by Ben Judson
Mayor Julián Castro accepting nomination as HUD Secretary (CSPAN)
President Obama today officially nominated San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as originally reported by the New York Times on May 17. Calling Castro an "all-star" and a "leader in housing and economic development," Obama cited the mayor's biography as an example of why housing is a driver of economic mobility, concluding "Julián ha vivido el sueño Americano." This appointment raises the ambitious mayor to the ranks of national politician after his successful keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Castro, accepting the nomination, declared that "we are in a century of cities. America's cities are growing again, and housing is at the top of the agenda. I look forward to being part of a department that will help ensure that millions Americans, all across the country, have the chance to get good, safe, affordable housing, and to reach their American dreams."
Created as a Cabinet position by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the HUD Secretary is charged with ensuring all Americans have equitable access to housing, and with improving quality of life in urban areas. If his nomination is confirmed, Castro will oversee programs designed to provide affordable housing to seniors and low-income Americans, prevent discrimination, and help aspiring home owners get affordable loans, among others.
HUD Secretary is not seen as a high-profile appointment, as Cabinet positions go; the current Secretary, Shaun Donovan, was confirmed unanimously in 2009 and has largely stayed out of headlines. The department wasn't always so uncontroversial. George Romney, appointed to HUD by Richard Nixon in 1969, made waves as he attempted to use his position to forcefully battle segregation, and was eventually driven from the Cabinet. HUD has consistently declined to systematically address America's housing segregation problems ever since, as demonstrated by a 2012 investigation by ProPublica.
In 1993, then-HUD Secretary (and former San Antonio Mayor) Henry Cisneros declared that the agency had "exacerbated the declining quality of life in urban America." As Castro follows in Cisneros' footsteps from Mayor to Secretary, he has an opportunity to address an important source of continuing inequality in cities across the nation. (If you think housing segregation isn't still a problem, you need look no further than Donald Sterling, who settled a lawsuit for blatantly discriminatory housing practices in 2009.)
But Castro, who some think is being groomed as a Vice Presidential pick for 2016, may be less interested in truly addressing issues of segregation than in getting some federal executive experience under his belt to boost his credentials. This is why conservatives are already digging into Castro's record, looking for skeletons, or more likely, ways to paint him as a political and managerial light weight.
Our mayor may surprise those who see this role as a mere political stepping stone. He recently voted against rezoning a San Antonio trailer park after outcry from its residents, saying “We move mountains to create jobs in the city, we move mountains to preserve our aquifer, we move mountains to save bats, we move mountains to save historic buildings—and we need to move mountains for people.” At HUD, Castro will — at least in theory — have the power to move mountains for disadvantaged people across the United States. If he does, he'll be the first HUD Secretary in four decades to try.