HUD Appoints Three Staffers

Faced with criticism over its handling of various housing discrimination complaints, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Monday swore in Helen Kanovsky, Peter Kovar and John Trasviña as the general counsel, assistant secretary for Congressional and intergovernmental affairs, and the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, respectively. “Each of them plays a critical role in our goal of building a dynamic, collaborative housing team that will better position HUD to help the nation overcome the tremendous housing challenges we currently face,” HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said in a media statement. Kanovsky previously held the positions of chief operating officer and general counsel of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust. Kovar previously served as chief of staff for Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. As assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, Trasviña joins HUD after serving as president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in Los Angeles, Calif. “The principles of fair housing often have the greatest impact on our nation’s children,” Trasviña said. “If left ignored, the pain and shame of a parent whose family is denied an apartment or home because of race, religion, national origin or disability is felt by a child for a lifetime.” The three appointments, which the Senate unanimously confirmed on Friday, come as HUD faces increasing criticism over understaffed efforts to combat mortgage fraud and housing discrimination. The same day as the unanimous confirmations, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) said Friday in its 2009 Fair Housing Trends Report that 93 private non-profit fair housing organizations processed almost twice as many cases of discrimination — made on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familiar status and disability — last year as HUD, the US Justice Department, and 107 state and local government agencies combined. “Fair housing advocates have been warning the federal government for a decade, to no avail, about the damage that abusive lending would bring,” said Shanna Smith, NFHA president and CEO. “For too long, HUD and the Justice Department have stood by while people and neighborhoods of color have been targeted for predatory loans and stripped of equity.” NFHA may now have an advocate in fair housing and equal opportunity assistant secretary Trasviña. The US Senate last week voted 92-4 in favor of Senate bill 386, called the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which provides $490m over the next two fiscal years for mortgage fraud investigation by regulatory agencies like HUD. The legislation allows $75m in fiscal year 2010 and $65m in fiscal year 2011 for the FBI to use its resources to go after suspected fraudsters. Furthermore, $50m goes to the US Attorneys’ office. Up to $40m in funding goes to the Justice Department, to be shared among the criminal, civil and tax divisions. The legislation also would provide $30m each fiscal year to HUD’s Inspector General for investigation of fraudulent and discriminatory cases like those reported by NFHA. Write to Diana Golobay at [email protected].

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