Carol D. Leonnig writes about the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is accused by critics of trying to get people into homes they can’t afford.
That he presided over a mad push for home ownership without sufficient regard to the risk of foreclosure.
Jackson, who declined to be interviewed, will be remembered as a Cabinet secretary so committed to carrying out President Bush‘s goal of increasing homeownership that he encouraged policies that threatened to exacerbate the mortgage crisis, according to interviews with more than 30 current and former HUD officials and housing experts, and a review of numerous HUD documents and audits.
In speeches, he urged loosening some rules to spur more home buying and borrowing. "I’m convinced this spring we will see the market again begin to soar," Jackson said in a June 2007 speech at the National Press Club to kick off what HUD dubbed "National Homeownership Month." He also told the audience that he had no specific laws to recommend to prevent a repeat of the lending abuses that caused the mortgage crisis.
"When Congress calls up and asks us, we’ll give them advice," he said. "You have 534 massive egos up there, so unless they ask you, you don’t volunteer anything."
HUD spokesperson D.J. Nordquist defended Jackson’s record in pushing for more flexibility in government-backed loans. "Secretary Jackson is a big believer in the U.S. housing market and won’t apologize for saying so," Nordquist said in a written response to questions. She said Jackson hoped that FHA loans could provide a safe alternative for borrowers about to default on subprime loans from the private sector.
A former director of three housing authorities, Jackson came to HUD as a deputy secretary in 2001. He and Bush had been friends since their days as neighbors in Dallas. When Secretary Mel Martinez stepped down to run for the Senate in 2004, Bush promoted Jackson.
A lead smelter’s son and the youngest of 12 children, Jackson, 62, has said he "never imagined" he would one day serve in the Cabinet. From his 10th-floor office, he seemed to revel in the entree his new job offered to Washington’s elite, according to current and former associates.