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The Herald News - HUD Chief: Affordable Housing, Unemployment Relief Are Key To Recovery

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During appearances in the SouthCoast Monday, President Obama's Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said creating affordable housing, shifting stimulus funds to small businesses and helping the unemployed retain homes are among the administration's priorities.

After touring a half-dozen foreclosed properties in Fall River and addressing the media for a brief press conference at Government Center, Donovan and Frank were joined by Gov. Deval Patrick to herald an innovative energy housing project in New Bedford.

HUD awarded a $1.5 million innovation grant for the New Bedford Housing Authority to retrofit a gas-fired cogeneration plant to supply its 200-unit Bay Village with heat and hot water, while providing secondary hot water to a nearby elementary school and the YMCA.

That grant was part of $1 billion set aside for innovative programs among the nation's 3,000 housing authorities, a large portion to promote green energy.

"I See this investment as an investment in our values," said Patrick, who spoke briefly and came to New Bedford to lend support.

Donovan, appointed by Obama after serving as New York's commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and in a HUD post in the Clinton administration, called the federal stimulus program a smart investment to reduce public housing energy costs, lower bills and lower taxes paying for public housing.

He said they believe the country could save a fifth of its $5 billion in annual public housing energy costs.

Donovan and Frank briefly addressed how unemployment is driving many of the nation's housing foreclosures.

"We've seen the foreclosures decreasing, but we have a long way to go," Donovan said at his New Bedford stop.

He said the country's financial stability would increase by making housing more affordable and providing better support for small business, which creates half the country's jobs.

The smaller banks didn't receive enough of the stimulus recovery funds, Frank said, stating that Bank of America would be repaying the $45 billion it received.

Frank, chairman of the House Services Committee, said he'd consider extending the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or $700 billion Wall Street bailout, if it included a provision he's behind to aid unemployed people facing foreclosure.

The TARP could provide those citizens with $2 billion in low-interest loans through the $700 billion in bank bailout repayments, officials said. The emergency loan would be for one year with a possible second-year extension, and assumption those homeowners could resume future mortgage payments

The average person can't make mortgage payments while collecting unemployment, which has accelerated foreclosures, Frank said.

He said it's part of legislation recently introduced called the Main Street TARP bill.

Donovan and Frank completed their SouthCoast appearance with a round-table discussion with community leaders in Taunton.

Donovan holds a bachelor's and masters degrees in public administration and architecture from Harvar

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