Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro Center for American Progress 2nd Annual Making Progress Policy Conference
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Glenn (Hutchins), for that kind introduction and for your great contributions over the years.
I'd also like to thank your President, Neera Tanden, for her incredible leadership. Let me also recognize your Chair, former Senator Tom Daschle, and all the Members of the Board, for their distinguished service.
Finally, let me thank the entire team at the Center for American Progress. For more than a decade, you've been an incredible source of ideas, insight and solutions.
I thank you for your contributions. And I deeply appreciate the invitation to be with you this morning because, like you, I know that government is not a dirty word, and we shouldn't apologize for effectively helping folks reach their dreams.
Often times these days I feel the blessings of the opportunity that I've had in my own life.I think about a day, more than 20 years ago now, when my brother Joaquin and I as 17 year-olds on April 3rd 1992, went to the mail box in excitement and got a college admission packet from Stanford University.
We were glad it was a packet, and not a letter, because it meant that we had gotten in.And we opened up the packet that day with my mother and my grandmother, who we were growing up with.
We were so happy that we had gotten in to college, and more than that got into Stanford.
We had never seen the university. We had only been on a plane once before that in our lives.And then a couple weeks later we got the bill. And that wasn't such a happy day.
At that time the university cost between $27,000 and $28,000 dollars for folks to attend.
And there was no way that my mother who, in 1991 when we applied for college, had made just under $20,000, or my grandmother, who was making several hundred dollars a month in a social security check, could possibly afford to send the two of us to the school of our dreams.
And I know that the only reason I am able to stand up here, with a good education in tow, is that I worked hard and my family worked hard, but also Americans worked hard together for us.
There were Pell grants and Perkins loans, Stafford loans and federal work-study.
I believe, like I bet you do, that this nation has been at its best when it expects hard work from individuals and families, but also when it rewards that hard work with opportunity.
HUD: The Department of Opportunity
You see, HUD is the Department of Opportunity because of the unique role we play in the life of our nation. Nearly 50 years ago, when he signed the HUD Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said that our work could give "every family a home of dignity, a neighborhood of pride, a community of opportunity and a city of hope."
A house, an abode, a dwelling-a home-isn't just a place where folks live their lives - it's a springboard from which they can reach their dreams.
Over the last three-and-a half months, I've visited communities from Alabama to Alaska and seen with my own eyes the profound impact we make: from helping folks in the Northeast rebuild stronger after Hurricane Sandy, to holding lenders accountable when they discriminate against women who're expecting a child, to addressing poverty by turning problems into promise in neighborhoods across the nation.
We strive every day to build on this progress, and-even in this political environment-we won't waiver from this commitment. Housing isn't a Republican or a Democratic issue - it's an American issue. And we ought to use it as an instrument to expand opportunity.
The first way is by connecting the people we serve to jobs. There are some who believe that folks who live in public or subsidized housing are lazy. I couldn't disagree more. Many low-income Americans already work. And the vast majority of those who aren't working want to find a job. That's why our Family Self-Sufficiency initiative is so important.
Every year, we connect roughly 70,000 residents with the education and job opportunities they need to increase their income and establish savings - while decreasing their need for rental assistance.
This work is helping folks like Sheeya, a mother from Massachusetts. When she was a young adult, she made mistakes with her credit and education, but, as she told us, "you can always start again. I want to leave something to my children."
Sheeya enrolled in our initiative, graduated from college this past May and bought a home of her own. And that's the way things ought to be. Housing should give every person the chance to start again and break the cycle of poverty for the next generation.
That's why we want to bolster our work with an effort called the Jobs-Plus Pilot Program. Working with the Department of Labor, Jobs-Plus would build a community of support to assist residents as they move toward economic independence.
We've requested $25 million for the effort as part of the most recent budget request. We're looking to Congress for its support because when every person has a chance to thrive, our nation thrives - and that serves everyone's interests.
Success should be a product of talent and work ethic, not luck. And, as Sheeya said, let's give everyone, regardless of their circumstances, a chance to start again.
Expanding opportunity also means helping homeless Americans find a permanent place to call home - especially those who served our country. These brave men and women have risked so much to protect our country and the ideals for which it stands.
They were there for us when we needed them. As they return back to our shores, we've got a responsibility to return the favor. For HUD, this means ensuring that every veteran has a roof over his or her head.
In 2010, nearly 75,000 veterans didn't have a place to call home on a given night. This is a national tragedy, which is why President Obama launched Opening Doors, the first federal strategic effort designed to prevent and end homelessness.
This work is making a profound difference. One former Marine we helped told us that on his first day in his new apartment, he got on his knees and prayed. He said, "my future is brighter and I live like a human being again."
These outcomes are occurring across the country. Over the last four years, we've reduced the number of homeless veterans by 33 percent - and we're determined to continue this success.
The President has requested an additional $75 million for HUD-VASH - the program that combines our Housing Choice Vouchers rental assistance with services from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
This funding can go a long way in ending homelessness among veterans by the end of next year. Furthermore, we support legislation that will make tribal communities eligible for this assistance.
Last month, I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and it was an eye-opening experience. I learned that our nation's tribal communities include a higher than average percentage of veterans among their residents.
These are heroes who served with the same honor and distinction as their fellow service members. They should have the same opportunity to get back on their feet as everyone else.
However, under current law, they are ineligible to receive HUD-VASH vouchers in tribal communities. We must change this. There are legislative efforts taking place to do just this.
Let's work together. Let's make this happen.
A third way we're using housing as a platform is by helping folks secure their financial future by increasing access to affordable housing. Right now, half of renters spend at least 30% of their income on rent - an all-time high.
This means that Americans have less to pay off their student debts, less to support their children, less to save for retirement and more. The equation is simple: a lack of affordable housing leads to a lack of economic security for the American people.
Even worse, this crisis comes at a time when our public housing is falling apart. The nation is losing 10,000 units of public housing every year, mainly due to disrepair. Worse yet, this is happening as funding from Washington decreases.
Communities are wondering how they can preserve their public housing in this tough fiscal climate. The answer for many of them is HUD's Rental Assistance Demonstration initiative - also known as RAD.
Created in 2012, RAD helps housing authorities-and owners of assisted housing-convert to long-term Section 8 contracts. This allows them to better leverage private debt and equity to improve their properties.
This is not the privatization of affordable housing, it's the preservation of affordable housing. RAD is cost neutral for the federal government and is making a big difference in places like Evanston, Illinois.
A few weeks ago, local leaders broke ground on two decaying developments that are housing seniors.
An 81-year-old resident named Louise Mayfield said that during the 15 years she's lived in her apartment, she "never had paint on her wall, never had anything done to her apartment. The floor is real bad, and so is the plumbing."
Thanks to RAD, the apartments are getting upgrades, from the cabinets to the roofs. Louise said "it feels like Christmas." Communities across the country want to be able to deliver the same results through RAD.
We've received applications to convert over 180,000 units of public housing. But we're in danger of losing momentum because our current authority is limited to 60,000 units. We've asked Congress to lift the cap in our FY2015 budget request.
The affordable housing crisis is growing. RAD is part of the solution, which is why Capitol Hill must take action, and swiftly. Together, we can give everyone-young and old-a decent place to rent.
Access to Credit
And once they bolster their financial situation, then we've got to ensure they can make the transition from renter to homeowner. Homeownership is a platform to build wealth and strengthen communities.
But right now this dream is out of reach of too many responsible Americans. Some believe that a few years ago, it was too easy to get a home loan. Now, it's too hard. In fact, according to the Urban Institute, the housing market is missing out on 1.2 million loans every year because credit is so tight.
And think about all those who are losing out. The Millennial generation came of age during the economic crisis, burdened with incredible student debt - one of the reasons why the homeownership rate among folks under 35 has reached historic lows.
Another group being shutout are communities of color, with lending to minorities at a 14-year low. We must address this. With the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other actions, the Administration has already implemented historic safeguards to prevent another crisis.
Now, we've got to move forward by increasing opportunity for those ready to own. HUD is taking action through our Federal Housing Administration. We've launched a Blueprint for Access that works with both borrowers and lenders to get credit moving responsibly.
And we've taken actions to strengthen FHA so that it can continue to work with underserved communities for generations to come. On Monday, we announced that it's grown $21 billion in value over the last two years.
At FHA, we want to help responsible families become homeowners. And we'll continue to work until this dream reaches everyone who's ready, regardless of where they're from and what they've been through.
That's what opportunity is about. Folks don't expect government to solve all their problems - they just want a fair chance to succeed. At the corner of 7th and E SW, in the Robert Weaver building and among our 8500 employees at HUD, we give them that chance every single day.
And we'll work with anyone-Democrat, Republican, Independent-to make it happen. Of course, it'll take compromise, and that's okay.
Progress doesn't require perfection. But, on the other hand, it must never come at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans. The folks HUD serves aren't lazy. They aren't takers. They aren't an afterthought.
They are people with the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else. They need the opportunity and the means to achieve their dreams. And it's our responsibility as a one American community to help each other get there.
As Americans, we know that we're not prisoners of fate. With the power of our ideas and the passion of our ideals, we can shape a better tomorrow.
As long as folks who're working fulltime are living in poverty, we've got to act. As long as families need access to affordable housing, we've got to act. As long as children's futures are being limited because of where they live, we've got to act. As long as opportunity reaches some and not all, we've got to act.
And I believe in the years to come, we will succeed. Thank you.
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