Julián Castro will turn over leadership of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to a new administration this week.

The nation’s top housing official for the past two-and-a-half years reflects on his time at HUD and his hopes for the future.

Julian Castro, HUD secretary
J. Castro

At a time when many housing advocates fear that fair housing efforts will be rolled back under the next administration, Castro says that leveling housing opportunities for all people is as important today as it was in 1968.

In an interview with Affordable Housing Finance, the former San Antonio mayor also discusses his disappointment that housing wasn’t a bigger issue during the recent election and makes the case for protecting and improving the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program as Congress considers tax reform.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, to be the next HUD secretary.

What will be the Obama administration’s legacy when it comes to housing?
The No. 1 legacy will be that the administration led a turnaround in the housing market. When the president took office to now, our housing market has come back. Homeowners have recovered $7 trillion worth—housing prices, housing sales, home values have all increased. We’re in a much stronger position today than we were in January of 2009.

Another important legacy is the phenomenal work from the president and first lady on ending veteran homelessness. We’ve seen a 47% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010. It was the president’s Open Doors blueprint that set the stage for that, and the first lady’s leadership with the mayor’s challenge to end veteran homelessness is something to be very, very proud of.

What has given you the most satisfaction?
During my time at HUD, ConnectHome has been personally satisfying because it was something I wanted to do before I got here. ConnectHome is an effort in 28 communities to connect low-income residents of public housing to broadband because the vast majority of public housing residents don’t have access to the Internet. I’m proud we’re giving thousands and thousands of young people the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century global economy.

What’s disappointed you the most?
The time just feels short. You always feel like there are other things you could accomplish with more time. I’ve been here two-and-a-half years, and it’s gone by in a heartbeat.

I want the department to continue focusing on measuring outcomes for the investments we make. HUD does tremendously impactful work. When somebody has a home, that makes a tremendous difference in his or her life. At the same time, we want to be able to better measure how we’re avoiding intergenerational poverty and increasing upward mobility. We’ve made some good progress, but we still need to make more.

Given more time, say you had another year at HUD, what issue would you focus on?
There are a number of them. I really can’t pin it down to one issue. I would continue the push to end veteran homelessness but also build on the work we’ve done on ending chronic homelessness and family homelessness. We saw a 27% decline in family homelessness and a 23% decline in chronic homelessness between 2010 and 2016.

We’ve continued to fight for more resources because we have a rental affordability crisis out there, and Congress has not appropriated the resources necessary to deal with that crisis. Those are things that I would like to keep working on.

Affordable housing is such a crisis in this nation. Why doesn’t it get more attention? Why isn’t it a bigger national issue?
That’s a great question. I was disappointed during this past election that it did not come up very much if at all. At the same time, we see more and more families spending more than a third, more than 40%, sometimes more than 50%, of their income on rent. Part of it is this is something that is quite local and effected by the local housing market, by local land-use regulations. It’s not the most glamorous issue because it’s a fairly complex issue. It doesn’t lend itself to soundbites or easy talk on a campaign trail, but it’s tremendously important, so I was disappointed it didn’t receive more attention.

Right now, a big concern is tax reform and what that might do to the LIHTC. What are your concerns about the housing credit, and how can it maintain its strength?
First, the LIHTC is an indispensable tool to create more affordable housing. There are 100,000 affordable units that are created annually because of the LIHTC. I’d say three things. No. 1, as Congress considers an overhaul of the tax system, they ought to be mindful of the impact to the LIHTC and the housing market generally.

Second, states need to be as smart as possible in how they do their qualified allocation plans to make sure they’re getting a good bang for the buck there and advising as much affordable housing development as possible and in areas of opportunity in local communities.

Third, the next administration can build on some of the work we have done to make the LIHTC even more effective. I’m thinking, for instance, of the small DDAs (difficult-to-develop areas) that we’ve put together. This is an approach that looks now in a more nuanced way at a census tract level to give a boost to the LIHTC, to developers that are trying to develop in particularly tough areas, expensive areas. My hope is the next administration will look for similar ways to squeeze every ounce of affordability out of the LIHTC.

RAD has been a signature program for HUD under this administration. What are your thoughts on its future?
I’m convinced it has a bright future. It’s been innovative. It has helped many communities renovate housing that needed it. We have a cap now of 185,000 units. We have demand for just about all 185,000 units. I expect that the cap will go higher in the years to come as more and more units get completed. There are already tens of thousands of units that have been completed. There’s a lot of momentum behind RAD now. It’s three years old, and it’s got its legs under it. It’s also got good support on both sides of the aisle in Congress. As long as we make sure that tenants’ interests are also well protected and taken care of, that’s important, I think there’s a very bright future for RAD. Unfortunately, it’s necessary because we have more than a $26 billion backlog in terms of public housing renovation needs out there.

HUD has also been active lately on desegregation and fair housing issues. Some advocates are concerned that some of those efforts will be rolled back. What are your concerns?
The push for leveling the playing field, making sure that no matter somebody’s background that they’re treated fairly in the housing market, that’s as important in 2017 as it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed. I’m proud that in 2015 we got the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule done to help local communities better ensure there is fairness in the housing market. We rolled that out. It’s going well so far. I hope the next administration will remain committed to strong fair housing efforts because they are needed whether it is to ensure that there is no racial bias but also bias against people with disabilities, bias against folks who speak English as a second language, women who are pregnant. Those are all the types of fair housing work this department has done in the last few years.

How much conversation have you had with Dr. Ben Carson?
We had a good phone conversation right before the holidays. I expressed to Dr. Carson our enthusiasm about ensuring there’s a smooth transition. Folks here at HUD have been working with his transition team very well, providing briefings on every aspect of the department and being available for Dr. Carson or any of the transition team members with questions as he prepared for his confirmation hearing. I’m confident that there’s going to be a smooth transition. I know they’ve already set out a number of people to come and work as soon as the administration starts on Friday. That’s well underway.

Did he ask you about any particular housing topic?
We really didn’t delve into details. It was a high-level conversation but a pleasant one. I wish him well.

What do you hope for the agency?
That it continues to make a profound, positive difference in the lives of poor people and working-class folks who just want to reach the American dream like everybody else and that HUD is well invested in because the work it’s doing is as important today as it was in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson created the department. Those are my hopes—that it’s well resourced to do the important work that it needs to do and that it keeps making the great impact that I’ve seen it make.

What’s next for you? Are you going to run for office or do something else?
I’ll be back in Texas, finishing a book (a memoir) that I was working on and watching politics as they develop. I’ll keep my voice out there. It’s an important time to have a strong voice and to be active. I’m going to leave electoral politics alone. I won’t be running for anything, but of course I’m going to lend my voice to causes of folks who need it.

Is Friday your last day?
The administration will turn over at 12:01. We’re working hard until the end. We just got the lead rule completed. We’re working on an HECM (home equity conversion mortgage), a reverse mortgage program, right now that we’re hoping will get published soon. We’re taking every day as an opportunity to make a difference as the president has said.