Coming home after working for HUD

Lawyer Paul Compton continues to work for affordable housing

Although he has lived in Mountain Brook for the past few years, J. Paul Compton knows what it is like to grow up in a much less affluent community.

Compton is from Georgiana, a small town in southern Alabama – 2019 census figures estimate just over 1,600 residents, with an average household income of $ 29,432 – an increase from previous years . Seeing your neighbors in substandard housing has helped put Compton on a lifelong path to improving these inequalities.

“Growing up in Butler County there is a lot of substandard housing and a lot of need,” Compton said. “I have a poster that a friend gave me a few years ago that says, ‘Life is not worth living without a house’. And I believe that quality, decent, safe and affordable housing is at the heart of quality of life. “

Perhaps the most important step Compton took to ensure affordable housing was when he served as general counsel appointed by former President Trump for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2018 to 2020. But it was neither his first nor his last step in that direction. .

Even now, after resuming his private law practice in Birmingham, Compton recently became a member of the Housing Advisory Board of the Bipartisan Policy Center, based in Washington, DC, and is also external general counsel for the Alabama Affordable Housing Association (AHA ). Compton, former state chairman of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development, heads the law firm Compton Jones Dresher, which also allows him to work with banks to improve conditions for housing.

“I had the chance, at the start of my professional career, to see where this could be a win-win-win solution for financial institutions that could invest in affordable housing, for developers who were able to operate and most of it all for families who had a much better place to live than they otherwise would have, ”he said.

A very Brady start

Early on, Compton wanted to be an architect – inspired by the father’s career on The Brady Bunch. “And then I realized I can’t draw,” he says. So he turned to the law.

After graduating from the University of Alabama and then University of Virginia Law School, Compton went to work at one of Birmingham’s best-known law firms, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in 1989. Eventually, Compton became a partner in the firm, where he worked on housing issues, advising financial institutions on investments in affordable housing and community development projects.

Then he was asked to join the Trump administration, where he remained for nearly three years.

Compton said he enjoys his time working for HUD – under the guidance of a Trump-appointed person whose public image has suffered. “It was terrifying. I reported directly to Ben Carson,” Compton said. “Secretary Carson, he’s a great guy. He’s one of the few people I’ve met in Washington who had a public figure [and] his public personality and who he is is really the same. Someone who is thoughtful but has beliefs about what they believe in and really wants to try and do the right thing.

Compton’s tenure as general legal counsel included 2020, which saw the nation reeling from the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did HUD, through the Federal Housing Administration, work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to establish moratoriums on eviction and foreclosure as the economy collapsed, it also presided over a period of growth. exceptional number of home loans processed, Compton said. .

“HUD makes over $ 1 billion in multi-family loans every month,” Compton said. “And HUD, through FHA Single Family Mortgages, is the largest minority lender in the United States. …

“When the pandemic hit, we went from a sort of old-fashioned, old-fashioned model of government where, for the most part, people had to show up in a conference room and sign a bunch of documents, to – in space. about 2 or 3 weeks – we pushed all of this to be done away from where the lawyers lived. “

The result was that “at a time when things were in a good bit of disarray, this process kind of continued, not only at the previous rate, but actually faster,” he said.

The need for affordable housing isn’t just isolated from Alabama, or what are traditionally considered poorer states, he said. “It’s really a problem, across the country and I really saw it when I was at HUD,” he said.

In Alabama, Compton’s work with AHA allows him to have a positive impact on the state of housing by “educating banks that invest, lend in affordable housing is both good business and good for them. community. And so, that’s one side. And on the other side, you have to educate developers, especially in the nonprofit sector, that the way to run a project isn’t to say, “Hey, give me $ 2 million and I’ll build something. ” But it’s more about presenting a business plan and an approach that combines and mobilizes resources to do more. “

“AHA is a strong advocate for how affordable housing really is about economic development,” Compton said.

He said, “Frankly, building the houses themselves is economic development. It injects probably more than $ 100 million into Alabama’s economy every year, just on the job site. “

Since leaving government, Compton has continued to work federally with the Housing Advisory Council, to address policies “that address the urgent housing needs of Americans affected by COVID-19, advance housing opportunities, and preserve and build affordable homes, ”according to a March press release on his appointment.

The housing crisis and pandemic have implications for the future of work that could potentially impact Birmingham and its dormitory communities, Compton said.

“I think there is going to be a fairly broad reflection on where people have to live to work,” he said. “If we think about it, cities like Birmingham can be a real winner. Whether it was JP Morgan Chase, Google, or PriceWaterhouseCoopers, they all figured out that they didn’t need a $ 60 per square foot office space in Manhattan to do their jobs. I would see a lot more opportunities for someone who works for Google to live in Homewood. “

Go home

When he left HUD, Compton was happy to return home to Mountain Brook, to the house he and his wife Dana moved to on Montevallo Road in 1990.

“My wife and I – we’re old-fashioned. We moved into our house on Montevallo Road on New Years Day 1990 and the house is now 86 years old and it is the Compton house, because we have lived there longer than anyone, ”he said. This is where the Comptons raised their three children, all graduates of Mountain Brook schools. Their eldest daughter is the director of nursing at a hospital in Fort. Worth, Texas, their son is “a budding real estate developer,” and their youngest daughter was recently accepted into the University of Alabama law school.

After living a “city life” in Washington, he said he was “delighted to be back. I’m really glad I did, but I’m really glad to be back. It’s the old story: until you’re home you don’t necessarily enjoy all the good things, ”he said.

Upon his return to Birmingham, he founded his new, smaller law firm, located near Pepper Place.

“I spent 29 years with Bradley Arant and I have a lot of good memories and good friends there,” he said. But the small business has distinct advantages. “It’s really an opportunity to do the kinds of things that I love to do… I can kind of work on the projects that I love and it’s really that intersection between community banks and affordable housing.

A project to watch: He’s working on a tax credit in Alabama that “would really boost a lot of affordable housing for not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “If I was in a big company I would have to ask people if I could spend 100 hours doing this. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone about this.

He also said his company is working on other real estate and community development work, including “projects that are backed by historic tax credits.” There are a few looming projects – of the caliber of Lyric Theater and Pizitz redevelopments – that people are going to be excited about and “will be good for the community,” he said.

Compton said projects like these are just a few of the perks he received upon returning home. “I am blessed,” he said. “That’s the reason I did what I did: do fun things like that.”

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