- - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Government should be a means of empowerment, not dependency, as well as a safety net. As President Trump discusses building America’s workforce, public housing has a role in that discussion. Those who receive housing assistance must have a path toward jobs, wealth creation and economic improvement. We must remove attitudes, regulations, policies and programs that reinforce dependence.

There will be resistance. There is a culture that, step-by-step, wants to craft dependence, removing individual hope and crushing responsibility. As I have spoken about addressing self-sufficiency, there has been a response. Yes, we want to protect the elderly, the disabled and the sick. But what about those who want to contribute to the economy, want the self-respect of a job, and don’t want to be supported by the public? What about them? What about the taxpayer, who is looking for relief? What about the companies that need skilled workers?

We have the means to help: At the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we are working to lift many of the barriers to employment for people in public housing. HUD’s Section 3 program requires that recipients of certain HUD grants, to the greatest extent possible, provide job training, employment and contract opportunities for low- or very low-income residents with projects and activities in their neighborhoods. Often this involves matching unemployed, able people in public housing with jobs in construction or other opportunities.

Companies have identified thousands of unfilled jobs in our biggest cities. These are good, well-paying jobs in technology, manufacturing, infrastructure, construction and elsewhere.

Why do they remain unfilled? In some cases, because the job skills are not available. Helping people develop the skills they need to compete for today’s jobs can transform lives and strengthen economies. This is especially important for those living in public housing — those who want good jobs and would benefit tremendously from having them. We must help place them. We must help them qualify.

So we must go beyond current efforts. For example, there must be more access to education. We need to work with high schools, community colleges and other educational institutions to match skill acquisition with available jobs, more classes, training and knowledge. Employers and educational institutions must have more dialogue with public housing authorities, and vice versa.

We must also involve more local businesses in our efforts, opening doors and minds. Local governments could become involved, creating a more inviting employment environment through changes in regulations and school curriculum.

Everyone has a role, helping those who want a path out of assistance to see ahead and find the means for independence. We also need public housing authorities to make more of an effort to match people and jobs. And for those who are able to work, we must become more dynamic in putting them on the path to self-sufficiency. It is time to shake things up. Let’s embrace a future with more freedom and optimism.

HUD’s Section 3 program has room for improvement, but there are signs of progress and best practices that need to be shared and adopted. We have found that some public housing authorities have been very vigorous. Some have made job matching a priority. It should be. Some have been extremely dedicated and proactive in locating jobs. Some have even built a directory of jobs, looking to provide a wide range of choices and opportunities. Some have leveraged technology to structure cutting-edge reporting of openings and secure accountability under the law.

Section 3 has been the law since 1968, and it continues to demonstrate how public housing can provide more than just shelter. We must still help society’s most vulnerable, with humanity, concern and care. But there must also be a path forward, a path out of poverty. Everyone would benefit: those in public housing, employers, taxpayers and the nation.

• Ben Carson is secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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