It’s a Dirty Job…

For the first 38 minutes, it almost sounded like the Senators pitied him.

The Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs spent nearly 40 minutes of the two-hour confirmation hearing warning President-elect Obama’s HUD secretary nominee Shaun Donovan that he would be taking over a neglected, under-funded agency rife with problems that has been relegated to the second tier of the federal bureaucracy and is facing a housing crisis of unknown proportions. Republicans and democrats alike praised Donovan for his “willingness” to take on this challenge and at times seemed genuinely surprised that someone of his experience and expertise would take such a challenging job. As many of the Senators noted, barring some startling revelation his confirmation is virtually assured.

In his own opening statement, Donovan reviewed his own background and the troubles facing HUD before highlighting three areas:

  • He noted that the “FHA has capacity issues”, and that it’s “share of the single family mortgage market 4% in 2005 to 21% today” and promised to work closely with Congress to address the issue;
  • He bemoaned the expiration of Section 8 rental subsidies for tenants and project-based units and said he would work with Congress to increase funding;
  • He pledged to implement numerous reforms at HUD, referencing such progressive buzz terms and concepts as creating a “culture of excellence and innovation,” returning to the days of HUD as a “respected research institution,” and extensive “management reform,” making HUD a “catalyst for a market” for green housing, reducing transportation costs, “expanding fair housing” and “resident housing choice,” and evaluating programs through “evidence-driven government.”

In the question and answer session that followed, Donovan continued to hit on many of the issues near and dear to Rooflines readers. He noted the importance of a housing policy that values both homeownership and rental housing, highlighted the long overdue IT upgrades that are needed at HUD, and said that he is exploring how to use the TARP funds and FDIC programs in conjunction with HUD programs and the NSP to keep homeowners facing foreclosure in their homes.

Clearly, Donovan performed impressively at the hearing. His answers were well reasoned, comprehensive, compelling and reassuring. I’m sure that in six months or so progressives will quibble with the new HUD secretary over some arcane rule change for some federal housing program, but for the time being I feel confident that the situation at HUD will improve dramatically under Donovan.

Note: you can watch the entire hearing online at C-Span.

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.


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