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PEOPLE:
HUD Honcho

July 1, 2010

Interview by Bryant Rousseau

Shaun Donovan
Photo © Kristine Larsen

Secretary Donovan recently visited New York for the groundbreaking of Via Verde, a sustainable and affordable housing development in the South Bronx by Dattner Architects, Grimshaw Architects, Jonathon Rose Companies, and Phipps Houses. Click here for more on Via Verde.

Secretary Donovan discusses retrofitting and increasing awareness among average Americans about green buildings.

Donovan discusses the importance of design to HUD's affordable-housing mission.

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Secretary Shaun Donovan is the 15th United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He has devoted his career to ensuring access to safe, decent, and affordable housing and previously served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Secretary Donovan holds a B.A. and a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Architecture from Harvard.

GreenSource: What are some of your goals as Secretary of HUD?

Secretary Donovan: We have been a country with too much focus on home ownership in our housing policy and not enough focus on rental housing and creating sustainable communities. The federal effort to support sustainable, smart planning at both the local level and in the metropolitan region is a major priority for this administration.

GS: How do you factor effective planning into the allocation of HUD dollars?

SD: Part of it is avoiding investments in less sustainable forms of housing. Are we incorporating a range of elements into that building related to its use as a sustainable presence in the neighborhood? There’s never been this scale of federal investment in supporting sophisticated planning. It will drive these communities to really begin to integrate their transportation and housing efforts.

GS: How has your training as an architect informed your career in policy?

SD: One of the things that I appreciate about my training is the interdisciplinary way that architects approach problems. One reason I became so fascinated with affordable housing and community development is that it connects to so many other things. Our work at HUD is, by its very nature, deeply interdisciplinary. I think architecture has helped me see how we have to connect housing and community development to many other agencies and efforts.

GS: Which collaboration are you most excited about?

SD: Working with the DOT and EPA, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities has come a long way. Congress has shown some confidence in it by funding HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. I also think the interaction with the Department of Energy is critically important in terms of greening. Housing is in many ways the most immediate opportunity we have for reducing carbon emissions and building a green economy.

GS: What do you hope that the Partnership for Sustainable Communities will achieve?

SD: I thought there would be some misgivings about HUD working more closely with the DOT or the EPA: What is this collaboration going to bring me? What am I going to feel in my community that’s different? But really there’s this enormous excitement about livable communities and what that means to people—I can get home sooner; I can get out of my car and walk; I feel better because it’s easier for me to exercise; my kids are healthier. There’s this very direct, visceral connection that families and individuals have to this issue and to what we’re trying to achieve, which are communities that people want to live in. There’s been an incredibly positive reaction now that the federal government finally gets it—they get what we want our communities to be.

This article appeared in the July 2010 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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