From November 2005 until January 2008, Orlando Cabrera served as assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under recently departed secretary Alphonso Jackson. Here, Cabrera opens up to discuss his departure from HUD, the bitter dispute between HUD and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, his opinion on current HUD Secretary Steve Preston, and his new gig as CEO of an affordable housing developer.

Q: What were your main duties as assistant secretary for public and Indian housing at HUD?
A: My primary responsibility was to oversee 4,200 public housing authorities; oversee the office of public housing investment; and oversee the office of Native American programs and 561 tribally designated housing entities.

Q: Why did you resign from your position at HUD?
A: It was just time for me to go.

Q: Describe your experiences working under former Secretary Alphonso Jackson?
A: Sometimes we had a very good relationship and sometimes it was bumpy.

Q: What do you think of the allegations of cronyism facing Jackson?
A: I am not going to comment. That is something I know he is dealing with, and it's inappropriate in my mind to comment on it.

Q: What was your working relationship like with Carl Greene and the Philadelphia Housing Authority?
A: I have a lot of respect for a lot of the things that Carl has done and done right. But I have a lot of problems with some of the things that Carl has done, specifically the way he treated my staff and the staff of Kim Kendrick [assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity]. I don't think it's good policy for an executive director of a public housing authority to fail to write, respond, call, or otherwise communicate either with the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity and/or her staff when they are undertaking a [fair housing] audit in the ordinary course.

Q: From your vantage point, did Secretary Jackson pressure Greene and PHA to transfer the empty parcels of land to Universal Cos.?
A: Did Jackson do that? I have no earthly clue. Here's what I know: I didn't. The only pressure he ever got from me was to perform his HOPE VI agreement. My issue was you are building the park because that is what you said you would do in your HOPE VI grant agreement. You are rehabbing the community center because that is what you said you'd do. You are going to keep the commemoration to Dr. Martin Luther King, and, yes, you are going to do something to create homeownership as you promised to do. That was always the crux of the argument.

Q: What was the reasoning behind the now infamous e-mail exchange between you and Kendrick, which indicated that you would withdraw federal funds from Greene to "make his life less happy"? That same day, HUD sent PHA a letter stating that the authority was noncompliant with fair housing regulations.
A: I had no idea about the [timing] coincidence. I understand that doesn't play well. [But] it's the old adage that Freud said: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Well, sometimes a date is just a date. Kim was frustrated because she and her staff had tried to set up a time to have a conference about an audit that was coming up with Philadelphia Housing [Authority]. Kim was looking for help because she is at her wit's end. She is getting no response from PHA and/or from Carl. Kim had articulated some frustration, [and] I said if you need help let me know. So that probably prompted the e-mail she sent me. She is my colleague; I am writing to my colleague. I am not writing for your benefit. I am not writing for the benefit of the public. I am not writing for Carl's benefit.

Q: But as a civil servant, everything you say and do is open to public scrutiny, isn't it?
A: I want to make sure you understand that I don't regret my e-mail. I will never regret my e-mail. So at the end of the day, if someone is going to convict me for snarky e-mails, I am sorry. But you know what? I wrote that to a colleague who needed help. And that is it. And I am known for being snarky; such is life.

Q: You said in a letter to the editor of MFE that Jackson resigned for reasons that had scant little to do with issues between PHA and HUD's administrators, including yourself. Why, then, did Jackson resign?
A: I don't know; I haven't spoken to him. But I am very comfortable in saying it had little to do with Philadelphia Housing [Authority]. I have spoken to Jackson to the best of my recollection four times about Philadelphia Housing [Authority]. Three of the times it had to do with Jackson and me basically comically commiserating about Carl and his antics. There was one substantive conversation between Jackson and me and that was because Jackson was concerned that [former Philadelphia] Mayor Street was not aware of what was going on with PHA. So Jackson asked me to call Mayor Street.

Q: In your opinion, were other housing authorities dissatisfied with the new standard Moving to Work agreement?
A: Over the two months prior to office, I reviewed all the MTW agreements, and they were all different. So I instructed Blom to begin the process of creating one template we could use going forward because I didn't want our lawyers at a disadvantage having to argue about 20 different deals. For the next year and a half we met with every MTW authority?28 out of 4,200 public housing authorities. We took all comments, and we gave and didn't give. At the end of the day, 26 out of 28 were just fine with this; two weren't. One was Philadelphia. What they don't want to do is report because then they actually have to tell somebody what they are doing.

Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment at HUD?
A: We really worked on responsiveness to the public housing community from all sides, be it from the tenant side to the public housing authority side and the tribally designated housing entities. I personally had a terrific and gratifying experience dealing with the many tribes.

Q: What is your biggest regret during your tenure at HUD?
A: I am not a big guy on regrets. I think the community as a whole would say we got a lot of good things done that had not been done.

Q: What are your expectations for HUD Secretary Steve Preston in his potentially short term in office?
A: Everything I've heard about Preston is terrific. My take would be he is subject to the same thing everybody else is subject to in terms of the reality of being in an administration with seven months left on the clock. From the perspective of large legislative initiatives, it's going to be difficult to get anything done. But from the perspective of management issues that don't require large legislative issues, I think he can do quite a lot.

Q: Who would you like to step in as HUD secretary in the next administration, be it under John McCain or Barack Obama?
A: I only ask that whoever steps into this role understands all the facets of housing on some level or has an interest in learning what he or she doesn't know. Housing, like it or not, is the red-headed step child of every government?federal, state, and local. This is a political city, and this is a political world, and we are in a political season, but you know what? Housing is less political than it is financial. If we get someone who understands that and can say look, fine, I get it. I understand there is a polemic going on here but can we all just cut the polemic out and get to the business of housing? I think that would be a great thing.

Q: Do you think that will happen one day?
A: I think it's very difficult in this town. That is a comment on both sides.

Q: Why did you join Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based National Community Renaissance earlier this year?
A: They asked; I said yes. It's a great opportunity.

Q: What are your main goals as CEO?
A: My main goal is to keep achieving our mission?to provide affordable, healthy living environments to people who need it. I'd like to do it better and be a bit more aggressive in places where affordable housing is desperately needed. The current business plan for National CORE is really Southern California centric, and I'd like to look at other parts of the country.

Editor's note: For additional coverage on the ongoing challenges of HUD and its bout with PHA, click here.