Reading the Tea Leaves: How Obama’s HUD Transition Team Might Reshape Housing Policy

What does the appointment of the members of Obama's transition team for HUD indicate about the possible course the department might take?

Obama's HUD transition team: photo is of exterior of HUD building in Washington, D.C.
F Delventhal, flickr. CC BY 2.0

Through, the public is being offered a first-ever opportunity to peek inside and offer opinion on nearly the entire transition process. A large team of academics, former bureacrats, and leading advocates have been appointed by President-Elect Obama to vet possible cabinet-level officials and conduct a thorough review of every federal bureaucracy they might lead.

Nine of these folks have been tasked with a review of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD review leads are Xavier de Souza Briggs of MIT, Roberta Achtenberg, and Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute; team members include Ingrid Ellen of NYU, Nicholas Retsinas of Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies, Henry Fernandez of the Center for American Progress, Saul Ramirez Jr. of NAHRO, Kenneth Zimmerman of Lowenstein Sander, and Robert Weissbourd of RW Ventures.

Below are links to their most recent articles or essays for most of the team:

So what — if anything — might these appointments predict about HUD under the new administration? Here are my top five predictions, in no particular order:

1. Research-based policies and initiatives: The appointments of Briggs, Ellen, Katz, and Retsinas signal that the next HUD will look to the ever-expanding body of high-quality research on HUD’s previous efforts to determine its next direction. Given Briggs’ and Ellen’s own research,specifically expect to see increasing focus on research-based solutions in the administration of public housing programs.

2. Greater emphasis on rental housing policy: Katz and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies under Retsinas have both been outspoken critics of what they have seen as Bush’s “Homeownership Policy” rather than “Housing Policy”. Expect to see a broad housing policy that gives equal weight to both homeownership and rental property.

3. Expanded public-private partnerships in public housing: Pres. Obama’s own history in Chicago and his close relationship with Habitat Company’s Valerie Jarrett signal that the new HUD will continue to expand the public-private partnerships that have begun to characterize post HOPE VI public housing in many communities. Expect to see an expanded effort to replace traditiona public housing developments with publicly-funded, privately-run mixed income communities.

4. Expanded strategies to reduce segregation: Briggs and Ellen have both written extensively on the impact of segregation and the prospects for creating stable diversity, highlighting that fair housing enforcement alone will not foster residential integration. Expect to see both more-aggressive enforcement actions from the Office Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, stronger regulations and enforcement of the responsibility to “affirmatively further fair housing” with CDBG funds, and (hopefully) new programs to foster integration through counseling and affirmative marketing.

5. Coordination of housing policy strategy with other policy goals: At a recent Preservation Compact event in Chicago, I saw Katz eloquently explain that federal housing policy needs to be coordinated with energy, transportation, environment, and jobs policies. Given the broad view of housing that nearly the entire team advances and the massive “21st Century New Deal” that President-elect Obama recently outlined, expect to see greater coordination of domestic policy across bureacracies.

Given what we know about this team, what do you expect to see in a new HUD? Tell us in the comments section.

Late update: There are rumors now surfacing that Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. may be the new secretary of HUD. You can read more about his background here.

Justin Massa is the executive director and co-founder of and the program and technical coordinator for, a project of TechSoup Global. He was formerly the Fair Housing Testing and Outreach Coordinator for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where he supervised the testing program, handled intake and investigation, and conducted fair housing trainings. He recently concluded serving his second term as Vice President of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance. Massa is also the executive director and co-founder of, a start-up organization dedicated to fostering vibrant and diverse neighborhoods by empowering housing seekers through technology to move to opportunity. He is also a co-covener of Chicago Net Tuesdays and helps organize Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates.


  1. Great blog Justin!

    Rooflines has previously discussed the NEW Department of Urban Policy that is expected to be formed in the White House. Clearly, some operational areas from the current HUD will be transferred to this new department.

    I hope Obama will follow through on his promise to examine federal spending line-by-line and cut programs that are not working or are wasteful. I think more than half of the HUD budget can be trimmed this way, and the money saved used to spend on new and better programs.

    While the transition team on housing seems to be first-rate, I am concerned that some of them could be quite vested in current HUD programs. Some of them have worked with people who initially designed the voucher program, and some have themselves been involved in “evaluating” this program for HUD, giving it top marks.

    I have been continually surprised by the unwillingness of several housing researchers to see the obvious drawbacks of the current housing voucher program. I hope the new HUD will be open to voucher reform—including coordinating housing vouchers with the unemployment insurance program, and making a voucher term similarly temporary.

  2. Thanks Nandinee : )

    I couldn’t agree more on the line-by-line inspection of the entire federal budget, especially at HUD. While there are certainly HUD initiatives that need increased funding and activity (CDBG oversight and the FHIP program, to name just two), there are likely twice as many that need to be completely re-examined and either cut or restructured.


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