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Excerpts from Press Briefing by Secretary of HUD Andrew Cuomo
The Briefing Room
October 20, 1999

SECRETARY CUOMO: Good afternoon. Let me make a couple of points about a bill signing that the President just did, and then whatever questions you have would be my pleasure to answer.

The President signed the Veterans Administration/HUD bill -- Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. And the President took the opportunity of the bill signing to point out that in many ways this could be a model for how the budget process could go forward.

The HUD/VA bill was not an easy bill to negotiate. But it is a bill that we, obviously ultimately, came to terms and we signed. It is a bill that does a phenomenal amount of good. The values that the President has been speaking about, the values that are important to the President in this budget process are represented in the bill. And it is a bill that, from a budget point of view, met the parameters that the leaders spoke about last night.

This is a bill that does the good things we want to do, but clearly does not tap into the Social Security surplus; that is very much a bill that paid with offsets for all of the initiatives that have been included.

Again, it was not an easy process to complete, but it shows that the process can be completed. So as the President discussed, and the leaders met last night, they're going to go forward on these types of parameters and the HUD/VA bill shows that it can be done.

On the HUD initiatives specifically within the bill, it is clearly, in my opinion, the best HUD budget, the best HUD legislation of this President's administration. We had some very real problems in housing and urban development in this nation that this bill goes a long way towards addressing. It is the largest number of new, affordable housing units of any budget President Clinton has passed -- 60,000 what they call, Section 8 vouchers, new Section 8 voucher -- 60,000 new housing opportunities; the largest amount ever for this President in his seven years; more funding for the homeless, more funding for fair housing initiatives; funding for the President's New Markets Initiative.

Many of you came with us on the New Markets tour this past year, where the President pointed out that even though this economy is going great, there are many places in this nation that are not sharing in that great economic success. And he put forth his New Markets Initiative. That was contained in this bill. The American Private Investment Companies Act, $20 million -- that was passed. More funding for empowerment zones, which are an economic development tool for places left behind. More funding for brownfields.

We also averted a crisis of affordable housing. Many of the affordable housing units that we have built over the past 20 or so years are now expiring. And because the economy is so strong and the housing market is so strong, many buildings which were subsidized, many developments which were subsidized, want to go private and leave the government subsidy program, because they can get more money in the private market right now. We averted that crisis in this legislation.

And from a long-term point of view, we had the housing security plan for older Americans in this bill, which goes a long way towards meeting the housing needs of senior Americans. It's one of the issues that the President has focused on, the graying of America -- the so-called graying of America. By 2050 there will be 80 million more senior Americans. Where do they live? This bill totally revamps the senior housing in this nation, does more of it and does it better.

So, in sum, this was a great bill for HUD. It was a great precedent that said we can get a budget, we can do it in a bipartisan way, we can keep our values and be financially and fiscally responsible, and we can come to terms. And we hope that this model does not stand in isolation, but, rather as a precedent.

Q Can you give us a scorecard of all of the things that the President asked for in the New Markets Initiative, how much is still left out there? I mean, wasn't there a tax piece that hasn't gone anywhere? Could you just explain -- this $20 million was just one --

SECRETARY CUOMO: The $20 million was what they called the APIC, which to me is the cornerstone of the New Markets Initiative. There is also a New Markets tax credit which is also being negotiated.

Q But they're not going to -- that would be part of what?

SECRETARY CUOMO: That would be part of the extender bill or a piece of legislation that moves later.

Q Are you confident you're going to get that?

SECRETARY CUOMO: That's subject to negotiation. The only piece that we had on the table in this bill was the APIC, and that we got.

Q How many homeless people are here in America today, without homes?

SECRETARY CUOMO: About 600,000 is the estimate that we use, but that's a rough estimate.

Q Why do you have so many in the richest country in the world?

SECRETARY CUOMO: Well, it's a question I often ask. Many answers. One of them is clearly an answer of housing affordability. Believe it or not, we have less affordable housing in this country today than at any point in history.

What's happening is the market is so hot, the economy is so hot that it's driving up the rents, and you can't afford the rents. People on fixed income, people on the lower end of the income spectrum literally can't reach the rents. So it's a housing affordability crisis, a housing supply crisis. And then it's very often many other issues, also -- problems with mental health, problems with domestic violence, problems with substance abuse. So it very often gets more complicated, but it always starts as a housing problem.

Q Could you just go through the offsets and the mechanics of negotiating them and how you think that could serve as a model for the other spending bills that are still out there?

SECRETARY CUOMO: Yes. I think there was a certain rhythm to this negotiation. And most negotiations develop their own rhythm. But we started with the substantive issues first: From a policy point of view, what were we trying to accomplish, what did the President believe he had to have in this bill; what did the Congress believe they had to have -- from a policy point of view, a substance point of view.

And then we did the finances second, and the offsets last. And we agreed that additional items to the bill the respective parties would have to find a way to pay for with offsets that were acceptable to both. And that's what we did.

Q Are there any offsets that you discovered that you can use again on these other bills? I mean, tax increases or --

SECRETARY CUOMO: No, this bill was done as a self-contained negotiation. We didn't go near Social Security. We found funding within the four walls of the bill to satisfy the initiatives we wanted here.

Q Thank you.


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