Trump family friend’s potential role at HUD raises concerns over conflict of interest
Lynne Patton has maintained close ties with the Trump family since 2009. During President Trump’s campaign, she spoke at the Republican National Convention and stood on stage with the family on election night. Now, she appears poised to take on a new role at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as Administrator of Region II, the agency’s largest regional office, which covers New York and New Jersey. In New York City, HUD oversees Starrett City, a low-income property that receives federal subsidies as part of the Section 8 program. The Trump Organization owns about 4% of the Starrett property, valued between $5 million and $25 million.
Patton began working for the Trump family as an event planner. According to her Public Financial Disclosure Report, filed when she began in a different role at HUD in January, she worked as “Vice President & Senior Aide to the Trump Family” while at the Trump Organization, and as “Vice President and Board Member” at the Eric Trump Foundation. Patton worked as a Senior Assistant to Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump, and has maintained a close friendship with Eric and his wife Lara, fundraising and managing events for their charitable foundation and even helping to plan their wedding. In May 2016, she posted the viral YouTube video, “The Trump Family That I Know,” to oppose allegations of racism and sexism against Trump during the presidential campaign. Patton calls Eric Trump “the brother I never had,” and recently spoke out against claims that the Eric Trump Foundation funneled charitable donations into the Trump Organization.
President Trump reportedly offered Patton a position in the White House, among several other options, and she elected to work under Secretary Ben Carson at HUD as a Senior Advisor and Director of the Office of Public Liaison. In that position she had no direct control over low-income subsidies. However, in her potential new role as Regional Administrator, Patton would have jurisdiction over properties in New York, including several in which the Trump Organization has an ownership interest. She would also oversee the New York City Housing Authority, which receives about 70% of its operational budget and 100% of its repair budget from HUD. According to federal officials, Patton is expected to begin her new role on July 5, overseeing rental vouchers, block grants for “funding housing inspections and senior citizen programs,” and distribution of billions of dollars to public housing authorities. President Trump’s proposed budget includes $6 billion in cuts to the agency.
The Region II Administrator position has been vacant since January 20. Although there has been no official announcement from HUD, federal officials had confirmed Patton’s appointment and start date to the New York Daily News last Thursday, sparking outrage from members of Congress and housing advocates. According to the New York Daily News, Patton’s LinkedIn profile has misrepresented a law degree from Quinnipiac University, and HUD officials were unable to explain why her profile included a mention of Yale, which she did not attend, under the “Education” heading.
Patton tweeted to clarify the discrepancy about law school in her LinkedIn profile, but she neither disputed nor confirmed the news regarding her new HUD appointment. Her profile still lists current positions at HUD, at the Trump Organization, and with the Trump campaign.
Patton does not have any previous experience in public housing policy or urban development. In May, she visited New York to inspect public housing facilities while serving as Senior Advisor to Secretary Carson. According to Shola Olatoye, Chair of the New York City Housing Authority, Patton was focused on community centers, in line with Secretary Carson’s “Vision Center” initiative, and showed little interest in affordable housing. Last Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he plans to “try and find a way to work with her.” Yet, Patton’s inexperience, coupled with her history of personal loyalty to the Trump family, raises serious questions about conflicts of interest — particularly regarding her oversight of the Starrett City property, in which the Trump Organization holds an ownership interest.
According to the New York Daily News, Starrett City is currently scheduling its first HUD inspection since President Trump assumed office. In 2007, Starrett City received an inspection score of 89 out of 100 and by 2009, that score had dropped to 77. During its most recent inspection in October 2016, the score had dropped to 70. Per the article, “HUD can terminate a contract with a landlord with two scores of 60” or below. No date has been set for the upcoming inspection, but “HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said it would take place ‘sometime this summer.’”
UPDATE: On July 7, Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) sent a letter to Donald Trump, Jr. and Allen Weisselberg in their capacity as trustees of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust and to Secretary Carson requesting information about the conflicts regarding Starrett City. The letter highlighted Trump’s potential to financially benefit as a party on both sides of any transaction regarding the property. It also noted questions about Patton’s appointment over Region II (regarding both her qualifications and her loyalty to the Trump family). According to the New York Daily News, the letter demanded “all emails and documents between Patton and HUD, Patton and the Trump organization and all matters in which Patton has been involved with the Trump family since she was first appointed to a HUD position.”