On a long flight, I meet a kindred spirit: Ben Carson

The U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development is a champion of “opportunity zones.”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

A random seat re-assignment on a recent cross-country flight had me a bit miffed until I met the man next to me, Dr. Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. For someone who has spent the better part of his adult life investing in and managing commercial and apartment properties, it was a gift to sit next to the chief housing policymaker.

We have a lot in common personally, with three adult children and the sort of responsibilities that come with being a father and husband. We both chuckled about stories of our contrarian approaches to thinking about problems and how sometimes it’s gotten us into a bit of trouble.

I spent the next few days researching his interest in supply-side solutions and focus on reducing regulation as a way to get at the cost of housing. “Fifty years of heaping regulation into the development cycle just keeps adding cost,” Carson is quoted saying. “We can do better.”

Carson’s concerned about cultural issues at play with overall neighborhood health, as well, noting a pervasive NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) attitude in too many places that is making it hard to solve some problems in some areas of the country.

He’s excited about some new public-private solutions, including the new “opportunity zones” ushered in by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which he says present an incredible opportunity for people to take unrealized capital gains that would normally be invested in more traditional vehicles and focus them on areas that are neglected. They are are designed to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities by offering tax advantages. His department will publish one more round of guidelines in a few weeks, he says, which will help bring clarity to some remaining issues and stimulate investment. Many areas of Everett and Snohomish County include designated opportunity zones and will benefit, so his work here hits home, for sure.

Tom Hoban

Tom Hoban

Carson’s unique view of the role of housing and its impact on U.S. competitiveness and our human condition is what stands out. A few days prior, at an opportunity-zone project in St. Louis, he was quoted saying, “We’re not going to be able to compete in a world where China and India have four times more people than we do unless we really get serious about developing our people.”

Using housing as a means to develop people? That might be a new and refreshing way of measuring success, one fitting the ethos of a man who has been helping and healing people his whole life.

Columnist Tom Hoban is chairman and co-founder of Hoban Family Office, a real estate investment and services enterprise in Everett.

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