A top official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development resigned yesterday after giving up her fight against the Trump administration’s housing policy and its efforts to redirect disaster-recovery funding away from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure, according to an article in The Washington Post.
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Pam Patenaude was the Deputy Secretary of HUD and the number two official of the agency led by Ben Carson. With 30 years of experience in housing and public policy, she was widely seen as running the agency while Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no prior background in the areas he was chosen to oversee, learned the basics of the department’s operations.
Patenaude’s resignation was attributed to her frustrations with a role that a former co-worker described as a “Sisyphean undertaking.”
While the exiting Deputy Secretary has publicly denied that conflicts with the Trump administration inspired her departure, she is leaving at a time when HUD is already suffering from a government shutdown that has made its operations impossible to continue as normal.
According to The Post, Patenaude’s departure is described by both housing advocates and HUD employees as a major blow to the agency which has suffered from morale issues among career employees under Carson’s leadership.
“She knows the HUD building, the issues, the policies and the politics. She was an especially strong and important counterpoint to Secretary Carson’s early lack of knowledge on any of the issues that he was expected to lead on,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “When she battled some of the more ideologically far-right members of her administration, she typically won.”
One battle that was particularly troubling for the departing Deputy Secretary was the administration’s interference with the allocation of disaster-recovery money appropriated by Congress for Puerto Rico and other states hit by hurricanes.
“President Trump in late September grew incensed after hearing, erroneously, that Puerto Rico was using the emergency money to pay off its debt, according to two people with direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking,” The Post writes.
“Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations. Instead, he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida, the person said. ‘POTUS was not consolable about this,'” they continued.
The news about Trump’s stance towards Puerto Rican disaster relief astounded Twitter commentators.
The president’s opposition made Patenaude’s work with Puerto Rican government officials to establish an oversight structure and meet other conditions to receive federal funding all the more crucial.
Patenaude told The Post: “I didn’t push back. I advocated for Puerto Rico and assured the White House that Puerto Rico had sufficient financial controls in place and had put together a thoughtful housing and economic development recovery plan.”
“She didn’t want to abandon Puerto Rico,” one HUD official said. “Once she felt like she left Puerto Rico in a good place, she felt like she could leave.” Unfortunately, the government shutdown has prevented the Puerto Rican government from accessing the first $1.5 billion of its nearly $20 billion in HUD disaster-relief funds.
The resignation of HUD’s Deputy Secretary fits a broad pattern of many political appointees with actual expertise in their fields who are leaving the administration. Patenaude is the third senior political appointee with housing experience to leave HUD in recent weeks.
The revelation about Trump’s spiteful attitude towards Puerto Rico based on fallacious information and his attempts to redirect the money towards states on the mainland is simply more proof of the president’s bigotry towards anyone who is not part of his white, right-wing base.
The more surprising news is that a political appointee was attempting to minimize the damage Trump’s ignorant and hateful actions were causing. It’s all the more reason to regret Patenaude’s resignation.
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Original reporting by Tracy JanArelis R. Hernández Josh Dawsey, Damian Paletta at The Washington Post.