WASHINGTON — Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said he doesn’t know why DACA recipients are being turned down for housing loans backed by his agency.
Carson’s comments Wednesday came in response to questions from members of Congress after BuzzFeed News reported in December that the Trump administration was quietly denying the loans, meant for low-income buyers, to people with DACA status.
“I asked around after I read that story,” Carson told members of Congress. “No one was aware of any changes that had been made to the policy whatsoever. I’m sure we have plenty of DACA recipients who have FHA-backed loans.”
But lenders told BuzzFeed News — and in some cases shared emails they had received from HUD help desks — that they are receiving guidance specifically that DACA recipients’ employment authorization cards are no longer valid for the program. DACA recipients also told BuzzFeed News that they had been denied the Federal Housing Administration loans because of their DACA status. Realtors and industry associations also confirmed at the time that they had noticed the change, despite a lack of an official policy from HUD.
HUD’s policies on FHA loans do not specifically address DACA, but say noncitizens are eligible for loans if they meet various criteria, including employment authorization requirements.
Rep. Pete Aguilar asked Carson at Wednesday’s hearing if he was aware that the FHA, which is part of HUD, has been advising lenders that DACA recipients are no longer eligible for federally backed housing loans.
Carson said it would “surprise” him if DACA recipients were being turned down for the loans. Multiple DACA recipients and housing loan lenders who work with them told BuzzFeed News that they had received guidance on phone help lines, at conferences, and over email from HUD officials that DACA recipients no longer qualify for the loans.
“It’s HUD’s decision that FHA loans can no longer be made to DACA. We are following HUD rules,” said one lender at USA Mortgage, who turned down an FHA-backed loan to DACA recipient Edith Aguirre Vazquez in November last year.
Aguilar asked Carson on Wednesday if it was possible that someone other than Carson had instructed HUD officers to tell lenders not to approve the loans.
“Of course it is possible, certainly no one authorized by us,” Carson said. He also said he has “instructed everyone to follow the laws of the US with regard to DACA, with regard to anyone who is an immigrant or a potential immigrant to this country.”
FHA-backed loans are more attainable particularly for young people and low-income people looking to buy a home. The Mortgage Bankers Association wrote to HUD last year asking the agency to clarify its position on lending to DACA recipients and didn’t receive a response addressing that question.
House and Senate Democrats wrote to HUD in December in response to BuzzFeed News’ reporting, asking HUD for details on why lenders are being given this guidance when they reach out to HUD help lines and at conferences. In response, HUD said its policy has not changed.
The name of the Federal Housing Administration was misstated in an earlier version of this post.