RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
America's top housing official is about to step down, but he isn't about to answer questions about allegations of cronyism and his response to a housing market in turmoil. In announcing his resignation, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson focused strictly on his accomplishments.
Secretary ALPHONSO JACKSON (HUD): We have helped families keep their homes. We have transformed public housing. We have reduced chronic homelessness. And we have preserved affordable housing and increased minority home ownership.
MONTAGNE: Critics describe Jackson's tenure at HUD differently, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: One of the biggest experiments conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the Hope Six project, where mixed-income communities are built to replace dreary public housing developments.
Mr. DOUG GUTHRIE (Developer): What we currently have in construction is 390 units of housing, primarily for sale but also one rental building. It's all mixed income.
CORLEY: Developer Doug Guthrie points out the new brick homes and units under construction that are part of Chicago's sweeping plan for transformation, as it's called.
Here on Division Street, there are only vestiges of the weary, tattered and crime-ridden Cabrini Green neighborhood. But Guthrie says what has also changed is the federal government's commitment to this program.
Mr. GUTHRIE: HUD seems to have been adrift for quite a few years now. And affordable housing is an issue in this country, and there's just been very little dialogue and discussion about it. It's hard to say you're going to get that in the remaining portion of this particular administration, but I'm hopeful that we can elevate that sort of dialog with a new administration coming in at the end of the year.
CORLEY: The non-partisan Center of Budget and Policy Priorities says if not for Congress, Hope Six projects across the country would've died long ago. Barbara Sard, the center's housing director, says since 2004, when Alphonso Jackson took over as HUD secretary, there's been no budget request for Hope Six. And she says the housing voucher program, which assists low-income renters in finding homes in the private market, has also suffered.
Ms. BARBARA SARD (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): Virtually every HUD program except the homeless program has been targeted for severe funding cuts in the last several years. Now, some of those cuts have not occurred because Congress has refused to accept them.
CORLEY: Sard says the center's analysis of the fiscal 2009 budget shows it's $6.5 billion below what's needed to keep housing programs at their current levels.
Ms. SARD: One of the deepest shortfalls ever.
CORLEY: The tide of criticism against HUD and Secretary Jackson has turned, though, in a most unexpected place - New Orleans, where the battle over public housing developments and affordable housing is intense.
Yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said that four of the city's big public housing developments will be redeveloped, and Nagin praised HUD Secretary Jackson. He said when he first met him, everything at the New Orleans Housing Authority was on hold.
Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans, Louisiana): And he got those projects jump-started. And it was about six or seven hundred million dollars worth of redevelopment that was going on prior to Katrina. And now going out, he's pretty much gotten just about every major housing development going with the exception of one. And to me, that's going to be his legacy.
CORLEY: The most prominent housing focus of the Bush administration, though, has been home ownership. With foreclosures on the rise and a slumping housing market, critics say HUD pushed home ownership at the expense of rental housing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says HUD will be called on to work with Congress to assist refinancing for homeowners facing foreclosure. It will be a process that continues without Alphonso Jackson. He steps down as HUD secretary April 18th.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News.
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