Obama Taps Shaun Donovan, City Housing Chief, To Lead HUD

President-elect Obama has selected Shaun Donovan, the 42-year-old who leads the city’s housing agency, as his Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a powerful position that traditionally has gone to the politically connected.

The appointment was announced in Mr. Obama’s weekly radio address this morning (video here).

Mr. Donovan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development since 2004, is the chief architect of Mayor Bloomberg’s ambitious 10-year plan to build 92,000 units of housing and preserve 73,000 existing units. He looks even younger than his age, and is viewed as something of a wunderkind—a gifted, policy-focused administrator who has been able to craft effective strategies to build and finance new housing. That plan, ahead of schedule on the preservation figures, was facing an uphill fight to reach its goal for new production even before the financial crisis, and now is almost sure to miss it [more on this in a September feature story we wrote on the subject].

To many local observers of city government and affordable housing professionals, the appointment comes as a bit of a surprise; while Mr. Donovan clearly wanted the job and took time off to campaign for Mr. Obama, many of the early administration appointments went to veteran politicians. The HUD secretary position has long gone to household political names, and alums of the position include former Representative Jack Kemp, who was Bob Dole’s running mate for president in 1996: Henry Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio; Andrew Cuomo, the now-attorney general of New York who served at the end of the Clinton era; and Senator Mel Martinez, who was a fundraiser for George W. Bush and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Florida.

Within the Bloomberg administration, Mr. Donovan is generally well-regarded, and his policies are praised by many in the affordable housing field.

It is unclear how Mr. Donovan’s appointment could benefit the city, though under the Bush administration, urban areas generally have complained of federal disinvestment, particularly in the affordable housing arena. The New York City Housing Authority, funded in large part by HUD, has seen its budgets repeatedly slashed.

Mr. Obama, in his radio address, announced Mr. Donovan’s appointment in the context urban needs.

“We need to understand that the old ways of looking at our cities just won’t do. That means promoting cities as the backbone of regional growth by not only solving the problems in our cities, but seizing the opportunities in our growing suburbs, exurbs, and metropolitan areas. No one knows this better than the outstanding public servant I am announcing today as our next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Shaun Donovan.”

Mayor Bloomberg released a laudatory statement, saying Mr. Donovan’s “record of service has left an imprint on our city that will last and that many others will be able to continue to build on.”