WASHINGTON, D.C. —I did not celebrate when Alphonso Jackson resigned as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on March 31. But I was very happy for the honest and motivated employees of HUD. They must feel like they have been liberated and that maybe, just maybe, the agency has a future as a place to work and a legitimate player in solving the nation's housing problems.
I have talked to dozens of hardworking HUD staffers in the last two years, and I can assure you Jackson will not be missed. From the very start, they tell me, he ran the place like his own private kingdom. He created a culture where compliant staffers who put aside their ethics as public servants to do as Jackson pleased got promoted and those who questioned corrupt practices were punished.
And as much as we have written about his problems, including our series on contracting that won the Jesse H. Neal Award from American Business Media, not one person who ever worked with Jackson has said one word in his defense.
But we must remember, Jackson's departure is not enough, on its own, to bring HUD back from the brink of irrelevance. HUD has a long way to go before it can once again serve as an effective partner with state and local government and private developers to preserve and create affordable housing.
As our reporting has revealed, the corruption at HUD reached far down the ladder into the heart of the bureaucracy. The first step is for federal investigators to reveal the full depth of the self-dealing and favoritism and punish its architects. Then, new leadership at HUD must make sure the agency is following proper contracting processes and terminate contracts that were made to incompetent firms.
I applaud Sens. Christopher Dodd and Patty Murray for publicly seeking Jackson's resignation. Now Congress needs to keep the pressure on to make sure the Justice Department and the HUD inspector general continue digging into the full range of problems with HUD contracting.
Most important, those of you who hope to work with HUD in the future must look toward this fall and lobby aggressively for the newly elected president to appoint a very strong and experienced manager to run HUD with a direct mandate for reform.
On a completely different topic, I want to announce that after 15 years as editor-in-chief of AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE, I am giving up day-to-day editorial management. I will write one more editorial for our June issue, and that will be my last as editor-in-chief.
I am not leaving the industry. I am still fascinated by the social and political challenges of building housing and revitalizing communities. I plan to keep writing about the big-picture issues of housing and urban policy. I intend to keep fighting for a new commitment to America's cities and to help position housing as part of a sustainable model of community development that addresses environmental, educational, transit, and economic development issues as a whole.
I am actively exploring starting a nonprofit to continue to build public understanding of and support for affordable housing.
I hope to stay involved with this magazine and its conference, AHF Live, to some extent. But the scope of my continued role remains to be determined. As many of you know, I sold AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE, its sister publication, APARTMENT FINANCE TODAY, and their associated conferences to Hanley Wood, LLC, in 2006.
The magazines and conferences will be in the capable hands of Boyce Thompson, our editorial director, and Christine Serlin, our executive editor. You can find their contact information in the masthead on page 4.
If you want to know more about my future activities or just keep in touch, you can reach me after April 25 at ashashaty@ earthlink.net or by mail at 20 Inverness Drive, San Rafael, CA 94901.