San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has been nominated to be the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. What's to be said about this? Well, over at The Washington Post, The Fix hooks you up with "The 10 things you need to know about Julian Castro."
This must be a misprint, because the article goes on to relate 10 very inessential and/or inconsequential things about Castro. For example, did you know that he has a twin brother? Or that he does not speak Spanish? Here's a hot scoop: Castro could one day be the first Hispanic president of the United States, according to this one guy who said so once, unless of course someone else becomes the first Hispanic president of the United States. The whole "who will be the first Hispanic president of the United States" thing is really sort of up in the air at the moment.
However, if I took all of the information in this Post article that speaks to the sort of HUD secretary Castro would be, or that provides some insight into his own policy preferences on housing or urban policy, it would all fit in one tweet ("One of Castro's biggest achievements in San Antonio has been expanding educational opportunities for low-income students in the city") and still leave me with eight characters. So, hey, just off the top of my dome, here's 10 much better things that you should know about Julian Castro:
1. HUD was formed in 1965 and is tasked with nurturing innovative housing and urban planning policies and then implementing them when the opportunity arises.
2. Note that I didn't say something like "HUD is in charge of housing policy." That's maybe too strong a statement. When it comes to high-profile housing policy, HUD often rides as a sidekick. As Matt Yglesias pointed out on Friday, "The basic fact of the matter is that the HUD chief is not very important to housing policy ... the Treasury Department has the relevant analytical expertise and the tax-writing committees in congress run the show legislatively." So if this is mainly a role about vision, let's explore how Castro's vision in particular might be informed.
3. Elected San Antonio mayor in 2009, Castro presided over a city that the Atlantic's Derek Thompson called "the most recession-proof city" in America. If you want insight into Castro's perspective on urban policy and economics, Thompson's examination is a good place to start. The thumbnail sketch behind San Antonio's success has some key features: Slow and patient growth, a diverse economic base (Thompson calls it "eds, meds, the enlisted, and the hotel beds"), and lots of government support. Per Thompson: "Castro's city is a good reminder that government has a role in supporting economic growth, but that dependence on government-protected industries carries the risk of atrophying a local economy."
4. At the outset of his mayorship, Castro created a program called SA2020 -- a "community vision for the future of San Antonio." You can see what SA2020 is all about here, but the nickel version is that research was conducted among San Antonio residents in order to determine a set of goals to improve the quality of life in San Antonio by the year 2020, and a nonprofit organization was set up to coordinate efforts between the private sector, government, nonprofits, community volunteers, and philanthropists in meeting those goals. Here is a PDF of the most recent SA2020 Progress Report.
5. In 2013, Castro identified "building a city's brainpower" as an economic priority for San Antonio. He discussed this in an interview with the National Journal's Sophie Quinton.
The number one priority is to create brainpower and skills. You know, I've said a million times that brainpower is the new currency of success in the 21st century global economy. On November 6th, we passed Pre-K 4 SA; that was an effort to ensure that we raise a generation of San Antonians that never gets behind in the first place.
What we're going to focus on -- in 2013 and in the coming years -- is closing the skills gap that exists in just about every community between what employers need and the pipeline that's being produced. We want to ensure that whether it's Toyota, or Lockheed Martin, or Boeing or Rackspace, that employers find people have the skills to fill those jobs. That's a challenge for San Antonio, but we already have half the challenge met. For a lot of other communities, the challenge is twofold: They don't have a very young population, and then those young workers who are there don't have the skills that are needed for those jobs.
6. Castro has stood behind the Obama administration's foreclosure policies, some of which -- like the Home Affordable Modification Program -- featured HUD involvement. As Anjeanette Damon reported for Las Vegas Weekly: "In an interview for To the Point, Castro shrugged off criticism from both Republicans and Democrats that Obama did not act aggressively enough to stave off the foreclosure crisis that continues to hamstring Nevada's economic recovery."
8. Castro's cabinet appointment isn't the first time President Barack Obama has done him a solid. In January, Obama "designated struggling parts of San Antonio as one of five new 'promise zones,'" The Dallas Morning News reported. In the area targeted -- San Antonio's Eastside -- "nearly 4 in 10 adults don't have a high school diploma," and the rate of violent crime was "50 percent higher than the rest of the city." The idea of the "promise zone" was to offer the targeted area "comprehensive assistance from multiple federal agencies, with the goal of creating jobs, expanding educational opportunities, increasing access to affordable housing and improving public safety."
9. But "promise zones" are kind of controversial. Back when they were a Republican idea, they were called "enterprise zones" and the idea was to give corporations tax breaks and other incentives to set up shop in downtrodden areas and put people to work. For corporations, it often meant lower taxes, lighter regulation, and weakened labor rights.
Al Jazeera America's Susan Greenbaum has a good piece examining the way Obama's "promise zones" differ from the ideas that preceded them. Here's a part relevant to Castro as his involvement shifts from being a mayoral beneficiary of these "promise zones" to taking over the reins at HUD:
A final, important problem is the lack of effective participation by residents. Amazingly, HUD's description of stakeholders in designated Choice Neighborhoods -- it lists "public housing authorities, cities, schools, police, business owners, nonprofits, and private developers" -- does not include the people who actually live there. This patronizing posture has been a flaw in poverty programming for nearly 50 years. The widely held belief that residents of poor neighborhoods are culturally deficient, socially damaged by their environment and cognitively impaired by poverty diminishes their perceived capacity to join the partnership. But they are the ones who know their own problems, and their energy and compliance are critical to success.
Will Castro continue this "patronizing" approach, or will this program take on the whole-community involvement of his SA2020 program? We are going to find out!
10. This is just some preliminary information worth pondering as you think about what sort of HUD secretary Castro would be, and where his thinking on housing and urban policy is. I guess the last thing to learn is that maybe you should avoid "The Fix" for "need to know" information about politics unless your "need to know" needs are limited to "winning at pub trivia."
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