WASHINGTON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson resigned Monday amid a criminal investigation into favoritism in awarding contracts that critics said was blunting the agency's effectiveness in dealing with the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
"There comes a time when one must attend more diligently to personal and family matters," Jackson said in a statement. "Now is such a time for me."
Noting that as secretary he had "improved housing opportunities for all Americans," Jackson said "he took great pride" in increased homeownership by minorities.
"My life's work has been to build better communities that families are proud to call home," he said.
To ensure a smooth transition, he said, he will leave office April 18.
Jackson, 62, spent much of his career dealing with housing issues. The first African American to serve as president and chief executive of the Dallas Housing Authority, he was one of several Texans who came to Washington with President Bush in 2001. He joined HUD as deputy secretary and chief operating officer, and was named secretary in 2004.
Bush said in a statement that Jackson was "a strong leader and a good man," and that he had accepted his resignation "with regret."
The investigation into Jackson's stewardship of the agency began after he publicly disclosed in 2006 that he had revoked a contract because the vendor told him he did not like Bush. In an inquiry by the inspector general, Jackson told investigators that he had misspoken.
Since then, he has been fending off allegations of cronyism involving HUD contractors.
The FBI is looking into ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by HUD for work as a construction manager in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In addition, Jackson is being sued for allegedly trying to punish the Philadelphia Housing Authority for deciding against proceeding with a land transfer to a friend, developer and music producer Kenny Gamble.
Last week, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the White House calling for Jackson's resignation, saying his legal problems represented a "worsening distraction" for HUD at a crucial time.
"We are deeply troubled by the growing number of allegations of impropriety . . . and the secretary's refusal to answer appropriate congressional inquiries on these matters," the senators wrote. "Unfortunately, the allegations surrounding Secretary Jackson, as well as his rejection of appropriate congressional oversight of his department, undermine his ability to effectively address the current housing crisis."
In a statement released after Jackson's announcement, Dodd said: "I hope this change in personnel will be matched by a change in policy that brings real solutions to the housing crisis that has triggered this economic recession."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, called on the White House to fill the job quickly.
"It is essential the president immediately name an acting secretary who will have the full authority to work with us in making the decisions we need to deal with the housing finance crisis," he said in a statement. "During the Bush administration, and particularly the last year, HUD has fallen far short of playing the constructive role that is required."