The new director of California's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), Ben Metcalf, completed yet another education/employment-inspired cross-country trip this time from Washington, D.C., when Governor Brown appointed him to the post this month.
He replaces Claudia Cappio, who left in April to become Oakland assistant city administrator.
Metcalf, 39, grew up in Berkeley but headed east to Amherst College in Massachusetts for his undergraduate studies. While at Amherst, in March 1996, he and 10 fellow students traveled to Hinton, West Virginia, where they spent an “alternative spring break,” as the local newspaper described it, converting the basement of Camon Baptist Church into a community center.
He reportedly became interested in urban planning when prominent New York affordable housing developer and Amherst alumnus Rosanne Haggerty invited him to take a look Common Ground Community, a not-for-profit corporation she founded in 1990 that works on innovative solutions for homelessness.
After graduation in 1998, Metcalf went to work for Common Ground. The 23-year-old development associate told the nonprofit Experience at the time, “I have become more and more conscious of the bottom fifth, and of the gross failure of a very wealthy country to help the poorest people. I feel like there are a lot of battles that I would like to be fighting, but this seems to be the most critical.”
Metcalf became a research associate at the Center for Court Innovation in New York in 2000 before returning to school in 2001. He earned a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Urban Planning at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Metcalf returned to the West Coast after graduation. He joined the San Francisco-based nonprofit BRIDGE Housing Corporation in 2004 as a fellow of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence. During his tenure there, he oversaw projects like the 99-unit Iron Horse Apartments, an affordable-housing development across the Bay in a 29-acre industrial park anchored by the historic Oakland Central Station, which hadn’t seen a train since 1994.
“The community offers decks, an elegant community room, classroom space, laundry facilities, on-site covered parking, and landscaped garden area and courtyard. Iron Horse incorporates many ‘green’ or sustainable materials and techniques, such as photoelectric energy generation and a vegetated green roof.”
The housing meltdown and financial crisis starting in 2006 battered agencies as public sources of funding dried up. Metcalf’s boss at BRIDGE Housing, Carol Galante, was tapped by President Obama to be deputy assistant secretary for Multifamily Housing Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and she recruited him.
Metcalf returned to the East Coast in 2010 and took his first government job as Galante’s senior advisor. He held the position until 2012, overlapping his time as senior advisor to the commissioner and assistant secretary of housing from 2011 to 2013.
President Obama appointed Metcalf to replace Galante in 2013 and that’s where he was when Governor Brown brought him back West. The new job requires Senate confirmation and compensation is $170,004. Metcalf is a Democrat.