Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
City Club of Chicago
Monday, March 9, 2015
Chicago, IL

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much, Jay (Doherty), for that kind introduction and for all the great work you're doing as President. Let me also thank your Chair Paul Green-and the entire Board of Governors-for your outstanding leadership over the years. 

Finally, let me thank all of you-Chicago's civic leaders-for that very generous welcome. I was a bit worried about the reception I'd get because of what the Spurs did to the Bulls yesterday, but y'all have been very gracious. 

I deeply appreciate your hospitality and, more importantly, your tremendous contributions across the city, from Rogers Park to Riverdale. In shaping a stronger Chicago you're shaping a stronger nation, and I'm very pleased to be here today to talk about shaping a stronger future for all Americans.

A Century of Cities

We gather together at an important moment. We're living in a Century of Cities - a time when human beings around the world are urbanizing at a breathtaking pace. In China. In India. Throughout Africa and Latin America. 

And it's also occurring here in the United States. The Census Bureau projects that, by 2050, our nation's population will grow by 80 million people, 60 million of whom are likely to live in urban areas.

Why throughout history-and why now-are they coming? Because cities are rich with possibility - places where ideas, imagination and innovation can be brought to life. 

They foster incredible human connections, creativity and culture, and this great city is a prime example of this promise, and has been for a long time.

The 1909 "Plan for Chicago" represented a bold new vision for urban life. It recognized the benefits of green space and an expanded business district. It valued strong commercial and civic connections between neighborhoods. 

As the plan's architect, Daniel Burnham, once said: this "city is without bounds or limits."

Time and again Chicago has proven this to be true with cutting edge policy and development taking place from the streetscape to the skyline.

Now we've gotta take this Chicago approach-this Chicago attitude-and apply it to the work that lies ahead for our entire nation. We must ensure that America's cities in this 21st century are centers of opportunity, places where every American can achieve without bounds or limits. 

HUD: The Department of Opportunity

That's where HUD comes in. It's why we came to life 50 years ago. Back in 1965-in a message to Congress pushing for the creation of our Department-President Johnson spoke of the need to protect core values in a modernizing world. 

He said that the American city should be a place where we satisfy our needs for shelter and work, where education expands our horizons and extends our expectations, where we feel safe; and where every person can find the satisfaction and warmth that comes from being a member of a community. 

This is the value of our work. Today we call ourselves the Department of Opportunity because of the important part we've played, and continue to play, in helping build strong cities. 

We appreciate the role that cities have in sparking growth for entire regions, including tribal and suburban communities. And we continue to do everything we can to help cities prosper - and that requires partnership with local leaders like y'all. 

The urban writer and activist, Jane Jacobs, was right when she said that "cities can provide something for everybody only when they're created by everybody." Government, business, philanthropic and community leaders all have a role to play-and must come together and build together-in order to maximize the potential of our urban places.

I speak from firsthand experience. As Mayor of San Antonio I led SA 2020, an effort launched in 2010 to dream, plan and act to make San Antonio a greater city in the decade to follow.

[Secretary Castro told a story about SA 2020 at this point]

That's also what we're doing at HUD. We know that progress is built on collaboration, and we're working with a wide-range of partners to help shape healthy, 21st century cities.

Affordable Housing

This starts with helping folks secure a quality, affordable place to call home. I don't have to tell any of you about the important role that housing plays for folks across the nation. It's where we start and end our days. It's where our children grow up and where families form their memories. Quite simply it's the center of our lives and the foundation of our futures.

But right now our nation is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. 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 "Worst Case Housing Needs" study. 

That's roughly equal to the numberof people living in Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas combined. 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 up savings. So we've been looking for creative solutions to meet these challenges. One of these solutions is an effort we call the Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD.

It's designed to meet the needs of our nation's crumbling public housing. There is currently a backlog of roughly $26 billion in capital needs. 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 won't be able to fully address these issues anytime soon.   

So we launched RAD in 2012 to help 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. 

RAD is cost neutral for the federal government and is making a big difference in a number of cities like Elgin, Illinois. Last month there was a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the renovation of the Central Park Tower - a 11-story building for seniors that was built in 1969 and in need of upgrades. 

RAD attracted $33 million dollars to modernize these units and develop new amentities like a computer lab and access to medical services. Residents have told us that this will make their lives easier - providing the piece of mind that every older American deserves. And we're making this kind of impact from coast-to-coast, and want to be able to do even more.

The affordable housing crisis is growing. RAD is part of the solution, and we're going to keep pushing forward to meet the evolving affordable housing needs in this Century of Cities. 

Comprehensive Community Development

Of course housing alone isn't enough - a family needs to be able to access opportunity once they leave their front door. They need to be connected to quality schools, good jobs and good transit options. 

That's why we're working with local leaders to address both obsolete housing units and 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 surrounding assets 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 across the nation from Seattle to New Orleans to right here in Chicago.

We've joined with Preservation of Affordable Housing, the University of Chicago, the City, and a wide-range of other partners to revitalize the Woodlawn neighborhood. We're renovating more than 500 units at Grove Parc Plaza and creating an additional 500 more market-rate rental and homeownership units. 

The University is working with the Chicago Public Schools to create an educational environment where children can succeed. We're also linking residents with the job training, literacy, health and other services they need to prosper.

Thus far the community has leveraged our $30 million dollar grant to attract nearly $380 million in investment, and we want to help more communities make the transition from poverty to prosperity.   

President Obama has requested $250 million for this initiative in his latest budget, an increase of $170 million from 2015. This "big picture" approach is working at the neighborhood level, and at the regional level too. 

In 2009, HUD joined with the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to increase collaboration within metropolitan areas. 

Even a world-class city like Chicago doesn't operate in a vacuum. Its success is enriched through its interdependent relationships with surrounding cities and counties which, together, create a globally-competitive metropolitan region.

Five years ago we awarded a $4.25 million dollar grant to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to help Chicagoland communities advance their shared vision for the future.

This vision unites this region's 284 municipaliies and 7 counties to build on their respective strengths.

This means investments in large projects, like $20 million in TIGER funds to make the 95th Street transit terminal safer and more friendly to pedestrians. It means smaller projects that are making a big differene for families, like a community garden in Fairmont. 

It means folks, representing a diversity of interests, working together for the greater good.  Very simply - it means opportunity. 

And we won't stop there.

Building Resilient Communities

In this Century of Cities, it's not enough to just build like we've done in the past - we've got to build with emerging challenges like climate change in mind. 

The science is clear: climate change is real, and it poses a mounting threat to local communities. 2014 was the hottest year on record. 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred in this 21st century.

I was in New York City last October to mark the 2nd Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, and I saw up close what this means on the ground: the water has risen a foot since 1900. Cities exposed to these kinds of threats must take these facts into account when planning for the future.

Fortunately, Chicago has been a national leader in resilience, and we want other communities to follow your example. That's why HUD has launched a National Disaster Resilience Competition. 

We're devoting $1 billion to help communities affected by a recent disaster-including Chicago-build back stronger than before. We're also encouraging the use of green infrastructure like wetlands, street trees and other natural assets. They achieve a double bottom line: enhancing the beauty and recreational space of our cities, while reducing the impact of stormwater during big storms.

So today HUD is releasing a Green Infrastructure report that details the most important lessons that've been learned by 30 of our community partners, including here in Chicago. It will empower other local leaders with new information to deal with flooding, spark economic revitalization and make their communities more vibrant and livable. 

Going green is good for both the health and wealth of families, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to strengthen communities today, tomorrow and far into the future.


Ladies and gentleman, all of this work is utlimately about one thing: people.

In this Century of Cities the success of our efforts shouldn't be judged by the height of buildings or by square footage or by grand blueprints: it will be judged by the way folks are able to achieve their dreams.

This requires giving every American access to affordable housing - and connecting this housing to jobs, schools and transit options. 

It requires working in partnership at the neighborhood level, at the city level and regionally to meet common goals for the common good. And it requires tackling new challenges like climate change with forward-looking, direct action.

By taking these steps, we can secure those very basic and timeless goals that Lyndon Johnson talked about when he created HUD: housing that's linked to opportunity and helping strengthen communities.  

Together, I know we can achieve these goals and make this Century of Cities another great chapter in the great American story.

I know that Chicago will continue to help lead the way, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that the future of America's cities, like the Windy City, is without bounds or limits. 

Thank you very much.


Content Archived: March 17, 2017