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 Change.gov, 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.

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