Donovan to head HUD

Obama chooses New York City's innovative housing commissioner for the Cabinet

December 14, 2008|By Christi Parsons | Christi Parsons,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - A Harvard-educated architect is Barack Obama's choice to head his housing agency, one which the president-elect says will play a key role in tackling the mortgage crisis in his administration.

Shaun Donovan will bring "fresh thinking" to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Obama said yesterday, pledging that his nominee will abandon "old ideology and outdated ideas" that have stymied some of the agency's past efforts.

"We can't keep throwing money at the problem, hoping for a different result," Obama said in his weekly radio address. "We need to approach the old challenge of affordable housing with new energy, new ideas, and a new, efficient style of leadership."

Donovan, 42, a former HUD official, is credited with increasing the affordable options in New York as head of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The announcement comes as Obama nears his informal Christmas-week deadline for assembling a Cabinet, a task that has largely been completed. A handful of key nominees are expected in the coming days, including appointees for the departments of Labor and Education.

But the HUD announcement effectively completes the team of advisers whom Obama intends to rely on most heavily to shape his administration's response to the economic crisis, an agenda dwarfing all others as he prepares to take office.

Obama assembled his economic team as one of his first priorities after election, naming his treasury secretary, budget director and economic council director and setting them to work in recent weeks.

In naming Donovan, Obama said he wants his HUD secretary to take a lead role in stemming the tide of foreclosures and increasing the number of families who can remain in their homes amid the crisis.

"This plan will only work with a comprehensive, coordinated federal effort to make it a reality," Obama said. "We need every part of our government working together - from the Treasury Department to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agency that protects the money you've put in the bank. And few will be more essential to this effort than the Department of Housing and Urban Development."

Donovan has worked in both business and non-profit sectors and at HUD during the Clinton administration, having served as deputy assistant secretary of multifamily housing. He later worked at Prudential Mortgage Capital Co. as managing director of its FHA lending and affordable housing investments, before Mayor Michael Bloomberg named him commissioner of New York's Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 2004.

Today, Donovan leads the largest municipal affordable housing program in the nation. The agency's $7.5 billion plan to build and preserve some 165,000 units of affordable housing reached its halfway point this fall.

He has been a visiting scholar at New York University, researching the preservation of federally assisted housing, and has also written about housing policy at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

If confirmed him, Donovan would assume his post amid the worst economic climate for homeowners in decades.

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