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Tilting at Windmills

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December 13, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Shaun Donovan At HUD

As Steve noted earlier, Obamas pick for HUD, Shaun Donovan, is very impressive. However, in some ways I'm less interested in his track record than in comments like this (from a very interesting 2006 profile in the NYT)

""Shaun is one of the best and the brightest thinkers on housing issues in the country," said William C. Apgar, a senior scholar at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard and a former assistant secretary at HUD who was Mr. Donovan's boss for a part of his tenure. "He has the capacity to see the possibilities, to throw away all the old models, to not get stuck in rules that really are more flexible than your imagination allows them to be.""

The reason is that as best I can tell, the housing challenges in New York are atypical. New York has (or had, until recently) a very strong housing market. That makes it possible to leverage housing demand in ways that would not be possible in, say, Detroit, and it also makes it possible to strengthen neighborhoods without worrying that as soon as you leave the one neighborhood you've been working on, you encounter a wasteland. Market forces may not be on the side of affordability, but they are definitely working with you against wholescale urban collapse, depopulation, and widespread decay, and that's a really good thing.

A lot of cities did not have a strong housing market working for them before the recent mortgage crisis, and even fewer will now. That's why, as I said, I'm interested not just in Donovan's track record, which seems to be stellar, but in the evidence that he's genuinely creative and imaginative. He will need to be.

I'm also very heartened by this post from Politico:

"In the middle of 2004, I sat down with Donovan (I was at Newsday at the time) for a chat about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's initiative to tackle the shortage of low- and middle-income housing in the city.

To my surprise, Donovan brushed aside my questions about the city's initiatives and began talking at length about the coming "flood" of foreclosures he anticipated among highly leveraged apartment buildings purchased by recent immigrants -- and a looming subprime crisis for one- and two-family homeowners in up-and-coming neighborhoods in southeast Queens and central Brooklyn.

I left the meeting a little shaken: At the time housing prices in previously depressed parts of the city were booming and the city had been able to sell off almost of all its once-massive stock of foreclosed properties to private owners and investors. The future looked bright to almost everyone -- but not to Donovan, who was planning for the looming disaster."

That is a wonderful, wonderful thing to read.

Oh, and one more thing: I'm also glad Donovan has experience at HUD. My sense is that like many federal bureaucracies taken over by people who don't believe in their core mission, HUD has become demoralized. A lot of people who actually want to do interesting work have left, since they will not do it at HUD under Bush; a lot of the people who remain are, well, the people you might expect. Having a Secretary who is not just creative and inspiring, but also familiar with the bureaucracy he will need to inspire and energize, is a very, very good thing.

Hilzoy 11:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (1)

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wholesale urban collapse, depopulation, and widespread decay

Hilzoy, if you can envision "wholesale urban collapse" as being synonymous to massive defaults and foreclosures; interpret "depopulation" as equal to people being evicted by the corporate mortgage entities; and "widespread decay" as what happens when you've got millions of real-estate units (single-family/multi-family/commercial/agricultural/industrial) on the market in the early stages of a global economic downturn and the property-owners themselves can't afford upkeep and maintenance because they, too, are on the brink---then I don't think there's a single metropolis, city, town, village, or hamlet in all of these United States that isn't exactly like New York City in regards to housing. That's why "Shaun Dee" is the perfect choice for this job, and it's also why I think there will be at least a few who will question the validity of his qualifications.

He's going to ruffle some feathers---particularly the feathers of those who stand to lose their power over those of lesser economic means. Get yourself a copy of It's a Wonderful Life, paying close attention to the character "Mr. Potter." Then try to find yourself a copy og "An American Christmas Carol" with Henry Winkler as the penny-pinching scrooge---and you'll know exactly what I mean....

Posted by: Steve W. on December 14, 2008 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK



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