Obama Taps Shaun Donovan to Head up HUD
Announcing that New York City Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan is his choice as Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the president-elect said:
”We need to approach the old challenge of affordable housing with new energy, new ideas, and a new, efficient style of leadership. We need to understand that the old ways of looking at our cities just won’t do.”
A question that has already arisen in pre-coverage of Obama’s pick would be, ‘why not one of the qualified minority housing leaders mentioned as on the incoming president’s short list?’
Housingfinance.com reported Nov. 24 that names under consideration included a number of African-American and Latino housing leaders, and Builderonline.com mentioned Donovan as a “long-shot“ among candidates for the role.
Even as the president-elect kept his thinking close to the vest on a Housing Secretary, housingfinance.com reported:
Several prominent mayors, including Miami’s Manuel Diaz and Atlanta’s Shirley Franklin, have been rumored to be in the running.
Saul Ramirez Jr., a former deputy HUD secretary and executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, has also been mentioned as a candidate in recent news reports. Adolfo Carrion Jr., Bronx borough president, and Nelson Diaz, who has been a judge and HUD general counsel, also have been cited as possible housing chiefs.
Perhaps the choice of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary opened up the realm of choices for Obama for HUD Secretary. On paper, Harvard-trained architect Donovan’s credentials look impeccable, both from a practical, in-the-trenches standpoint, management experience, and a basis in theory in public service and housing planning issues.
Mr. Obama praised Mr. Donovan’s record at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, where he managed a $7.5 billion plan with a goal of putting a half-million New Yorkers in affordable housing. The Harvard-educated architect also kept foreclosures to a minimum in the city’s low- and moderate-income home ownership plan, with just five out of 17,000 participating homes.
A Newsweek correspondent Adam B. Kushner broke the news of the choice in his blog on Friday. Here, he quotes Donovan verbatim on the way the dots connect between Washington and the housing crisis.
At a City Hall briefing in July, Donovan talked about the housing challenges facing Washington policymakers:
Q: Do you think there’s enough of an understanding in Washington of why New York needs the kinds of investments that you want them to adopt for New York?
A: I guess I would enlarge the question a little bit. I think the fundamental challenge has been to demonstrate to the American people that they know affordable housing is important. What they don’t necessarily know is that government knows how to do it right. … The truth is, when affordable housing works, it’s almost invisible. We’re doing today, and lots of folks in this room are doing mixed income developments. We have a project that is moving its way through the approval and construction process right now in the Bronx that will combine market-rate condominiums with supportive housing with the formerly homeless. We are combining and integrating market-rate and affordable housing in a way that nobody would have thought possible a few decades ago. And, frankly, it means that we have to get out and tell the positive story, because a lot of folks don’t even know that there’s affordable housing in that building or that it’s part of their community. The image that remains is this old outdated image of public housing that failed. We’ve got a lot of work to do to explain the advances that we’ve made and what we’ve learned and to demonstrate that yes, in fact, we will use taxpayer dollars wisely in terms of rebuilding. I think there is an opportunity, given the subprime crisis. A mentor of mine that I worked for in my first government job in Washington said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” In fact, we have an opportunity, despite the terrible things that are happening in neighborhoods because of the subprime crisis, to really reframe the housing challenges, nationally, as a result of what we’ve seen over the last few years. Housing is on the national agenda again maybe for the first time in a generation. We have an opportunity, I think, to really utilize that to reframe the issue.
Is Donovan not the right guy for this job at this moment?