The new Housing And Urban Development Secretary sees HUD as a department of opportunity, not just a department of housing.
The keynote afternoon speaker at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Summit in Washington, D.C., Julián Castro, said he is focused on advancing policies at the nearly 50-year-old HUD that create opportunity across the country, creating a solid foundation for the next 50 years.
“Across the country, HUD is providing help and hope. And we’ll spend the next two-and-a-half years expanding opportunity for all Americans. The best place to start is homeownership. In fact, it’s time to remove the stigma associated with promoting homeownership. When done responsibly, it strengthens communities and boosts our economy. It helps families put down roots and secure their financial futures. In short, it’s a cornerstone of the American Dream,” Castro said in prepared remarks.
He wants to build a stronger HUD, and his speech started in a disciplined manner about internal reforms.
“By improving the way we do business, we will be able to more effectively deliver on our mission of creating opportunity for all. To do this, we want to focus on four areas of operational improvement,” he said.
This includes, from the prepared materials:
“In this tight budget environment, we've got to make a powerful case for resources. The best way to make the case is by measuring our outcomes and using data to guide our work. We've got to show our stakeholders that what we're doing works and deserves investment. Evidence-based work also shows us what's not working, giving us the information we need to make adjustments or, if appropriate, change course.”
“Transparency is good for productivity and morale. We must make every effort to let the HUD team know when and why we are making decisions, as well as encourage employees to offer ideas-through Switchboard, to supervisors and more-to make HUD an even better place to work.”
“Accountability is critical. HUD's greatest asset is its people. We've got to hold ourselves and each other accountable. In addition to celebrating our successes, we must take action when and where we fall short. We also should put extra effort into performance plans, using them to reward those who perform well and support those who don't with training and effective management.”
“HUD is part of a broader federal government community. Working even closer with our fellow agencies as we simultaneously strive to foster collaboration within HUD will allow us to better align our efforts, streamline initiatives and, ultimately, make us more effective for the people we serve.”
Related to GSE reform, Castro said there has to be movement.
“A government-dominated market is unsustainable. Instead, we need to attract private capital back to the market, establish certainty for lenders, and protect taxpayers for the future. The bipartisan passage of Johnson-Crapo in the Senate Banking Committee was a huge step forward. Now we must keep pushing until housing reform legislation gets over the finish line — once and for all. In the meantime, we must do all we can to get capital flowing again,” Castro said.
Castro said he understands the dilemmas and challenges facing mortgage financing.
“With all our efforts, I want to send a simple message to lenders: let’s work together. We share a common interest: to see a robust, healthy housing market where those who are ready can buy a home – from the millennial starting out, to the veteran returning from the battlefield, to the couple expecting their first child,” Castro said. “We can advance this interest and move our nation forward — but that takes partnership.”
He said he understands the issue of uncertainty, and wants HUD to be a source to alleviate rather than add to that.
“Many have been reluctant to lend because they fear unanticipated consequences. They need to be able to manage their risk better – and so does FHA. So we’re making it easier to do business with us by overhauling our ‘Single Family Handbook,’” Castro said. “It brings together 900 mortgagee letters and other policy guidance into a single document. By the end of this month we will publish our first section — loan origination through endorsement.”
Castro addressed the demographic challenge ahead in his prepared remarks.
He noted that when it comes to rental housing, America is in the midst of a severe and growing challenge. In 2012, more than half of renters were paying more than 30% of their income on housing.
Castro said that to meet this challenge, HUD must continue to seek innovative ways to both preserve and create affordable rental housing.
On the issue of homelessness, Castro said that HUD is committed to working with federal, state, and local partners to end homelessness.
“We've made tremendous progress in recent years, including a 16% drop in chronic homelessness and a 33% drop in veteran homelessness,” he said.
Castro said another focus will be on urban community development.
“So we’re bringing new life to HUD initiatives that boost access to knowledge and employment. Later this month, we’ll award $75 million to nearly 750 Public Housing Authorities to connect residents with the education and job opportunities they need to build assets and improve their lives,” he said.