When a property is foreclosed upon, it usually is classified as “REO,” or Real Estate Owned. It’s a fairly common term in real estate parlance but appears to be a term new to Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson.

Carson appeared Tuesday morning before the House Financial Services Committee.

Freshman Representative Katie Porter (D-California) asked Secretary Carson about REO rate disparities. She wanted an explanation for why home ownership loans from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) are foreclosed upon (thus becoming REOs) at higher rates compared to government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

FHA, GSE and REO are all common real estate parlance. Put simply, Porter asked why the government is quicker to foreclose on families than more conventional lenders.

Carson, apparently mishearing the congresswoman, thought the question was about the Nabisco cookie Oreo.

Under questioning from Porter about his familiarity with the term, Carson incorrectly asserted it stood for “Real Estate Organization.”

Following the ill-informed performance under Porter’s questioning, Carson further made light of his lack of housing knowledge by sending the Congresswoman cookies. Whether he will send her an answer to her actual question is unknown.

“This is astonishing conduct by Sec’y Ben Carson,” tweeted Kristen Clarke, National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s executive director. “[I]t’s one thing to not be ready for basic questions during a hearing and another thing to crack jokes about our foreclosure crisis which devastated families and caused major economic hardship for Black communities.”

Carson also flubbed a question on the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which he seemed to think was a division of his department. It isn’t. His department has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion which performs a similar function.

This follows a week where the Government Accountability Office accused the Department of Housing and Urban Development of breaking the law when it bought Carson a new dishwasher and dining set as part of the trend of Trump cabinet excesses.

It is presently unknown if Carson bought Porter’s Oreos with government funds.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.


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