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Housing Committee Briefed By HUD Secretary Donovan, Honors Congressman Frank

By Eugene T. Lowe
January 30, 2012

The Conference of Mayors Community Development and Standing Committee, chaired by Newton (MA) Mayor Setti Warren, honored Congressman Barney Frank, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, and briefed by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan during the 80th Winter Meeting. The committee was also given an update on the nation's "Opening Doors" policy, the strategic plan to end homelessness, and a report on Freddie Mac's policy on disposing REO properties.

Donovan, accompanied by Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Mercedes Marquez, told the committee that there has been progress since when he last spoke to the Conference of Mayors during the Annual Meeting last June. The Secretary said that many more jobs have been created in the nation. "This is due to the efforts of the mayors and the issues that mayors focus on," Donovan said. He cited the battle on the payroll taxes on which the mayors help deliver. Another example of progress is the 45 percent reduction of people going into foreclosure since April 2009. Still another example is the reduction in vacancy rates made possible because of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Progress has also been made in reducing homelessness through the policy of rapid re-housing which averts people from becoming homeless by housing them before it happens. There has also been much accomplished in the Sustainable Communities Initiative, where communities pursue comprehensive plans that include the development of infrastructure, housing and transportation. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative designed to help transform communities with a high concentration of poverty is also showing great progress.

But even with such progress, Donovan told the committee that mayors and the leadership of the Conference of Mayors will be tested this year. "This year will be a challenge," he said. "We have already faced unfair attacks on the HOME Investment Partnerships program. We will have to fight for the Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] program. We will also have to fight for the Sustainable Communities program which was not funded in this fiscal year," the Secretary added. "These programs work and together we must make this case," he told the committee.

Following Donovan's remarks, Warren presented a plaque from the Conference of Mayors to Frank, who will retire at end of the 112th Congress. Warren, on behalf of The U.S. Conference of Mayors, thanked Frank for his many years of service to the nation's cities and for his strong support of housing and community development programs. Donovan added that, "We will miss Congressman Frank's leadership."

Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, briefed the committee on "Opening Doors." Poppe said that there has been a 12 percent reduction in homelessness since the advent of "Opening Doors." And over the last seven years, there has been a 40 percent reduction in chronic homelessness. "These results have come about because of state and local solutions," she said. Poppe encouraged mayors to revisit their ten-year plans to end homelessness and to model their plans on "Opening Doors." She urged the mayors "to end homelessness and not just manage it." Poppe also spoke about cities struggling with street homelessness. She said that there are alternatives to the criminalization of homeless people. Mayors, she said, need a comprehensive approach which includes law enforcement, mental health agencies, and others collaborating to decrease the number of homeless people being jailed.

Eric Will, Senior REO Sales Director of Freddie Mac/HomeSteps, described how Freddie Mac is approaching the disposition of 60,000 homes and achieving neighborhood stabilization where the homes are located. By having a number of reliable vendors, pursuing a good neighbor policy, having effective evaluation practices, pursuing community stabilization, and having as its goal owner occupancy of the homes, Freddie Mac is achieving outstanding results. In 2011, 70 percent of Freddie Mac homes went to people who will live (owner occupancy) in those homes.