If it wasn’t downright terrifying, it would be sort of comical how hard it is for Donald Trump to keep employees in his administration. Over the last two years, we’ve seen the mass exodus of political appointees and career staffers who have realized that they want nothing to do with the dumpster fire that is the Trump presidency. Today’s high-profile departure is the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Pam Patenaude. According to the Washington Post, Patenaude resigned Thursday amid frustrations with the agency’s political leadership—specifically its views on housing policy and its attempts to divert disaster-recovery money for Puerto Rico.
Who can blame her? Under this administration, HUD is a complete mess. The agency’s current secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, has no experience and is completely unfit to lead housing policy. Instead of working on behalf of poor people and communities, Carson is trying his best to raise the rents of poor people in public housing. Agency employees have said that morale among career staffers has declined under his leadership.
Before the shutdown, HUD failed to renew hundreds of contracts for affordable housing. This means that low-income tenants may not have access to stable housing, and property owners are not getting paid. In other words, under Carson’s watch, vulnerable people were just made even more vulnerable to homelessness, while Trump keeps the government closed over his mad quest for a border wall.
Though Patenaude claims to be leaving for personal reasons and to “spend time with her husband at their home in New Hampshire,” her confidantes say that it’s actually because she had some major disagreements with Carson on several issues. One of them had to do with addressing racism in housing.
Patenaude disagreed with the agency’s handling of an Obama-era fair-housing rule requiring communities receiving federal funds to address long-standing patterns of racial segregation, according to three people with direct knowledge of internal HUD debates. Carson had suspended the 2015 rule, calling it “burdensome.”
Patenaude was also a vocal advocate for Puerto Rico. She visited the island six times during her tenure and was trying to make sure a recovery plan was in place post-Hurricane Maria. She recently met with Puerto Rico’s governor to discuss the development of affordable housing. Her departure represents not just a loss for the agency, but also a loss for sensible leadership within the administration on behalf of Puerto Rico. According to Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington, “Pam Patenaude showed the most commitment to Puerto Rico of any of the public officials inside the Trump administration.”
It’s to be expected that political appointees come and go based on interests and relationships with the administration. But it’s another thing entirely to lose career civil servants en masse because of the incompetence and malice of this president and his friends. It’s sad to lose an experienced administrator and a voice of reason. But we should all wish Patenaude well in her departure. We can only imagine the hell and sheer stupidity she’s had to put up with over the last two years.