Today, Mayor Mike McGinn announced that Rick Hooper, who has worked in the city's Office of Housing for a decade, will take the interim post as housing director. In recent months, Hooper has been managing funds for the city's Affordable Housing Levy that passed last fall. He will replace former director Adrienne Quinn.
But McGinn isn't committing to keep Hooper on as director. In fact, he may not even keep on the office of housing. On the city's website, he suggests that some departments could be intertwined to save money:
Many have asked whether I intend to start a search process for a new Director of the Office of Housing, which is a fair question. ... But the question I have challenged my staff to answer is whether this is best accomplished by having a separate housing office, or should we look at integrating some or all of its work with other departments that also play critical roles in building sustainable communities? Can we strengthen planning functions that support housing, economic development, land use, transportation and environmental policies?
McGinn notes that federal housing grants must meet criteria—not just for housing objectives—but also integrated planning of zoning and transportation. To that end, he says, the city's planning should not be contained in departments that act in "silos." He continues:
The city’s current budget situation also comes into play. Streamlining government to reduce overhead and administrative support costs might help us reduce a projected $10 million deficit for 2010 and the $50 million deficit in 2011 while reducing impacts on direct services to the public.
We are also aware that reorganizations do not always save money or improve services, in fact, sometimes they do the opposite. So we are going into this process thoughtfully, and will only act after a thorough review of costs and benefits.
Is this a good idea? It's hard to say, and it sounds like McGinn isn't yet committed one way or the other. But having transportation strategists, neighborhood planners, and housing experts at the table when deciding how and where to construct new buildings makes a lot of sense. However, that wouldn't necessarily require combining departments.