Julian Castro’s nascent presidential campaign has already encountered turbulence from critics on the left, who say his housing track record as Mayor of San Antonio does not match the far left rhetoric and policies he espoused while serving as President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Nor does it match the housing policy priorities he articulated when he announced his presidential exploratory committee earlier this month.
Castro’s community activist critics sounded off in an article published in the San Antonio Express News on Saturday:
But in Castro’s backyard, housing advocates say the former San Antonio mayor, like most of his predecessors, failed to craft a policy squarely aimed at the area’s need for affordable housing.
“It wasn’t as big a priority as there was a need for,” said Rod Radle, former executive director of affordable housing nonprofit San Antonio Alternative Housing Corp.
The big complaint against Castro is that while serving as Mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014 he established a financial incentive program, called Center City Housing Incentive Policy (CCHIP) whose primary beneficiaries were wealthy developers who used the funds to build projects that catered to the affluent, and not low income residents of the city, as the Express News reported:
City officials gave almost $102 million in incentives to developers through CCHIP from 2012 to 2017. Of the more than 6,500 units CCHIP helped fund, less than a quarter — about 1,500 — were set aside for affordable housing.
Among the projects that received CCHIP funds: the Arts Residences and Thompson San Antonio hotel and residential tower under construction at 123 Lexington Ave., near the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Houston-based DC Partners received more than $10 million in incentives, the largest package in the program’s history, to develop the $116 million high-rise, which will have more than 60 condos costing as much as $4.5 million.
Officials also awarded $3.7 million in CCHIP incentives to Pearl developer Silver Ventures for the Cellars at Pearl apartment complex. The average rent at the upscale development was $3.14 a square foot when it opened in 2017 — well above the average area rent of $1.16 a square foot.
A track record of handing significant financial incentives to developers for projects that benefit the affluent flies in the face of the policies he promoted as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, where Castro served from 2014 to 2017, and was known for championing a new regulation, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, whose purpose is to force suburbs to accept low-income residents, as Breitbart News reported in 2015:
The AFFH rule “gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education,” as National Review’s Stanley Kurtz put it last week.
When then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan first proposed the AFFH rule in 2013, Paul Compton, a housing law expert and partner at the law firm Bradly Arant Boult Cummings told the Weekly Standard it is “a real shift in emphasis from ensuring that the private sector and participants in federal programs don’t unlawfully discriminate to defining the existence of racially and ethnically ‘segregated’ neighborhoods to be in themselves a violation of fair housing.”
Under this new rule, Compton said, “if a neighborhood is not integrated in some vaguely defined ratio, then that in itself is a fair housing issue.”
In January 2018 the Trump administration announced the implementation of the AFFH rule has been delayed until 2020, as Housing Wire reported:
As for why it is delaying the rule, HUD said that the move is result of early responses to the implementation of the rule.
“Early in this administration, HUD embarked upon a top-to-bottom review of the department’s rules and regulations. As part of this regulatory review, HUD asked the public to offer comment on those rules that might be excessively burdensome or unclear,” HUD’s announcement states.
“What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well,” HUD continues. “In fact, more than a third of our early submitters failed to produce an acceptable assessment—not for lack of trying but because the tool designed to help them to succeed wasn’t helpful.”
Castro immediately criticized the delay in implementing the rule he championed.
“In other words, they’ve gutted AFFH. It will be up to the next Administration to get this back on track,” Castro said in this January 2018, foreshadowing one of the key policy themes of his current presidential campaign:
In other words, they’ve gutted AFFH. It will be up to the next Administration to get this back on track. https://t.co/YgXPYa0Oo0
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) January 4, 2018
The criticisms from community activists about his housing policy record while Mayor of San Antonio stand in sharp contrast to Castro’s own rhetoric on housing policy, and campaign did its best to push back against those complaints that portrayed him as a housing policy hypocrite.
In a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders in which he is, so far, the only Latino candidate to announce an exploratory committee, Castro finds himself already in a position in which he needs to defuse criticism from the left while building his own brand nationwide.