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HUD pick is praised for affordable housing focus

If confirmed, Shaun Donovan will take on a key role in the mortgage crisis, Obama says.

December 14, 2008|Christi Parsons | Parsons is a writer in our Washington bureau.

WASHINGTON — A Harvard-educated architect is Barack Obama's choice to lead his housing agency, which the president-elect says will play a key role in tackling the mortgage crisis and helping families stay in their homes.

Shaun Donovan will bring "fresh thinking" to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Obama said Saturday, pledging that his nominee will abandon "old ideology and outdated ideas" that have stymied some of the agency's past efforts.

"We can't keep throwing money at the problem, hoping for a different result," Obama said in his weekly radio address, which was also released on YouTube. "We need to approach the old challenge of affordable housing with new energy, new ideas and a new, efficient style of leadership."

Donovan, 42, a former HUD official, is credited with increasing affordable options in New York as head of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The announcement comes as Obama nears his informal Christmas-week deadline for assembling a Cabinet. He is nearly finished; a handful of key nominees are expected in the coming days, including appointees for the Departments of Labor and Education.

But the announcement Saturday effectively completes the team of advisors whom Obama intends to rely on most heavily to shape his administration's response to the economic crisis, an agenda dwarfing all others as he prepares to take office in January.

Obama made assembling his economic team among his first orders of business after the election, naming his Treasury secretary, budget director and economic council director and setting them to work in recent weeks.

In naming Donovan, Obama said he wanted his HUD secretary to take a lead role in stemming the tide of foreclosures and increasing the number of families able to remain in their homes amid the crisis.

"This plan will only work with a comprehensive, coordinated federal effort to make it a reality," Obama said. "We need every part of our government working together -- from the Treasury Department to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agency that protects the money you've put in the bank. And few will be more essential to this effort than the Department of Housing and Urban Development."

Donovan has worked in both business and nonprofit sectors and at HUD during the Clinton administration, serving as deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing. He later worked at Prudential Mortgage Capital Co. as managing director of its Federal Housing Administration lending and affordable housing investments. In 2004, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg named him commissioner of the city's housing department.

Today, Donovan leads the largest municipal affordable housing plan in the nation. The agency's $7.5-billion effort to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing reached its halfway point this fall.

He has been a visiting scholar at New York University, researching the preservation of federally assisted housing, and has written about housing policy at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. He holds master's degrees in public administration and architecture from Harvard.

If the Senate confirms the nomination, Donovan would assume his post amid the worst economic climate in decades. American homeowners are reeling from plummeting home values and rising unemployment. One in every 488 households faced some form of foreclosure filing last month, and more borrowers are delaying mortgage payments for longer periods of time than in recent history.

Obama has made it clear that he thinks HUD can do more than it has in the past. "Since its founding, HUD has been dedicated to tearing down barriers in access to affordable housing," he said Saturday. "Too often, these efforts have had mixed results."

Experts say Obama's choice -- along with the job description he has offered -- may signal a more sweeping role for HUD.

"What he may be speaking of, which would certainly be interesting and welcome by many sectors of the housing industry, would be a more direct role in the oversight of the affordable housing industry," said Jim Parenti, a former HUD official and now associate dean at Georgetown University. Donovan would bring "street credibility" to that effort, Parenti predicted, because of his work in the public and private sectors.

Donovan has a record of boosting affordable housing options, particularly rentals, said John Garvin, who until recently worked as deputy assistant secretary for HUD's multifamily housing programs.

"I'm impressed to see somebody with a multifamily focus in the job," Garvin said. "There's a huge need out there. . . . As people are losing homes, it's important that they have an affordable option."

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cparsons@tribune.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Shaun Donovan

Age: 42

Experience: Commissioner, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, 2004-present; director, Prudential Mortgage Capital Co.'s FHA lending and affordable housing initiatives, 2002-04; visiting scholar, New York University, 2001- 02; consultant, Millennial Housing Commission, 2001-02; deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing at HUD, 2000-01; special assistant at HUD, 1998-2000.

Education: Bachelor of arts in engineering, Harvard, 1987; master's in architecture, Harvard, 1995; master of public administration, Harvard, 1995.

Family: Wife, Liza Gilbert; two sons.

Quote: "Prevention counseling, legal services and education can help keep families in their homes. A home is far too valuable for people to lose." -- Statement on the Center for New York City Neighborhoods receiving a $500,000 grant, June 24.

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Source: Associated Press

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