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SBA Chief Nominated To Run HUD

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush on Friday plans to nominate Steve Preston to become the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been trying to grapple with the imploding housing market.

Bush will announce his intention to nominate Preston, who has been the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration since July 2006, at a 12:15 p.m. (1615 GMT) White House ceremony, a senior Bush administration official said.

“He has a strong financial background and understands the important role the housing market plays in our economy,” the official said. A growing credit crunch has brought much of the housing market to a halt.

Preston would replace Alphonso Jackson who is stepping down amid investigations into his role in government contracts. Jackson cited the need to attend to personal and family matters as the reason for his resignation.

U.S. lawmakers had pressed him to leave because the cloud over his role in federal contracts could make it harder for the agency to respond to the worst housing crisis in generations.

The administration official cited Preston's work to overhaul the SBA's Disaster Assistance Program which had been tasked to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. The program has since disbursed almost $6 billion for rebuilding, the official said.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by James Dalgleish)