Shaun Donovan, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), breezed through a highly complimentary Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 13.
Several members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs said they already planned to vote for Donovan’s confirmation as HUD secretary when the matter comes to a vote, probably later this week. Other senators simply treated Donovan as if he had already been confirmed, gave him advice on how to handle the job, and invited him to visit their home states.
“I think you’ve impressed all of us,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).
Senators give Donovan high marks for the experience he would bring to HUD.
“He’s more experienced than I was, or even the attorney general [Andrew Cuomo] of New York was,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). Martinez and Cuomo are former HUD secretaries.
However, despite the warm reception, Donovan, 42, took the proceedings with characteristic seriousness as he listed his housing priorities, starting with the crisis of home loan foreclosures, which Donovan calls “job one.” In turn, the senators have high expectations that HUD will take a larger role than it has in decades in deciding U.S. housing policy—both fighting foreclosures and managing the financial crisis the foreclosures helped to create.
“When the so-called ‘principals’ are discussing the economy … I want to hear that you are there,” said Martinez. “Insist on a seat at the main table.” Martinez believes that HUD also “unquestionably” has a role in regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Donovan also referred to the gravity of the times when calling HUD “an agency with a critical role to play as government partners with the American people to overcome the greatest economic crisis we have faced in many decades.”
HUD should also have a role in distributing the remaining $350 billion of Troubled Asset Relief Program money, said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “Any grant for further relief should include foreclosure prevention dollars—tens of billions of dollars,” he said.
Donovan promised a “bold and comprehensive plan” to prevent new foreclosures and also to rehabilitate distressed, foreclosed housing.
Rental housing comes next on Donovan’s list of priorities, starting with the renewal of expiring Sec. 8 contracts in HUD’s portfolio of existing rental properties. Donovan also mentions a $30 billion backlog of capital needs in HUD’s public housing portfolio. By making these properties more energy efficient, HUD could meet deferred capital needs and help to lower the agency’s operating expenses at the same time.
Donovan pledged to make HUD’s programs work more smoothly with the latest generation of housing programs like the federal low-income housing tax credit. “HUD’s programs are a generation behind,” he said.
In addition, he said he would strengthen contract oversight at the department, which has come under fire for the way it awards contracts to outside firms.
Donovan would also provide regular progress reports to the Senate. “I’m a numbers guy,” he said, promising to “make HUD a model of evidence-driven government.”