Obama Taps San Antonio’s Top Public Housing Executive

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One of the new apartment buildings at the Park at Sutton Oaks. Photo courtesy of SAHA.

One of the new apartment buildings at the Park at Sutton Oaks. Photo courtesy of SAHA.

Lourdes Castro Ramirez, the highly-regarded CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority, has been nominated by President Obama to become the next Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, now headed up by Secretary Julián Castro. The nomination was one of seven made by Obama Friday that will be sent to the U.S. Senate for confirmation.

Interestingly, Castro Ramirez’s nomination is not the result of Mayor Castro’s confirmation as HUD secretary, and the two Castro families are not related. The former San Antonio mayor was nominated by Pres. Obama in June for the Cabinet post, was confirmed last month, and officially began his duties on Monday.

“Back in the spring, HUD Secretary (Shaun) Donovan contacted Lourdes and told her he was very interested in nominating her as Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing,” said Ramiro Cavazos, CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the SAHA board. “She, of course, was honored and agreed to the  vetting process and an FBI background check. It’s taken four to five months for that to reach the President’s desk and him to make the nomination.”

Months later, Donovan was nominated by the president to become the next director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, a position he now holds.

Lourdes Castro Ramirez. Photo Courtesy San Antonio Housing Authority.

Lourdes Castro Ramirez. Photo Courtesy San Antonio Housing Authority.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by President Obama’s consideration of me for this position,” Castro Ramirez said in a prepared statement. “I am devoted to the families and neighborhoods that we serve in San Antonio, to improve their quality of life and to develop vibrant communities.”

“I understand there is a confirmation procedure, and I wish to respect that process, so I don’t have any additional statement about the future at this time,” she added. “For now, I intend to continue to focus on moving our work in San Antonio forward.”

Castro Ramirez has served as SAHA’s CEO since 2009 after she was recruited from her executive position with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. She’s widely regarded as bringing a level of professionalism to the housing authority’s operations here after the departure of her predecessor, Henry Alvarez, who accepted a position in San Francisco, which he has since left.

“It’s wonderful news for San Antonio to have both our former mayor and CEO of SAHA in Washington, especially with the Eastside Promise project underway in our city,” Cavazos said. “The bad news is losing her here. She’s built up a strong executive team. She has a wonderful 25-year track record.”

Political gridlock in Washington has stalled many presidential nominations below the Cabinet level in recent years, so it is uncertain when Congress returns from its August recess whether the nominations will receive attention in the Democratic-controlled Senate before the November elections, when Republicans are expected to make significant gains, perhaps enough to win a Senate majority to go along with the Republican majority in the House.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) led a successful effort last November to end the tradition of the Senate’s minority party being able to filibuster to prevent presidential nominations from coming to the floor for a confirmation vote.

“The sticky thing is we don’t know when this could proceed,” Cavazos said. “She has a sterling record, but the politics is such that we don’t know if the nominations will be held up.”

If Castro Ramirez does move to Washington, a move that would require her to accept a substantial pay cut to live and work in a far more expensive city, it raises the intriguing possibility of Mayor Ivy Taylor becoming a candidate for the CEO position at SAHA when she completes her term as interim mayor in June 2015. Taylor has pledged not to seek election as a full term mayor, and some have speculated that she would be the logical choice to succeed Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-Dist. 120), who has been battling health issues, in the Texas Legislature. Like San Antonio’s mayor and City Council members, a state representative does not earn a professional salary, but the SAHA leadership position would be appealing for more than just its compensation. It would mean Taylor could remain in San Antonio fulltime and have a direct hand in the management of the Eastside Promise grant and community program.

From the SAHA release: SAHA provides housing assistance to over 65,000 children, adults and seniors through its Public Housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and Mixed-Income housing programs. The Agency employs more than 525 individuals, with an annual operating budget of $185.7 million, and real estate assets valued at over $500 million. SAHA’s affordable housing programs include 70 public housing properties, more than 13,900 vouchers in the Housing Choice and Special Voucher Programs, and 46 properties in a Mixed-Income portfolio. 

Featured/top image: One of the apartment buildings at the Park at Sutton Oaks. Photo courtesy of SAHA.

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