Commissioner Matt Wambua Introduction

On February 6, 2013 Jonathan Fanton, interim director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, introduced Matthew Wambua, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Commissioner Wambua led a brown bag lunch discussion with CUNY Hunter College students on the most pressing housing issues facing New York City today. For additional information on The Roosevelt House, click here.

Matt Wambua Brown Bag Lunch
Wednesday February 6, 2013

Good Afternoon. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Commissioner Matthew Wambua of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

When I was President of the MacArthur Foundation, I made the preservation of affordable rental housing a key program priority. And we assisted with the transformation of Chicago’s run down public housing system to new mixed income neighborhoods. In all we spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on housing, including a research network that established the connection between stable housing and other beneficial outcomes for individuals and families. As I wrote in 2009, “Research shows that children with a stable place to live are healthier and perform better academically; employment rates for adults are higher when they have a steady residence; and communities with longtime residents have a greater share of citizens actively involved in civic affairs and experience less crime.”
Here in New York we assisted vital institutions like the The New York City Acquisition Fund, which provides loans to real estate developers seeking to create and preserve affordable housing, and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which helps residents own and maintain housing co-operatives.
I believe that housing is one of the most important investments cities can make to produce a healthy and productive citizenry. And a key element of the Roosevelt House mission is to help improve policy by bringing evidence to bear on decision-making and to foster a healthy public discourse on key issues.

And that is why we are so glad Commissioner Wambua can be with us here today.

Mr. Wambua heads the nation’s largest municipal housing agency. He is responsible for implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s landmark New Housing Marketplace Plan, which helps transfer recently foreclosed homes to new owners, and aims to create 165,000 new units of housing for middle and low-income New Yorkers by 2014. This is the largest affordable municipal housing program in U.S. history and is projected to provide affordable homes for 500,000 New Yorkers.
Commissioner Wambua received his Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard and has taught at NYU’s Graduate School of Public Service and at the New School’s Graduate School of Public Policy. Prior to assuming the leadership of HPD, he was the Executive Vice President of Real Estate and External Affairs for the NYC Housing Development Corporation, the financial arm of the HPD and one of the largest affordable housing lenders in the nation. There, he oversaw the financing of over 36,000 affordable housing units. Mr. Wambua also served as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and helped establish new planning initiatives in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

I think that the Roosevelts would be pleased that Commissioner Wambua is here today to share his knowledge and expertise with us. It was President Roosevelt, after all, who signed the Wagner-Steagall Act into law in 1937, which provided over $500 million in loans to build low-cost housing throughout urban areas in the United States and helped subsidize the rent payments for thousands of American families and defense workers during World War II.

I leave you with FDR’s words just months before he signed that bill into law (January 14, 1937):
“We have come to realize that a Nation cannot function as a healthy democracy with part of its citizens living under good conditions and part forced to live under circumstances inimical to the general welfare…Today families taken from sub-standard housing are living happy, healthful lives…Ten years ago…fifty-one big, carefully planned community projects, replacing festering slum areas, would have seemed incredible. Yet we are doing this…If, indeed, the deeper purpose of democratic Government is to assist as many of its citizens as possible, especially those who need it most, then we have a great opportunity lying ahead in the specific field of housing.”

So without further ado, let me turn the floor over to the Commissioner who will lead us in what I’m sure will be a rich conversation.

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