Trump hires the wedding planner -- to oversee NY federal housing program?

Report: Trump wedding planner appointed to HUD
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Story highlights

  • Donald Trump has tapped Trump family's wedding and event planner to oversee NY and NJ federal urban housing programs
  • Errol Louis: By picking spectacularly unqualified Lynne Patton, Trump gambles with housing needs of hundreds of thousands

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)According to a report in the New York Daily News, Donald Trump has appointed the spectacularly unqualified Lynne Patton to run the Region II office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which covers New York and New Jersey -- thus confirming the Trump administration's haphazard treatment of the problems facing American cities.

Patton, who has been an event planner and personal aide to members of the Trump family (she planned Eric Trump's wedding), has no experience in housing or urban development. She will now be tasked with coordinating the flow of billions of federal dollars into New York City, Newark, Trenton and other troubled urban centers.
Her portfolio will include the nation's largest public housing authority, home to more than half a million people, and the country's largest Section 8 program, which provides subsidies to tens of thousands of low-income renters.
    It remains unclear, to say the least, how well those responsibilities will be shouldered by a woman whose main credential appears to be her years of service to the Trump family. Patton's online LinkedIn biography describes her job as working for Eric Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, and "handling all calendar appointments, scheduling, media appearances, travel, expenses, purchases, event coordination, contact/engagements, as well as home & business responsibilities."
    It did not help matters that, on a recent surprise visit to the New York City Housing Authority, Patton disappointed local officials by declining to actually enter a housing authority apartment. That echoes a similar decision by her boss, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, to avoid visiting city projects that rely on HUD funds.
    None of this bodes well for public housing in New York, which could lose as much as $216 million in badly-needed federal housing money if Congress approves cuts proposed in the Trump administration's 2018 budget.
    A more pressing concern for Patton will be the multiple conflict-of-interest questions raised by her appointment. A recent Forbes investigation revealed that more than $1 million in funds from the Eric Trump Foundation -- overseen by Patton -- actually ended up in the coffers of the for-profit Trump Organization, which collected inflated fees from the foundation for hosting charitable events at Trump golf courses.
    A spokesman for Eric Trump called the report "disgusting," adding "Contrary to recent reports, at no time did the Trump Organization profit in any way from the foundation or any of its activities." NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is examining the question, meaning Patton will enter office under a cloud.
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    There's also an unrelated conflict issue in how Patton will handle her duty to regulate Spring Creek Towers, a vast, privately-owned complex in Brooklyn with nearly 6,000 apartments that was built with federal help: in exchange for government financing, the owners of developments like Spring Creek agree to keep rents at a designated level that middle-class tenants can afford.
    Over the years, Donald Trump shed this type of government-subsidized housing, but the Trump Organization still owns 4% of Spring Creek Towers, worth an estimated $25 million -- and the complex's ongoing subsidies are regulated by none other than HUD. One wonders what kind of oversight Patton can fairly exercise over the Trump Organization that has employed her for so long.
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    Donald Trump's successful campaign for President was based on the idea that inspired amateurs from outside Washington can run the government better than government insiders. Patton will put that proposition to a high-profile test, with the housing needs of hundreds of thousands hanging in the balance.