On The Early Reaction To The Housing Rescue Plan
On Public Anger Over A Bailout For Homeowners
On Preserving HUD's Mission To Help Low-Income People
The housing rescue plan that the Obama administration outlined last week is being implemented by the Department of Housing and Urban Development — an agency that critics say was often overlooked by the previous administration.
At his confirmation hearing in January, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was told some things about the agency he was in line to run that might have made some nominees run away.
HUD is "adrift, mismanaged and ridden by scandal" said one senator. If the government were a family at Thanksgiving dinner, HUD would be "sitting at the kids' table," said another.
But, in his unadorned office at HUD's Washington headquarters, Secretary Donovan says he's working to correct that.
"One of my jobs very clearly is to take a place at the grown-ups' table for HUD," he says.
Donovan says his agency has to prove that HUD can deliver what it promises. Nowhere is that more important than with the $75 billion housing rescue plan, which aims to stem the tide of foreclosures that has helped lead to a worldwide financial meltdown.
It's too early to tell if the plan will work, Donovan says, since the details were just released last week. But there are some encouraging signs. He says there has been a "huge increase in the number of calls to national hotlines, to counselors. There is an overwhelming amount of need in communities. And certainly, we're hearing a lot of expectations that this program can make a difference."
The housing rescue plan is aimed at homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. Donovan says money in the stimulus and budget bills will also help communities pockmarked by boarded-up houses and people who have lost their homes.
With all the problems facing homeowners, housing advocates worry HUD will overlook one of its primary responsibilities, assuring that low-income people, most of them renters, have access to housing.
Sheila Crowley is president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and is a fan of Donovan. Crowley points out that before he came to HUD, Donovan was New York City's housing commissioner.
"He comes in as somebody who, at his core, is a low-income housing advocate. He understands that issue; he knows what needs to be done," Crowley says. "And our hope is that he gets time to attend to that, because the mortgage crisis is all-consuming right now."
Donovan vows he will not overlook HUD's traditional constituency.
"In terms of my own work, historically, I understand that home ownership is not an entire national housing policy," he says. "Rental housing has a critical role to play, as does what I think has really been a neglected part of HUD's mission: Remember, there's not just housing in the title of this agency, but urban development. We need to put the 'UD' back in HUD," he says.
The 42-year-old Donovan worked at HUD during the Clinton administration and acknowledges the department he now leads has had morale problems; it also has one of the oldest workforces in the federal government.
But he says that Obama's election has brought a new enthusiasm to the agency. Donovan says he has found a surprisingly collaborative atmosphere with other Cabinet secretaries in the new administration.
That collaboration, he says, will help secretaries "make sure at the same time we're fixing rental housing, we're fixing schools, we're making sure that even if someone has an affordable place to live, that they're not commuting two hours to work."
Donovan says creating such sustainable communities is a key part of HUD's mission. And while the agency is engaged in solving the foreclosure crisis, he vows it is not going to forget its long-term goals.