Wheeler takes on Ben Carson over affordable housing

Ted Wheeler suggested Ben Carson 'step aside and allow someone up to the task to lead'

Mayor Wheeler responded to Ben Carson's comments on affordable housing. (KOIN/AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler responded Wednesday to comments Housing Secretary Ben Carson made about government involvement in affordable housing.

Carson told NPR that “We just need to move…away from the concept that only the government can solve this problem.” Carson’s statements come at a time when tax incentives under the proposed GOP tax reform bill to build affordable housing could be diminished or go away entirely — and Portland relies heavily on those tax incentives to build affordable housing.

Wheeler responded to the comments on Twitter, saying the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to “step up to the plate and create a real solutions for our housing crisis.”

He also said these type of projects can’t happen without federal help and suggested Carson “step aside and allow someone up to the task to lead.”

The future of affordable housing is uncertain under the Trump Administration — especially under the proposed tax plan.

Michael Cox — deputy chief of staff at Wheeler’s office — said, “In this particular case, he is wrong. We need federal help, we need the federal tools to be able to help build more affordable housing in our city.”

Wheeler also told Carson via Twitter that Portland is “stepping up” by authorizing a new project with 13 floors of affordable housing. Portland City Council approved a new housing development in the South Waterfront on Wednesday. The development will feature 203 multi-family units, including permanent supportive housing and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing, according to Wheeler.

The South Waterfront is known as an expensive part of town to live in, but residents told KOIN 6 News they’re embracing the idea of having low-income families live in the neighborhood.

“I’m absolutely okay with it,” resident Peter van Bever said. “We need more affordable housing in Portland. If we don’t have affordable housing, where do people who can’t afford the high prices around here live?”

Due to the proposed GOP tax plan, Commissioners Nick Fish said Portland is racing against the clock.

“We’re trying to accelerate the develop timeline,” Fish said. “We’re pushing things through the pipeline and every city up and down the West Coast to beat the deadline.”

Construction on the new affordable housing is scheduled to start in January. The city said there are many other projects coming up as well, which will be announced soon if the development for those projects gets accelerated.

KOIN 6 News also reached out to Carson’s office, but their media representative said he would be providing no comment on the matter.

As of Thursday afternoon, Carson has not responded to Wheeler’s tweets.

A rendering of the new affordable housing development in the South Waterfront. (Courtesy: Ankrom Moisan Architects and BRIDGE Housing)