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HUD No. 97-01
Contact: Bill Connelly 202/708-068512:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Alex Sachs 202/708-0685Tuesday, January 7, 1997


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In his last major speech as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry G. Cisneros today warned that government must, "leave no one behind as it extends opportunity to all." Cisneros also discussed promising efforts, begun under his tenure, to tackle homelessness, transform public housing, and foster the economic renaissance under way in many cities.

Cisneros, speaking at the National Press Club, warned that Americans must continue to be concerned about:

  • An impending crisis in affordable housing -- While more than 5.3 million low income households spend more than one-half of their income for rent, the Congress has refused to increase the number of rental vouchers for working families.

  • The availability of jobs for welfare recipients -- The government and the private sector have a responsibility to provide the poor with more job training and job opportunities.

  • Racial discrimination -- Even as we approach a new century, discriminatory housing practices keep minorities out of many neighborhoods. Discrimination is "a deadly poison that dashes hopes and futures every day," Cisneros said.

  • High levels of poverty and homelessness -- America cannot realize its hopes and dreams if we accept the level of poverty in this country today.

  • The corrosive effects of public cynicism -- "We live in a time of too much cynicism," Cisneros said. Whatever the cause, public cynicism in day-to-day life threatens America's ability to implement even the smallest of solutions to its problems.

Despite these continuing concerns, Cisneros said that he leaves office optimistic about America's future -- in large part because of the determined, hard-working people he has met in visits to more than 180 cities and communities -- from public housing projects to suburban areas -- in all 50 states.

"The truth is, after all the comprehensive solutions and sweeping ideas, I've learned that the way to solve the biggest problems is block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city," Cisneros said. "There is no substitute for the magic of persistent, untiring, day-to-day work."

In his address, Cisneros cited four areas where America's "reach for greatness meets some of its severest challenges":

  • Eradicating Homelessness -- The Clinton Administration is successfully implementing the Continuum of Care approach to homeless assistance, including an increase of federal funds from $331 million to $931 million, allowing HUD to serve up to 14 times more homeless persons than in 1992.

    The Continuum of Care strategy allows service providers to reach more mentally-ill homeless persons and provides a level of care that includes counseling, medication, job training and a level of self-sufficiency.

    The continuing challenge is to sustain federal funding, build upon small-scale successes and maintain the will to fight homelessness, Cisneros said.

  • Changing the Face of Public Housing -- After decades of neglect, more than 23,000 of the worst units of public housing have been replaced during President Clinton's first term, with the Administration committed to demolishing a total of 100,000 units by the end of the President's second term.

    Small scale, townhouse and garden-style housing is replacing the mammoth apartment buildings of the past. Civic buildings including police and fire stations and day care centers are being built on-site, with commercial development nearby. Anti- crime efforts are making these communities safer.

    Residents are being connected with employment and educational opportunities. Public housing is once again becoming a place where people can live for a short period of time while they prepare to move up the economic ladder.

  • Addressing the Shortfall in Affordable Housing -- In a less optimistic assessment, Cisneros warned that America is facing an affordable housing crisis, with more working families than ever living in substandard or overcrowded conditions and paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent.

    Congress has responded to this crisis in the worst way possible, Cisneros said. Over the past three years, the Congress has broken a 20 year, bipartisan commitment to increasing the number of new rental vouchers to help America's poor and working poor families afford more decent housing.

    While condemning discriminatory housing practices that still keep minorities out of many neighborhoods, Cisneros also cited a recommitment to ensure fair housing by both the private sector and the federal government over the past four years.

  • The Importance of Cities -- One of the most hopeful trends in this country is the miracle of rebirth in many American cities, Cisneros said. After 25 years of decline, the cities are beginning to relate to the new American economy.

    This transformation is born out of the realization that the economy is now a metropolitan economy. To remain competitive, cities are doing things differently, Cisneros said. He cited programs providing inner-city residents with suburban jobs; the creation of new middle-class housing in the central city; a broader availability of access to capital that is helping communities; and better transportation systems that are making physical distances less daunting.

Cisneros reflected on the on-going transition underway in our welfare system, wholeheartedly endorsing the need for welfare reform and the importance of work. But Cisneros argued that the private sector and government need to take greater responsibility for providing the poor the opportunity to take a job.

"As we ask welfare recipients to be responsible enough to take a job, we as a society must be responsible enough to provide the jobs," Cisneros said. "We must build the kind of economy that will provide the paychecks. And to accomplish that may require the government to play a bigger role in terms of public service jobs and training."

In arguing this point, Cisneros cited government policies that provide educational opportunities to millions of Americans and -- through the tax code -- homeownership opportunities for the middle class. Cisneros called for the same government dedication to providing jobs and job training for the millions of lower-income Americans making the transition from welfare-to-work.

"Let us remember that we can create a positive model of government that leaves no one behind as it extends opportunity to all," Cisneros said.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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