NEW YORK - Two former HUD secretaries, Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros, used the release of a new book on affordable-housing solutions they co-authored to praise New York City and its mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for placing the expansion of housing at the top of his administration's agenda.
The book, entitled Our Communities, Our Homes: Pathways to Housing and Homeownership in America's Cities and States, is published by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, whose director, Nicolas Retsinas, is another co-author along with former NAHB chairman Kent Colton. The press conference announcing the book's release was held in the offices of Shaun Donovan, commissioner of New York's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is spearheading Bloomberg's plan to create more than 500,000 new units of affordable housing, at a cost of $7.5 billion, over a 10-year period ending 2013. Donovan said this effort has raised $600 million in private-sector funds, and he noted that the city just reached the 65,000-housing-unit mark, a year ahead of its target schedule.
One of the central tenets of the 276-page book is that the best way for the U.S. to solve its chronic shortage of affordable for-sale and rental housing is through a bipartisan approach (Kemp served under President George H. W. Bush, Cisneros under President Clinton) that encourages the private and public sectors to work in tandem. "The world of public housing is a world of innovation," in terms of figuring out ways to make it profit based, says Cisneros, who now is chairman of CityView America, which focuses on workforce housing development. Kemp, who is founder and chairman of the consulting firm Kemp Partners, adds that he's a "big believer" in leveraging homeownership into expanding the base of capital in the U.S. economy. "You have to consider housing and economic development as inextricably united." (Kemp also said that as a Republican, he's "embarrassed" by his party's attempts to defund popular and successful public housing programs such as HOPE VI, which he played a role is getting off the ground as HUD secretary.)
This book is a follow-up to its authors' Opportunity and Progress: A Bipartisan Platform for National Housing Policy, which the Joint Center published in 2004. Where the first book focused on national trends and solutions, their new book bores down to the local level and provides telling success stories of how different municipalities around the country are addressing their respective housing needs. Cisneros described Our Communities, Our Homes as "a manual of best practices" that cities can learn from, and both he and Kemp singled out not only New York--whose population is projected to grow by 1 million by 2025--but also Boston and Chicago for their efforts to expand their housing stock through public/private initiatives.
Donovan said that a book of this kind is needed because while there is a growing awareness across the country about the need for housing sustainability, "it's amazing how little conversation goes on between communities" about possible solutions or even swapping ideas. Cisneros said that the Joint Center is in discussions with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities about possibly distributing the book through those organizations to their members. Cisneros and Kemp did their bit to spread the word about the book by appearing yesterday on CNBC's "Squawk Box" financial program and FoxNews' "Your World," talk show hosted by Neil Cavuto.