SAHA President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez speaks at the grand opening of SAHA's Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAHA President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez speaks at the grand opening of SAHA's Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Lourdes Castro Ramírez, the highly-regarded president and CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority, was named Principal Deputy Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development by HUD Secretary Julián Castro on Friday In her new role, Castro Ramírez will head up the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH). She will start at HUD on March 9.

Castro’s Friday announcement of her hiring represents an administrative workaround to inaction by the U.S. Senate, where confirmation of her appointment has been delayed for seven months since her nomination by Pres. Obama on Aug. 1, 2014. In her new role, Castro Ramirez will not carry an assistant secretary title and rank, enabling her to join HUD without Senate confirmation. Many in San Antonio were surprised to hear the news late Friday afternoon of Castro Ramírez’s departure, having assumed the nomination would never clear the Senate.

Secretary Castro announced the news in a Friday email to the HUD staff signed “Julián”:

Julián Castro addresses a packed ballroom during Centro San Antonio's "The Future of Downtown" luncheon. July 10, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Julián Castro addresses a packed ballroom during Centro San Antonio’s “The Future of Downtown” luncheon. July 10, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“When I was Mayor of San Antonio, I had the privilege of working closely with Lourdes in her role as President and CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), a Moving-to-Work agency. SAHA is the only housing authority in the nation to receive Choice Neighborhood Planning and Implementation grants, a Byrne Criminal Justice grant and be partnered with the lead applicant in a Promise Neighborhood grant. None of this could have happened without Lourdes’ leadership and commitment to creating opportunities for all Americans.

“Prior to her tenure with SAHA, Lourdes served as the director of the Housing Choice Voucher program for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, one of the nation’s largest housing choice voucher programs. She led the turnaround of the Section 8 program from a troubled to a high performer rating in less than three years. She is a talented and dedicated public servant with an extensive range of executive management, program and policy experiences needed to manage the array of PIH programs. It is the reason why the President nominated Lourdes to be Assistant Secretary and the reason that I know she’ll be a great asset to the Department in her new role.”

Castro Ramírez will take over the PIH duties from HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary Jemine Bryon, who will return to her position as the department’s General Deputy Assistant Secretary.

“The PIH mission remains as important as ever, providing thousands of hard-working families with much-needed affordable and stable housing,” Secretary Castro wrote in his announcement. “Housing is the foundation under which families can pursue the economic and educational tools they need to better their lives. As we enter the fourth quarter of this Administration, we still have the opportunity to do great things and positively impact the lives of those we serve. As you’ve heard me say many times, HUD is the Department of Opportunity, and its greatest assets are you, the dedicated individuals who give it your all every day. Thank you for your service, and please join me in welcoming Lourdes Castro Ramírez to our HUD Team.”

Castro Ramírez was still at her SAHA office Friday afternoon, but was not available for comment. SAHA staff said media inquiries now had to go through HUD offices in Washington. She did release a statement through HUD.

“I am honored that Secretary Castro has appointed me the Principal Deputy Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing,” Ramírez stated. “I look forward to working closely with the HUD team to help advance the Department’s goals and to assist the 5.5 million Americans who currently live in federally subsidized housing. It was a privilege to serve as the President and CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority for the past six years; I am confident that the dedication and hard work of the SAHA staff will continue to make it a model housing authority that is respected locally and nationally.”

President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez dances with long-time resident Esmael Suarez at the grand opening of SAHA's Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAHA President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez dances with long-time resident Esmael Suarez at the grand opening of SAHA’s Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Castro Ramírez’s departure set off some speculation that Mayor Ivy Taylor, a trained planner and former Eastside Council member, might withdraw from the mayor’s race to accept a position as the new SAHA CEO, but she said Friday afternoon she was in the mayor’s race for keeps.

“I congratulate Lourdes on her new position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Mayor Taylor said in her Friday statement. “She has done wonderful work in San Antonio and I’m confident she will do a great job. Running for Mayor was never plan B for me. I’m running because I love this city and I believe I am the best person for this job. I’m committed to serving the residents of San Antonio and will continue to focus on maintaining our economic competitiveness and promoting smart government. I’m in this race to win.”

Castro Ramírez is credited with bringing a new level of leadership and management to the housing authority during her six-year tenure, and most recently has been directing SAHA’s management of the $29 million Eastside Choice Grant and exploration of a similar grant for the Westside. SAHA Chairman Dr. Morris Stribling said the board has long anticipated the loss of Castro Ramírez to Washington and a position at HUD and is prepared to discuss at its board meeting next Thursday the hiring of a search firm on a national search for her successor.

Morris Stribling, chair of SAHA's Board of Commissioners, speaks at the grand opening of SAHA's Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Dr. Morris Stribling, chair of SAHA’s Board of Commissioners, speaks at the grand opening of SAHA’s Lofts at Marie McGuire. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“It is happy and sad moment: We are happy for Lourdes, but sad for San Antonio and the Housing Authority,” Dr. Stribling said. “She has set a new standard and the board is aware of responsibility to seek a new CEO of equal stature and competence. Three individuals have expressed an interest in serving as interim CEO. One question I will put to the board is whether an interim CEO also can apply for the position.”

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Ramiro Cavazos served as SAHA chair went Castro Ramírez was hired for her position in Lops Angeles.

“Five of us were appointed to the SAHA board in January 2008 at the same time, it was a house cleaning,” Cavazos recalled. “Mayor Hardberger called and said he wanted me to serve as chair. None of us were housing experts, but we knew all about the importance of public leadership and transparency. In my opinion, Lourdes had a strong sense of ethics and a 20-year background in housing and community development, and she was youthful, dynamic and bilingual.”

Dr. Richard Gambitta, then a professor at UTSA and also new to the board, chaired the search that led to Castro Ramírez’s hiring.

Several SAHA staff members said an air of sadness followed Friday’s news because of Castro Ramirez’s popularity and people’s respect for her as a leader.

“How many people would tell you they are really sorry to lose their boss?” one SAHA administrative staff remarked Friday.

*Featured/top image: SAHA President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez speaks at the grand opening of SAHA’s Lofts at Marie McGuire. Castro Ramírez has been appointed Principal Deputy Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.