Conrad Egan may be the most committed man in affordable housing today. “He’s one of the great leaders of affordable housing,” said his longtime friend Charles Edson, senior counsel at law firm Nixon Peabody, LLP.
“Conrad is one of the most committed, concerned people I know. He not only works all day at the NHC (National Housing Conference), but he also chairs a housing authority. That’s a lot of late-night meetings. He’s a housing hero,” he added.
Egan’s tireless dedication to affordable housing makes him a natural as a 2008 inductee to AFFORDABLEHOUSING FINANCE’s Affordable Housing Hall of Fame.
Egan, 66, is president and CEO of the NHC, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy and housing advocacy organization. He also serves as chairman of the Fairfax County (Va.) Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA).
The Ohio native began his career in 1965 in Detroit working for a community group called the West Central Organization, whose mission was to mobilize and activate residents on issues that affected them.
“The biggest issue for people in Detroit was housing,” said Egan. That would become the biggest issue for Egan as well.
“I was present at the birth of all these housing programs that now are viewed as obsolete,” said Egan. “There was excitement and a lot of positive feelings in the country. There was a lot of civil turmoil too. Detroit had its riot in 1967, and other riots broke out across the country when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. But there was still a general feeling that these new housing programs would, in conjunction with other activities, help lower-income families meet housing needs. This was the 1960s when the War on Poverty was going on. Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House, and the Great Society was marching forward.”
Egan moved ahead too, leaving the Motor City and relocating to Washington, D.C., in 1969 to serve at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). There, he participated in a variety of community development and housing activities, both in Washington and in field assignments, including San Francisco. In 1969, Egan worked as a field representative for the Model Cities Program for HUD. The ambitious urban aid program was an element of President Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty. The main goal of the program was to include citizen participation in the planning and rehabilitation of local neighborhoods. The program ultimately fell short.
“I don’t think some programs were well-planned for the long-term,” said Egan. “Subsidies were shallow. Later came the utility-cost crisis of the mid-1970s. The cost of utilities skyrocketed, and with not much room to raise rents, there were a lot of defaults.”
While at HUD, under the direction of Secretary Carla Hills, Egan worked to get more Sec. 8 units—some 200,000—at properties, which saved a number of projects from defaults and foreclosures. Egan’s tenure at HUD culminated in a senior executive service position as director of the Office of Multifamily Housing Management. In this role, his responsibilities included managing all of HUD’s multifamily properties nationwide and administering the related subsidy programs.
He left HUD in 1986 to serve as executive vice president of NHP, Inc., which had become one of the country’s largest multifamily owners and managers. There, he focused on development and asset management of both market-rate and affordable properties. Those projects also included seniors housing, which at the time was called rental retirement housing.
Back to HUD
Egan returned to HUD in 1993, where he worked until 1996, as special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary for multifamily programs and subsequently as special assistant to then-Secretary Henry Cisneros.
“I returned because again there was a feeling of new hope, like in the 1960s,” remembered Egan. “It was a different time, sure. But Bill Clinton was in office. So there was a new wave of leadership. There was a sense of being able to restore some of the earlier confidence and enthusiasm. That was very compelling to me.”
Egan notes two accomplishments during his second stint at HUD. The first: HUD’s rapid response to the victims of the Northridge earthquake in 1994. The second: the creation of Neighborhood Networks, a program to help residents at affordable housing projects with career development.
In 1997, Egan moved to the NHC, where he worked as director of policy until being named the executive director of the Millennial Housing Commission, established by Congress to recommend ways to better support safe and affordable housing for all Americans. He served on the commission during 2001 and 2002. Egan then moved to NHC in 2003. For the past eight years, Egan has worked for the FCRHA, the last six years as chairman.
One important issue for Egan is preserving housing that’s affordable at moderate incomes. To that end, he led the authority with its 2007 acquisition of Wedgewood Apartments, a 672-unit apartment community in Fairfax County, for $107.5 million. Rents will continue to remain affordable for residents earning up to 65 percent of the area median income.
What the future holds
Egan will step down as chair of the FCRHA this July but will remain at the NHC working on shaping housing policy at the federal level. He also continues to serve on a number of boards to promote affordable housing and sustainable neighborhoods.
One particular topic of concern for Egan is transportation. He is involved in the coalition known as T4America (Transportation for America), a group seeking to align national, state, and local transportation policies with other important issues such as public health, housing, and energy conservation.
“We’re coming into another hopeful era,” said Egan. “We’ll have a new administration very soon. It’s time to finally connect housing, transportation, health, and education. We need to focus on communities instead of programs.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE will induct five deserving individuals into its Affordable Housing Hall of Fame in November. These inductees will be honored at a luncheon at the conclusion of AHF Live: The 2008 Tax Credit Developers' Summit Nov. 5-7 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. We will feature profiles of the inductees over the coming issues.
-June: Conrad Egan, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference
-July: The late Clara Fox, founder of the Settlement Housing Fund
-September: U.S. Rep. Barney Frank
-October: Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies
-November: Carla Hills, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE created its Affordable Housing Hall of Fame in 2006 to recognize outstanding achievement in the industry. Past inductees have included leaders instrumental in the establishment of the low-income housing tax credit program and the Community Reinvestment Act.