One of the youngest members of President Obama's Cabinet came to Washington in 2009 to take on an unenviable task: steering HUD through the subprime-mortgage crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Donovan, 47, is known for his optimism and policy smarts, but even he confesses that the past four years haven't been easy.
"The single biggest challenge that we faced—and the entire country and even the world faced—was, how do we recover from the worst housing crisis of our lifetimes?" Donovan says. HUD's Federal Housing Administration stepped in to provide low-income Americans with home financing, and the department worked to stabilize communities hit by foreclosures. Donovan also partnered with the Justice Department to negotiate a $25 billion mortgage-servicing settlement to hold lenders accountable.
It helps that Donovan has developed close partnerships with other Cabinet secretaries and has admired Obama ever since the two overlapped as graduate students at Harvard. Of his department's first-term achievements, Donovan says, "None of it was just HUD." Interagency collaboration on executive actions in the second term will be even more important, he said. The next mortgage crisis to hit the department may be internal, as the FHA works to maintain sufficient cash reserves to cover the bad loans in its portfolio.
Donovan also has a key role in meeting Obama's goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 and in improving the federal government's response to natural disasters. Superstorm Sandy was the first test of the disaster-response framework that Donovan helped to develop. "It is, for me personally as a New Yorker, and more broadly for the nation, an incredibly important opportunity," he said, to help a major metropolitan area not just recover but also prepare for future storms.
Donovan formerly served as New York City's housing commissioner, known for his focus on affordable housing. He was HUD's deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing during the Clinton administration, and acting FHA commissioner during the transition to the second Bush administration. Donovan has three Harvard degrees: a B.A. in engineering, and a master's in architecture and in public administration. He is married and has two young children.