From the Washington Post:
"President-elect Barack Obama has picked New York City housing commissioner Shaun Donovan to be secretary of housing and urban development, a post that Obama said would play a lead role in his administration's efforts to stem the rising tide of foreclosures and rebuild the nation's efforts to expand homeownership. (...)
In turning to Donovan to lead HUD, Obama is tapping someone with broad experience in many of the critical issues confronting the department. Before taking the reins of New York's Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 2004, Donovan was managing director of Prudential Mortgage Capital's $1.5 billion affordable-housing investments.
Donovan, 42, also has worked as HUD's head of multifamily housing and as acting commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration under President Bill Clinton, so he knows the inner workings of an agency now expected to be a front-line player in staving off millions of foreclosures. (...)
As head of New York City's housing agency, Donovan, who is trained as an architect, helps lead what has been called the nation's largest affordable-housing plan, which aims to build or preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2013. The effort recently reached its halfway point on time, with financing for more than 82,500 units in place.
He also has led efforts to provide legal and credit assistance and financial education to home buyers seen as being most prone to predatory lending. Most recently, he has worked as an Obama campaign adviser, after taking a leave of absence from his job in the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I).
Bloomberg hailed the choice, saying that Obama "made the best choice he possibly could for HUD and for the country." He added that Donovan "has left an imprint on our city that will last and that many others will be able to continue to build on."
By all accounts, 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.