David Dworkin says we’re long overdue for a national housing policy.
That’s why his organization, the National Housing Conference (NHC), is working to build bipartisan support for a comprehensive national policy in 2019 and 2020.
“Our new slogan is HR-1 in 2021,” he says. “We want the top priority of the next Congress and administration to be housing, and there’s a lot of work ahead to get us there.”
Dworkin became president and CEO of NHC last year after serving as a senior policy adviser at the Treasury Department, where he worked on housing and community development matters. He’s also served as a member of the White House’s Detroit interagency team, where his responsibilities included developing strategies to assist in the city’s revitalization.
His resume also includes managing the Capital Magnet Fund at the Treasury Department and serving as the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs. Dworkin, who grew up wanting to be a reporter, worked as a correspondent and photographer for The Detroit News, where he covered the war in Afghanistan.
What issue did you spend the most time working on in 2018?
Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) modernization. One of the most troubling questions I had to face when I came to NHC last year was “Why is NHC relevant?” No one wants to be asked that question. NHC led advocacy for every major housing bill for 50 years. Earning back that role takes time. CRA gave us the opportunity to show our growing membership that we could consolidate their diverse views and needs into a comprehensive policy, which is what we did. Today, no one is asking about our relevance. They are asking what’s next.
What plans do you have for NHC in 2019?
Government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) reform will join CRA as major housing policy issues in 2019. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship for over a decade, and it’s time to fix the issues that put them there. We are uniquely positioned to develop consensus on this divisive issue. This concept of scrapping the current system and expecting Wall Street to capitalize five de novo enterprises that are restricted to a utility rate of return is a “Field of Dreams” approach. But if you build it, they will not come. We need to fix what’s broken and position the GSEs to play a responsible role in the 21st century housing market.
You’ve held many impressive jobs during your career. Which one has had the biggest impact on your life or influenced you the most?
During my career at the State Department, I worked on ending the conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as normalizing relations with South Africa after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and funding the successful transition of the Soviet bloc into free, independent, and stable nations of Europe. It certainly puts the most contentious housing policy debates in perspective. Since I became involved in housing policy, I’ve never had to tell anyone to stop torturing people in a secret prison under the runway. It’s a good reminder that there are no problems in housing that we can’t solve together.
What skills have helped you most in your career?
By far the best skill I use in my career is how to listen without planning your response. A few years ago my wife went back to school to become a marriage counselor, and I’ve begun helping her facilitate a seminar for couples. Basically, I flip the pages in the PowerPoint, but I’ve learned a lot about treating listening and communicating as separate skills. It’s amazing what you can learn when you actually listen to people with all of your attention, and when you repeat back what you’ve heard, they appreciate it so much because so few people do it.
What’s one housing policy you would change and why?
There’s so much that needs to be done, but the most immediate may be making housing vouchers universally accepted. We need to build a lot more affordable housing, but unless housing vouchers are universally accepted, too many people will continue to be left out.
You used to be a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. If you could report on any subject today, what would it be and why?
President George H.W. Bush declared a New World Order in 1991, but unfortunately, in the wake of the new America First movement, we are seeing another new world order asserting itself, led by China and Russia. That’s not going to be good for anyone, and I really think that is the big story of the 21st century. Bringing that back to housing, we have to have our own house in order to be a world leader, and that starts with every American having a safe, clean, and affordable place to live and raise their family.
Favorite fictional character and why?
Prince Hal/King Henry in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry V. Prince Hal is the model of both the prodigal son returned and the truly renaissance man of the Renaissance. You really can go from pub crawler to leading your country to victory at the Battle of Agincourt.
Favorite quote or book:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother … and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here …”
Leaders are always seeking ways to bring people together and motivate them to step out of the safety of the sidelines and take the field. The entire body of three plays comes to a head in that one speech. During World War II, Sir Laurence Olivier delivered the St Crispin's Day speech to boost British morale, and it still is relevant today. 400 years is quite a run in the relevance department.
If you unexpectedly had a day off, where would we find you?
Having a leisurely lunch with friends. Our days are far too full, and there’s nothing like sharing a meal with an old friend and never once having to look at your watch or check your phone.