After Revitalizing San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro Nominated by President Obama as Housing Secretary

The president tapped Julián Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, to be the secretary of housing and urban development, replacing Shaun Donovan, who was promoted to run the White House budget office. (Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times)
The president tapped Julián Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, to be the secretary of housing and urban development, replacing Shaun Donovan, who was promoted to run the White House budget office. (Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

When Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio and local officials traveled to Washington in 2012 to meet President Obama’s housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, the agenda was about housing policy. But for Mr. Castro, it was personal, too.

The meeting was about revitalizing the Wheatley Courts public housing project on San Antonio’s impoverished Eastside, once the heart of the city’s black community. But it also hit home for Mr. Castro, who grew up near the low-rent projects in the Mexican-American barrio on the other side of town. His mother worked for the housing authority, and his father lived in the projects on the city’s Westside as a teenager.

Two years after that meeting in Washington, the Eastside is now the focus of a public and private revival, fueled in part by a nearly $30 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish and redevelop Wheatley Courts as housing for a broader mix of incomes, including low- and moderate-income families and market-rate households. And Mr. Castro, a politically ambitious Democrat tapped to be the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is poised to replace Mr. Donovan as housing secretary, a move President Obama made official on Friday.

A Housing Revival in San Antonio

If he receives Senate confirmation, Mr. Castro, whose twin brother, Joaquin, is a Democratic congressman representing San Antonio, apparently would become the first housing secretary in the 48-year history of the position whose parents lived and worked in public housing projects.

“It’s precisely because he’s lived out the American dream that he’ll work his tail off to make sure more people can travel that same path and earn their own dreams as well,” Mr. Obama said as Mr. Castro and Mr. Donovan stood next to him at the White House.

Since becoming mayor in 2009, Mr. Castro, 39, has championed urban renewal and steered San Antonio through a kind of renaissance that has built new housing in areas once ignored by developers and made the city hipper and more expensive. Problems remain, including crime and drugs, and rapid gentrification has raised concerns that low-income residents will be priced out of their neighborhoods. But many here say Mr. Castro’s record of building housing and funneling public and private resources to struggling neighborhoods makes him a natural fit to lead the nation’s housing agency.

“If he hadn’t set the tone, then this wouldn’t be happening,” said Nelson W. Wolff, a former mayor of San Antonio who is now the county judge for Bexar County, which includes the city.

Mr. Castro has had success in directing Washington’s attention to the Eastside — securing four federal initiatives totaling $55 million — and in January, President Obama selected the Eastside as one of his first five anti-poverty “Promise Zones.” Mr. Castro has also led an effort to revive a large part of downtown San Antonio, an area once dominated by tourists visiting the Alamo but now teeming with young professionals.

On a once-forlorn stretch of Broadway at the northern edge of downtown, the Mosaic, a stylish apartment building, rises on a lot that had been vacant for years, with one-bedrooms renting for $1,400 to $2,200 a month. The city enticed developers to build the Mosaic and other residential buildings using waivers of city fees, tax rebates and other incentives, some of which Mr. Castro created. Since 2010, developers have completed or are building 2,700 housing units in a five-square-mile area downtown using $39 million in incentives, city officials said.

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SOURCE:  
The New York Times

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