Feedback
News

Senators Question Housing Secretary Nominee Julian Castro

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro sought to reassure a Senate panel Tuesday he would demand performance and accountability if confirmed to be Housing and Urban Development secretary.

Castro faced the Senate Housing and Banking Committee, which must give its initial OK for Castro’s nomination to advance to the full Senate for final approval.

“I would like HUD to focus on outcomes, not only inputs,” Castro said. “We shouldn’t just track projects and dollars spent. We must measure those investments by the impact they make … I will work hard to make this the norm at HUD.”

Castro said he had done this as mayor of San Antonio, the nation’s 7th largest city. A program known as SA2020 was created to set a vision for the city but also to report back on how the city was doing in accomplishing it.

Image: Castro, nominee to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development, testifies before the Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
Julian Castro, nominee to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development, testifies before the Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2014. YURI GRIPAS / Reuters

There was early indication that his nomination has some bipartisan support. Fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, introduced the Democratic rising star.

Cornyn extolled Castro’s background as the son of a single mother who grew up in San Antonio’s west side of town, a historically lower income area where many residents of Mexican descent lived in the once segregated city.

Castro’s twin brother, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, sat behind the mayor alongside the mayor’s wife Erica Lira Castro.

Several members were eager to get Castro’s commitment to get behind pending legislation to reform housing finance; deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government housing lending agencies which have been in conservatorship and to put the Federal Housing Administration into solvency.

The issues stemning from the housing market collapse require reforms that will provide adequate access to loans, while being careful not to wade back into the problem loans that set of the mortgage defaults and forced taxpayer rescues.

“I share your goals of ensuring that we have a housing finance system that both protects the taxpayers in a stronger way than we have had in place, but also balances access to credit for folks of modest means who are credit worthy,” Castro said of the pending bipartisan Johnson-Crapo Housing Finance Reform bill.

The bill has been approved by the committee but continues to be revised to address concerns, including some raised by minority and civil rights groups regarding their communities’ ability to get loans and credit for home purchases. Its prospects for a floor vote this year are diminishing.

Castro did get a taste of some of the pressure that members will apply. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., pressed him on the shortfall of Section 8 low-income housing. He said nationally the shortfall is more than 7 million affordable units for extremely low-income families.

When Castro referred to the housing as a line item in HUD’s budget, Menendez responded: “It may be a line item but this is about millions of people’s lives … From whence I came from and who I represent, I don’t look at the lives affected,” said Menendez.

Castro, who said his father lived two different times in public housing, assured Menendez he’d consider the issue in the same way.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., wanted Castro to agree to deter use of eminent domain to confiscate mortgages from private lenders and prohibit FHA from refinancing mortgages for properties seized this way.

Castro said that the city of San Antonio had not used that method, nor had other cities and recognized there is litigation surrounding it. Toomey pressed for Castro to express whether he supports use of eminent domain, but Castro didn’t waver, sending Toomey off in frustration.

“I see I’m not going to get an answer to my question,” Toomey said.