Julián Castro, nominee to become secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), took a step in his confirmation process today, assuring lawmakers that he is ready to work with them on housing finance reform and other key issues.
The San Antonio mayor told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs that he would bring both professional and personal experience to HUD.
“I grew up on the West Side of San Antonio in a neighborhood of hard-working families of very modest means,” he said. “My father—at two different times in his life—lived in public housing. My mother worked for the San Antonio Housing Authority.”
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, introduced Castro at the hearing. Some observers see Cornyn’s show of support as a sign that Castro will likely be confirmed by the Senate.
Castro, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was tapped by President Obama to become the next housing secretary. If confirmed, he would replace Shaun Donovan, who is slated to head the Office of Management and Budget.
The nomination hearing produced few details from Castro. He carefully avoided supporting any specific legislation when pressed about what he would do to address the future of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been in conservatorship for about six years.
“I absolutely believe there are better alternatives than what we have in place with this duopoly, with the conservatorship” he said. “With any legislation, the devil is in the details and finding that common ground.”
Castro also told Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) he would work to ensure that the Federal Housing Administration, which tapped the Treasury for a $1.7 billion draw last year, has a “positive capital reserve ratio and is on the right track and does not need another mandatory appropriation.”
Castro said his understanding is that the FHA is in a stronger path and is not expected to need another draw.
During the hearing, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez brought up the issue of Sec. 8 voucher reform, saying it’s a priority for housing advocates and developers. He noted a shortfall of 200,000 affordable and available units just in his state of New Jersey.
After Castro referred to Sec. 8 as a “line item” in the budget, Menendez was quick to tell him “it may be a line item, but it’s about millions of people’s lives.”
The mayor was also asked about an audit that showed San Antonio had failed to properly administer a Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) grant.
Castro reported that the San Antonio paid back $125,000 with city funds and personnel who had authority over the NSP program were removed.
Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF