Max Whittaker/WPN

Carol Galante, a recognizable and progressive thought leader within affordable and multifamily housing circles, was named deputy assistant secretary of multifamily housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Policy (HUD) Tuesday by President Barack Obama. Galante is currently the president of San Francisco-based BRIDGE Housing Corp., the largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing in California that specializes in the development of family and senior affordable apartments, rental and ownership housing, and an array of revitalization, transit-oriented, urban infill, and mixed-use/mixed-income developments.

According to a statement released by HUD, Galante will be responsible for the department's financing support for the development and preservation of a $58 billion portfolio of rental housing. She will also be integral to several new initiatives that promote sustainable development, among other duties.

The department's multifamily post was previously occupied by current HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan during the Clinton administration. "I am extremely confident that her proven track record in multifamily housing is exactly what HUD needs to move that division forward," Donovan said in the HUD statement. "She is one of the nation's most innovative affordable housing leaders and will be a tremendous asset during our nation's housing crisis, especially as HUD moves forward an aggressive policy agenda."

After Galante's appointment was announced, Donovan then praised her qualifications in front of a group of community development leaders at the Partners in Innovation gathering, sponsored by the National Housing Conference and MacArthur Foundation and held in Washington, D.C. "She's more qualified than I was when I held that job," he said. "She is a symbol of commitment that I have and the President has to the programs you care about so much."

In an exclusive interview with Multifamily Executive magazine, Galante shared her thoughts on her appointment and the contributions that multifamily housing programs and HUD as a whole can make toward a resolution of the country's housing crises.

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MFE: Congratulations on your appointment. Secretary Donovan speaks of an aggressive policy agenda. What will be your first action item at the Department?

GALANTE: After finding my way to my new office, the first thing is implementing the stimulus money on both weatherization and energy efficiency for the HUD-assisted housing stock as well as addressing several 2010 budget proposals and initiatives.

MFE: What's your sense of the climate within HUD right now? What seems to be top of mind?

GALANTE: Shaun Donovan's appointment as Secretary has come up in almost all of my conversations with HUD employees so far. They are excited about Shaun; they are excited about Obama. People seem rejuvenated.

MFE: How would you characterize the health of the multifamily housing industry? What role can be played in ongoing federal discussions regarding the economy, and in particular, the state of financial markets?

GALANTE: People have focused on fixing the single-family problem, which certainly needs to be the top priority right now, but there is definitely a role for multifamily, and I think this administration gets that. The administration understands that rejuvenating and refinancing our nation's multifamily housing stock is critical. Equally important is keeping that housing stock healthy. Greening it, and building more of it in the right places is important as well as economic stimulus.

MFE: What are some of the steps HUD can take to attend to the multifamily affordability issues?

GALANTE: I think HUD has already started by ensuring that, as part of the stimulus package, Section 8 was fully funded for the first time in a number of years. I think there is an ongoing commitment to ensuring that that program works-and works efficiently-to play a role in the broader multifamily development and refinancing [arenas]. I think that will be a focus.

MFE: Although the low-income housing tax credit is not specifically a HUD program, what role do you think you may have in supporting LIHTC markets, particularly in combination with HUD financing programs?

GALANTE: Part of the administration's overall goal is to work across silos, and the Secretary is looking to me to be involved in working with the Treasury to make sure that the HUD programs can work effectively within the tax credit program, which frankly has not been the case historically at the Department. I've tried to close mixed finance developments myself at BRIDGE, and I recognize that HUD needs to change to do its part in operating in the tax credit world. I think there is a lot of cross pollination that needs to go on between HUD and the Treasury on the tax credit program.

MFE: Since taking over as CEO of BRIDGE Housing following the death of founder Don Terner and U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in 1996, you've aggressively grown the company while developing a reputation as a dynamic, ambitious leader. How will you apply those skills within HUD?

GALANTE: I hope my appointment is a signal to the existing staff that they've got someone who truly cares about what they do and about multifamily housing programs. I hope that would be motivating and inspiring to the Department personnel and that it would encourage some new talent to likewise join HUD.

MFE: How will green building and sustainability fit into HUD's ongoing policy objectives?

GALANTE: They are core initiatives that come directly from the President. With everything we are doing, we need to be looking at climate change issues, and existing buildings clearly have an impact. There are a number of initiatives surrounding that, including making the existing multifamily stock more energy-efficient and pushing forward budget proposals to encourage new development that is transit-oriented and infill in nature. I think you are going to see a heightened encouragement of all of that from the federal level.

MFE: What are your long-term goals and objectives at HUD? What do you think offers the most promise at the Department?

GALANTE: I hope that HUD will be facilitating and collaborating with local governments and lending partners and developers and meshing with all of the other tools that exist for the success of multifamily housing. I hope that we could create a more seamless and less silo-ed support for multifamily. That's the No. 1 accomplishment I'd like to see take place. Very close behind that is to take the concept embedded in the Hope VI program and get rid of the negative legacy of some of the old housing stock by rejuvenating it back into healthy communities.