Washington, D.C., January 12, 2009—Shaun Donovan is a distinguished public servant and, under Mayor Bloomberg, has made a difficult government-run housing agency work better. Unlike a lot of the people to run the department of Housing and Urban Development – under administrations of both parties – he appears to be honest, forthright, and more concerned about housing than his own personal aggrandizement.
But he does need to know that what works in New York isn’t going to work in the rest of the country. A half century after the massive urban renewal projects brought us modern public housing, New York has emerged as the only place where public housing has always worked more-or-less as intended: as a “hand up” that provides very basic accommodations for striving families who can't afford to live anywhere else. If he wants to be a great HUD secretary, however, Mr. Donovan has to realize that what worked in New York – government-built, government-run high rises – doesn't work anywhere else.
The HOPE VI program – which tears down government-built complexes and replaces them with mixed income housing – is the last real innovation to come out of HUD. It has had a mixed record, at best. But the fundamental idea of finally undoing much of the damage that government has done is a sound one.
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