Henry Cisernos may be one of the most widely known names in housing. The former mayor of San Antonio served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Clinton from 1993 to 1997. Cisneros made mixed-income housing a priority while he was at HUD, and he continues that mission today through Los Angeles–based CityView , where he serves as executive chairman, and as the co-chair of the Housing Commission at the Bipartisan Policy Center , based in Washington, D.C.
Tell us a little about what CityView does.
We're in the urban-housing field. We try to focus on producing as many units of workforce housing in urban areas as we can, even if it's a portion of a larger structure and not the entire structure. The motto for CityView is “smart capital for smart growth.” We have capital for both rental and for-sale.
Given the budget discussion going on, it feels like the government will be taking on a smaller role in housing. Would you agree?
That's precisely the type of question the Housing Commission at the Bipartisan Policy Center is set up to ask. American housing policy requires governmental involvement. Perhaps it won't be to the degree that we have seen at points in the past, but it does require governmental involvement. I think there will always be a measured role for the government, because housing is so important for the economy.
There are some kinds of housing that are so essential to the country's well-being yet can't be done in the market alone, like housing for the homeless, supportive housing, and various forms of subsidized housing for people below 30 percent of AMI and 50 percent of AMI and the working poor. I think there will be a robust role for government in housing.
It sometimes feels like everything being built is for the higher-income market. Do you think that's the case?
I think you're seeing several things going on that will argue against that. For one, there is recognition that the greatest shortfall in the multifamily sector is affordable and workforce housing. In the case of affordable, some supply is being developed through low-income housing tax credits and the utilization of programs like project-based Section 8 . There are governmental subsidy programs that are adding to the supply, marginally. In the workforce space, more needs to be built. There's recognition of that.
The other thing [that's happening] is there's a pretty active movement of people buying B-level apartments and improving them, with updates such as energyefficient appliances, and moving them upscale—not expensive A, but upscale where they're at least presentable. There's an active industry out there of people acquiring these properties.
Those are a couple of dynamics that argue against the point that everything being built is too expensive.