaic IT. Just last Thursday HUD received a federal information technology innovation award for advancements in data analytics and digital transformation, which I am a little familiar with. Could you expound on some of things HUD has been working on over the last year to modernize old IT systems and secondly, in your opinion, what specific things still need to be done in order to bring HUD’s IT programs up to date?
Well you know still a lot of our platforms are forty years old, so technology has been left behind. But, what we have done is been able to create a dashboard that gives us real-time information about where our grant money is and how it is being spent. And this allows us to provide more flexibility to the various jurisdictions so that’s something that I am very excited about. And FHA, thanks to Congress, we have been able to at least start updating our information technology platform. It’s going to take quite a bit more, but we are getting there and that’s the important thing because we do not want to fall behind all the other servicers and that puts a lot of taxpayer money at risk, but it also makes us inefficient and that is something we want to change as quickly as possible.
Thank you because I think forty years ago I was playing pong so I am glad you say there are some advancements going on here so thank you for that. Another topic I would like to address is opportunity zones and the reason there is because I have the biggest district in Virginia. It is actually bigger than six states. It is bigger than New Jersey and we have the most, even though we have one of the eleven districts, I think we have 18% of the opportunity zones throughout the entire state. They were created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to stimulate economic growth and job creation. Could you discuss some of things HUD is doing to incentivize economic growth in low income communities through opportunity zones and do you see the criteria for designating opportunity zones changing or expanding in the future?
Yeah, we are providing preference points for people who are willing to go into opportunity zones. You can buy something there. You can build something there. You can invest in something there. There are number of mechanisms you can utilize. We are also providing expertise. People who can help people create programs that will attract other resources to the area and ways to partner with entities that already exist within the opportunity zones.
As everybody already knows already, I am very supportive of opportunity zones, especially with the Fifth District of Virginia having so many. And we do not have a lot time, but I think I have one more question here. And I thank you again very much for answering these questions. Over the last several years we have seen a dramatic increase in natural disasters. In my district particularly, we have been affected by multiple hurricanes and flooding. In your opinion, how would you rate HUD’s response to the most recent disasters?
Well we have had an unprecedented number of disasters since I’ve become the HUD secretary. I hope I have not caused them. The fact of the matter is, I think the response has been good. I am never satisfied with it. That is why I am always asking is there something else we can be doing to get these funds out faster. But do recognize that HUD is the long-term entity when it comes to a disaster. SBA, FEMA, army corps of engineers, those are the short-term responders. Having said that, I still want to speed the process up. So, the whole concept of codification in certain arenas is a good concept. Taking out unnecessary steps, a very good concept. I would personally to get it down to you have a disaster, 6 months you got everything you need.
Thank you, Secretary Carson, very much and I yield my time.