Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
ational Low Income Housing Coalition
2015 Housing Legislative Forum
Monday, March 2, 2015
Washington, DC

Thank you very much, Brenda (Clement), for that kind introduction and for all the great work you're doing as Chair and with your organization in Boston.

I'd also like to recognize your President and CEO, Shelia Crowley, for her remarkable leadership over the years. It's been said that service is the rent we pay for our place on earth. Shelia has already paid that rent in full, and I know she's just getting started. Thank you, Shelia. 

Finally, let me thank the Board of Directors, the staff, and everyone with the National Low Income Housing Coalition for your tremendous contributions. 

Words like "help" and "hope" sound simple, but they mean so much to the folks you serve across the nation. Thank you for providing them with these precious gifts, and for the compassion you display every day with your work. 

Your advocacy is truly making a difference. One example is the National Housing Trust Fund, which is finally getting the resources it needs to bolster our nation's affordable housing supply.

HUD has published an interim rule for this effort and grantees could start receiving allocations as soon as the summer of 2016. This represents a new start for the folks you and I fight for, and I'm so pleased to be with you today to talk about building on this progress. 

We gather here at this time and place to give young people like Onika Estrada a fair chance in life. She was 10-years-old when her family was profiled in their local Washington State paper last year. And even at her young age Onika has big dreams for the future and is considering becoming a doctor, or an author, or a movie director, or maybe even President of the United States.

I know that all of us believe that she should have every opportunity to go as far as her talent, passion and work ethic will take her. But there is one major obstacle standing in her way: her family of four doesn't have a lot of money. 

Her mother, Crystal, makes $13 dollars an hour as a caretaker for the elderly. Her father, Miguel, earns $18 dollars an hour in construction, but development projects are unpredictable so job opportunities come and go. 

Their limited incomes have left them with few housing choices. They're living paycheck-to-paycheck and reside in an area with a high crime rate and a low-performing school, which will present challenges for Onika as she grows up.

All across the nation there are children and families experiencing this same hardship. They have so much to contribute but can't because their modest means have stacked the deck against them.  

Despite what some outside this room may think, these folks aren't lazy. They aren't takers. They aren't trying to pull a "fast one" on taxpayers. They are proud people with the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else, they just need an opportunity to find their footing and build their lives, and that begins with a safe, affordable place to call home.

7.7 million low-income households—who aren't receiving government assistance—pay more than half their income on rent, live in substandard housing, or both according to HUD's latest "Worst Case Housing Needs" study. 

That's roughly the number of people living in Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas combined. I've seen this need up close in my travels across the country. One of my most memorable experiences as Secretary was a trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where

I visited an average-sized house with sixteen residents squeezed in it because that's all they could afford. 

We're talking about folks who're spending so much of their precious dollars just to keep a roof over their heads that they can't invest in their children's education or build some savings, and our nation cannot reach its full potential if its citizens can't reach theirs.

We cannot accept this as Americans. We can and must do better by giving low-income folks both a voice and a chance. I know that this is the core of your mission and what brings you to Washington. And HUD is with you every step of the way. We call ourselves The Department of Opportunity because we know that housing shapes lives and futures. 

And I'm proud to work for a President who believes in our mission as strongly as we do. 

They say that a budget reflects one's values. Well it's clear that President Obama's Fiscal Year 2016 Budget reflects the ideals and values that you and I cherish: inclusive growth, shared responsibility and equal opportunity. 

It proposes to finally end sequestration. And specifically for HUD he's requested $49.3 billion - nearly $4 billion more than Fiscal Year 2015's enacted level, and today I want to talk to you about how we're working to make these ideals and values real in people's lives.   

The first is by increasing access to affordable housing by giving families the assistance they need to secure a roof over their head. This begins with helping many of the folks most in need — the homeless. 

In 2010, President Obama launched Opening Doors, the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. We've made great progress in the years since, including a 21% drop in chronic homelessness and a 33% drop in homelessness among veterans. 

That's why we're going to continue investing in efforts that are working. HUD's Budget would fund Homeless Assistance Grants at $2.5 billion — a $345 million increase over 2015. This will help 25,000 more Americans obtain the housing stability they need to address their other challenges in life and stay housed. 

We must never accept homelessness as a part of American society, and the requests in this 2016 budget help ensure we'll never have to. We must also never accept a society that blocks the ability of those with disabilities to live full and independent lives. 

HUD's Section 811 initiative helps these Americans secure affordable housing that's integrated into their local communities and connected to community-based services like health care. For years this work has been making a profound difference in people's lives and to keep our momentum going, I'm proud to announce today that HUD is awarding $150 million in Project Rental Assistance to help an additional 4,600 low-income households. 

We're also proposing a 31% increase to the entire Section 811 effort in the 2016 Budget. 

These actions reflect our belief that our nation is at its best when everyone is valued, respected, and housed.

Another way we want to increase access to affordable housing is by bolstering our Tenant-Based Rental Assistance efforts. I don't have to tell you how important this program is or about the 2.2 million folks it serves. 

But you should know that we have a great opportunity to extend this help to others because of the President's Budget. We've requested $1.8 billion more for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, which will provide another 200,000 low-income families with a decent place to call home.

And I promise you that we're going to fight for these dollars so that these folks can make that important move from struggle to security. But empowering more Americans with these tools is just one step in securing our nation's affordable housing future. 

Another is preserving our affordable housing. It's no secret to this room that much of our nation's public housing is falling apart. There is currently a backlog of roughly $26 billion in capital needs.

Children are growing up in units that have cracked windows, untiled bathroom floors and broken heaters. Furthermore, the nation is losing 10,000 units of public housing every year, mainly due to disrepair. And the cold hard truth is that federal dollars are scarce and aren't able to fully address these issues.  

That's why we've had to think out-of-the-box with the Rental Assistance Demonstration in order to bring some private investment into the fold. This work is making an impact in places like Lexington, North Carolina.

The local housing authority began renovating all of its 268 units last year and, thanks to RAD, they'll be able to make 58 years worth of repairs in just 22 months. Low-income folks shouldn't have to wait 58 years for new windows, 58 years for standard lighting or 58 years for basic insulation to stay warm, which is why HUD continues to strengthen this effort.

Now, I know that RAD is a cause of concern to some of you. Let me first say that we get it, we hear you, and we'll continue to keep our doors open for your feedback and counsel. 

At the end of the day all of us share a common goal: helping folks obtain decent housing and I'm committed to collaborating with you to do this as fully, fairly and equitably as possible.

We also want to work with you, and local partners, to not only address obsolete housing units, but also the communities they're located in. Our Choice Neighborhoods initiative is doing that in areas of concentrated poverty by emphasizing a "big picture" approach to development. 

In addition to transforming units with a one-for-one replacement approach, it's also strengthening the businesses, schools and transit options surrounding them, and it's doing it with private sector participation and with local leaders in the driver's seat. 

Over a four year period, HUD's $350 million leveraged more than $2.6 billion of additional investment. This is generating new optimism and opportunity everywhere from Seattle to New Orleans to Chicago, and we're eager to build on this progress. 

President Obama has requested $250 million for this initiative in his latest budget, an increase of $170 million from 2015. Far too many communities are wondering how to deal with poverty. Choice Neighborhoods is an answer, and we want this answer to be available to Americans for generations to come. 

All these tools are important to preserve affordable housing, but we all know that maintaining the status quo isn't enough. We can't just keep the same levels of affordable housing, we've got to create more. Our HOME initiative has done just that over the last two decades, constructing and rehabilitating nearly 1.2 million affordable units. 

The President's Budget proposes increasing funding for HOME by over 16%—bringing it over a billion dollars—which would help local leaders meet more of their affordable housing goals. And although the politics on Capitol Hill have changed since your last conference, this Administration's commitment to broader financing tools remains unshakable. 

We remain committed to preserving and enhancing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. 

And we're still firmly focused on Housing Finance Reform, which could turn the millions that are now going to the Housing Trust Fund into billions.

We're taking all these measures because inaction is simply not an option. The needs are too high and the current affordable housing stock is too limited. So let's work together to build more affordable housing in tribal areas, in rural areas, in cities and everywhere in between.

And let's not stop there. Housing should be a springboard for success, which is why one of my priorities is connecting it to efforts that boost knowledge and employment. One new area I'm placing a special focus on is expanding broadband adoption for public housing residents.

Access to knowledge and information is as vital to a thriving community as access to jobs, good schools and safe streets. But a White House report found that only 4 in 10 families making under $25,000 had broadband access at home. Compare that to 9 in 10 families making over $100,000. This disparity simply isn't right.

President Obama has challenged the nation to connect 99% of American's students to broadband and wireless in their schools and libraries by 2018. 

As HUD Secretary, I'd like to ensure that this access follows them home, and we'll be announcing something in the near future. The time has come for our nation to finally close the digital divide so that every child has the chance to succeed in the 21st century global economy. 

Another area of focus is our Family Self-Sufficiency initiative which is linking residents with the education, job training and other services folks need to build assets and improve lives. We're also bolstering an initiative called Jobs-Plus to support folks as they move toward economic independence.

These efforts have made a profound difference for folks like Denisha Catron from Arizona. Denisha lived in public housing with her two children when she signed up for the initiative. She was unemployed and unable to pay off her debts. 

Then her life began to change. She got good job training and went to work at a local medical facility. She took financial literacy courses and paid off loans. Then she brought up her credit score and built up $30,000 dollars in her savings account. And then Denisha used that to buy a new home and start a new chapter. That's the value of our work. 

Across the board, we're working to expand access to opportunity. And you know what? We're going to keep at it so that more public housing residents have a chance to move out and up.

In total, all of our work to increase access to affordable housing, to create and preserve it, and to connect it to knowledge and jobs is really about one simple thing: giving more folks a chance to share in the American Dream. 

It's the Dream that allowed Sonia Sotomayor to go from the Bronxdale Houses in New York City to the highest court in the land. It's the Dream that allowed Ursula Burns to go from the public housing complex to the CEO suite at the Xerox Corporation.

It's the Dream that's allowed generations of Americans of modest means to lift themselves up and achieve greatness in their own unique ways — as teachers, as community leaders, as advocates for the poor and so much more.

And it's the Dream that allows 10-year-old Onika Estrada to believe she can be a doctor, or an author, or a movie director or even President of the United States. But this dream has never been a given. It's been the responsibility of every generation to preserve it and enhance it for future generations. 

I know you believe this which is why you've come to Washington this week to give a voice to low-income Americans, to stand up and speak out for their issues, and to give them the chance to contribute to our great nation.

I thank y'all for doing this important work, and I ask you to keep at it. There may be setbacks along the way, but know that the entire HUD team is proud to stand with you. Together, we'll continue to help folks make that life-changing transition from the shadows of despair to the sunlight of opportunity.

We'll continue to pave a path wide enough for everybody to get ahead in life. And if we hold up our end of the bargain, who knows, one day many years from now, maybe we'll all be back together to watch Onika's new blockbuster film, or even better, we'll be asking to meet with her in the Oval Office.

Thank you very much for inviting me, and I look forward to our conversation today.


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