Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
The University of Chicago
Urban Labs Announcement
"Transforming Cities with Evidence-Based Policy"
Monday, March 9, 2015
Chicago, IL

Thank you very much, Tim (Knowles), for that kind introduction and for all your magnificent work to make this day possible. Tim and I share two things in common: we both have a passion for urban policy; and we both serve Presidents who call Chicago home.

I'm glad these common bonds have brought us together today, and I deeply appreciate his efforts. I'd also like to thank President Zimmer for his outstanding contributions. Mr. President,

I'm not going to pretend that I've read your book: "Ergodic Theory and Semisimple Groups."

But I can say without reservation that your service is making a profound difference and I thank you for everything you do.

I'd also like to express my appreciation to Mayor Emanuel for his leadership. He's done wonderful work as Mayor, and I'm grateful for all that he's accomplished on behalf of this great city.

Let me also thank Mayor Nutter and all the distinguished guests here for their work to strengthen our nation's urban areas. Finally, let me thank everyone with the University of Chicago for your commitment to fostering understanding and collaboration across fields. 

HUD is proud to work with you on a number of efforts, including preparations for next year's Habitat III , the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. 

And it's truly a pleasure to be with you to celebrate the launch of this exciting new Urban Labs initiative.

This launch comes at an important time for both the United States and the entire world. We're living in a Century of Cities. The global urban population is expected to nearly double by 2050 - the highest rate of urbanization in human history.

On one hand this presents us with new and incredible opportunities to strengthen human connections, to enhance our cultural bonds, and to spark transformative economic growth. 

On the other hand it also presents us with challenges that need to be dealt with in areas ranging from energy, to health, to education. 

So we've got to act today in order to prepare for tomorrow, and this requires more than just effort and a commitment - it requires understanding and knowledge. To paraphrase a favorite son of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln: it's the duty of every person to be wiser today than he or she was yesterday. 

We must always use all the tools at our disposal to explore the great issues of our time, to test out promising new approaches, to evaluate their impact, and to apply what we learn to shape policy. 

That's what makes your work with evidence-based policy so important. Your research will help light the way forward, and all of us at HUD are thrilled about this new effort.

The issues you're focusing on-education, crime, poverty, health, energy and the environment-are deeply interconnected with housing and urban development, and we're eager to partner with you. 

Helping to create thriving urban places has been our fundamental mission since the Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965. 

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 and a community of opportunity."

Today we call ourselves The Department of Opportunity. And every day we work block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood to fulfill this promise, to help build cities that are rich with possibility - places where folks can bring their big dreams and bold ideas to life. 

But the way we're doing this is and must be different from years past because our resources haven't kept pace with the needs of those we serve. 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. 

This is up nearly 50 percent since 2003. Meanwhile funding for our HOME initiative-which creates and supports affordable housing-has been cut in half since 2010. Our Community Development Block Grant initiative-which sparks economic growth across the nation-has fallen 25% during the same time period. 

So we're increasingly relying on evidence-based practices to ensure we're investing in what's working and making adjustments in areas that aren't. We have our own in-house policy development and research team that conducts rigorous evaluations of HUD's programs, analyzes data, and, ultimately, helps me deploy our resources in a way that best supports families and communities.  

For example, as many of you know, our Choice Neighborhoods initiative was launched to turn poverty into progress in distressed areas. 

Right now there are communities across the nation where development has been too limited, investment has been too scarce and struggle has been too familiar for its residents.

So HUD launched Choice in 2010 to:

  • help local leaders, from all sectors, come together and develop a common vision for the future;
  • to encourage a "big picture" approach" so that housing is connected to the jobs, schools, transit options and other assets that folks need to thrive; and
  • to help make this vision real with local leaders in the driver's seat and the federal government playing a supporting role. 

Right now we're managing a study of the first five recipients of our biggest Choice grants and the verdict is in: this effort is working. Take areas like the Woodlawn neighborhood here in Chicago. As many of you may know from your own involvement, the Woodlawn Choice project has taken a $30 million dollar grant and leveraged it for another $380 million in investment.

Blighted, abandoned structures are coming down.

Quality, affordable housing is going up. Optimism is rising and opportunity is growing. We want more communities to have these outcomes, which is why President Obama has requested $250 million for this initiative in his latest budget, an increase of $170 million from 2015.

We know from research that Choice Neighborhoods is an answer to complex urban challenges, and we want this answer to be available to Americans for generations to come. 

Another example of how knowledge is guiding our actions is an effort called Jobs-Plus. 

It's designed to provide public housing residents with intensive job training, rent incentives, and a community of support. 

We ran an experiment and found that those in the program made $1,100 more than similar residents in other developments. That may not seem like a lot of money to some, but all of us here know that these dollars go a long way for struggling families.

A wide range of partners-from the Federal government, city governments, philanthropy, public housing authorities, and non-profits-have applied what we learned and expanded Jobs-Plus because we had the evidence to show it works. 

This initiative is currently active in 10 cities, continues to be studied, and HUD has made a $100 million request in the Budget to expand it even more.

The bottom line is that evidence-based policy is producing results. And I know it's doing the same for partners in all sectors. That's what's exciting about Urban Labs. You'll provide us, and so many others, with the evidence we need to make the sharpest, most informed decisions possible. 

Your work will contribute to our collective understanding on a wide-range of issues and ensure that this Century of Cities is full of widespread opportunity for so many citizens of the world.

Because ultimately all of this work - the studies, statistics and analysis is about one thing: people.

Thank you for the privilege of joining you for the launch of Urban Labs. Your efforts will help shape the next chapter of urban development. And I look forward to our continued work together to protect and enhance the American city's role as a place of possibility and prosperity.

Thank you very much.


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