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.”

HUD Secretary Nominee Shaun Donovan

HUD Secretary Nominee Shaun Donovan

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.

The Wall Street Journal/Associated Press notes:

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?

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One Response to “Obama Taps Shaun Donovan to Head up HUD”

  1. Clarence Gillispie on October 26th, 2009 7:43 am

    Dear Mr Shaun Donovan:

    Do to circumstances beyond my control on August 22, 2009 I moved into HUD Housing in a rural area. I was pleased with the way the place appeared managed in most part. I frankly was surprised with how well the building and grounds were managed.

    However I noticed my cat was sneezing more than usual. I also noticed in the outdoor balcony areas that there was the strong odor of tobacco smoke drifting up the exterior walls of the building.

    I had seen signs when I applied for a apartment No Smoking in this Building posted in prominent areas of the six story complex. One of my biggest fears was relieved.

    When the cold Michigan winter began to sit in so did reality. My apartment filled with side stream smoke in unbelievable quantities. I let the housing manager know because I actually thought another resident must be breaking the no smoking rule.

    Then the truth was given to me. Smoking is allowed in the HUD building. I could not believe that. At the VA Clinic in Columbus where I volunteered and received service we had a no smoking in the building rule and a common smoke
    area in back of the new building. Even that rule had to be enforced by security.

    I watched several Veterans who used the smoke hole as it was called grow slowly weaker because of their smoking addictions. Several I gave rides to on a regular basis simply didn’t show up any more. Some would attempt to walk to the door of the clinic only to get half way and be gasping for breath and hanging on to part of the structure to keep from falling some fell.I watched My own father wither away and die the slow horrible death from lung cancer.

    I wonder is this to be my fate because I chose to live in HUD housing for my last days?? I was told every housing HUD facility of this type the owner of the building sets the smoking policies.

    The policy here is that residents may smoke in their apartments that only the common areas are “smoke Free”. The signs are posted in the common areas. I was also told that the only alternative to me was to go to a MD get a written note that my body was not tolerating smoke and they would provide me with a device that would remove some of the smoke from the air.

    Frankly I could not wait, physically I am a diabetic and was suffering a smokers cough as my C-Pap machine pumps dangerous smoke laden air into my lungs each night as I sleep. I have to clean the C-Pap daily because it smells like a ashtray also I didn’t think I should be the one required to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get a air machine that I was already told was not effective.

    I am in no position to move. In most part I like it here. I got a Air Source 3000 machine from a friend it helps but excessive ETS continues to pour into my apartment every minute of the day,even now at this early morning hour 7:30 AM as I write this. It is the worst at 3:00 AM.

    I recommended to management that perhaps they should at least segregate us residents into smoker and no smoker areas of the building complex that would be a start to a somewhat better health environment for residents. I was told I could not move to a safer apartment. I also suggested a smoke hole like we had at the Chambers P. Wylie VA Clinic in Columbus Ohio but there was no response to any of my suggestions.

    I don’t want to make waves or be treated like a political maniac or even deal with all the complex issues around this ETS situation but it is serious and I refuse to go quietly into the slow death of lung disease and cancer because I live in a Hud Housing complex. Please Advise.

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