Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
New Museum
2015 IDEAS CITY Festival
Friday, May 29, 2015
New York, NY

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much, Speaker Mark-Viverito, for your kind introduction and, more importantly, for your great leadership across the five boroughs.

Let me also thank Lisa Phillips, James Keith Brown, Saul Dennison, and everyone with the New Museum for inviting me to join you this morning. You've done a remarkable job of bringing together a wide-range of leaders, and I deeply appreciate the chance to be a part of your forum today.

This conversation is taking place at an important moment for our nation and for our world. 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, of course, right 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 imagination and innovation can be brought to life. They foster incredible human connections, creativity and culture. They are where progress often begins and where, many times, the future happens first. 

Our responsibility now is to ensure that every American has the chance to contribute to this growth and prosperity because, right now, this isn't the case. Many of our fellow citizens are still trapped in the pain of poverty, and let's face it-to borrow your conference theme-the poor are often invisible. 

Too often their plight is unseen, their challenges are dismissed, their concerns are overlooked and their voices are ignored. And every now and then their frustration will bubble to the surface-as we've seen in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson-and this results in a lot of temporary attention, headlines, and tweets.

Eventually, however, the news cycle moves on, but the folks who live in these areas can't move on because they're stuck dealing with the same obstacles that have deferred and derailed their dreams for years. 

The young child who falls further and further behind each day because his school is failing him.

The teenager who spends more time in the emergency room than the classroom because she breathes in polluted air when she walks around her neighborhood.

The men and women who lost their old jobs to a machine and have been told they don't have the skills to make it in the 21st century global economy. The families whose days are filled with constant worry and anxiety because they don't know how they'll put food on the table, or heat their homes, or pay the rent. 

These stories are playing out every day in every city, and the question our nation must answer is do we turn our backs and close our eyes to these issues? Or do we open our eyes, our minds and our hearts and pledge to make this the moment in history when we say enough is enough?

The answer is clear: enough is enough. It's time for us to put opportunity within reach of all Americans, including the invisible poor. That's where the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 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. 

Today, we remain true to these values and call ourselves the Department of Opportunity because our work is about so much more than four walls and a roof. Where you live shapes how you live - the jobs that are available to you, the education your children receive, and the overall quality of life you enjoy. 

And we work tirelessly with one goal in mind: to give folks the foundation they need to dream and to prosper. This doesn't require a big government or a small government, it requires a smart government - one that's on a constant quest for new ideas to make our work better, quicker and more effective for those we serve.

You see, like all of you, we believe in the power of a good idea to spark opportunity for others.   

The GI Bill was once just an idea to help veterans go to college. Social Security and Medicare were once just ideas to help the elderly live with comfort and dignity. The Interstate Highway System was once just an idea to connect our cities and enhance our economy.

In each of these cases bold plans turned into progress for the American people, and today at HUD, we're using new ideas to make this Century of Cities a time when everyone is valued, supported, cherished and welcomed - including the invisible poor. 

The first step in creating cities of opportunity is a basic, but powerful mission: ensuring that every American has a place to call home. Tonight across this nation there will be families and veterans sleeping on sidewalks, on benches, in subway stations - and we must never give in to the notion that homelessness is just an accepted part of the urban backdrop, like a bus stop or a mailbox.   

That's why we're embracing an idea that's relatively new to government: it's called Housing First, and it's been critical in advancing the goals of President Obama's Opening Doors plan - the first federal strategic effort to end homelessness.

In the old days, government required those experiencing homelessness to address any personal issues-whether it was undergoing mental health treatment, addressing substance abuse, or other challenges-before they were given access to permanent housing. 

But think about how difficult it would be to address these issues if you didn't know where you were sleeping at night. That's why the Obama administration is working with local leaders to reverse the model - instead of putting responsibility first, we are betting on the American people by providing opportunity first. 

The Housing First approach provides immediate access to permanent supportive housing, giving folks the stability and security they need to successfully address their other challenges. This approach is working. From 2010 to 2014, we've seen a 21% drop in chronic homelessness and a 33% drop in veterans experiencing homelessness.

This progress reflects our belief that when you provide folks with opportunity at the outset, their future grows brighter and our communities grow stronger. And we'll continue to work with partners on the ground to apply the Housing First concept in every community so that all Americans have a fair chance to secure housing where they can rest their head at night, raise their family, and achieve their dreams. 

The second step in creating cities of opportunity is ensuring that this housing is surrounded by strong communities. Too often in the past, when it came to neighborhood revitalization, the federal government would plan for local leaders instead of with them. 

It was a one-size-fits-all approach that many times fell short because the needs of New York are different than the needs of New Orleans. The Obama administration came in with a new idea and a new approach, saying that it's time to put local leaders in the driver's seat.

Our Choice Neighborhoods effort is doing just that. It's giving communities a voice - as well as the tools they need to plan for their development, and the resources to bring their vision to life.

And local leaders are seizing this opportunity by replacing obsolete housing with vibrant mixed-income housing, by leveraging investments to develop new retail businesses, by strengthening early education and local schools, by improving transportation, and by increasing access to jobs.

Choice Neighborhood developments are creating more than 10,000 units of housing, and are linking these developments to other community assets that families need to thrive. In the Dorchester neighborhood in Boston-in addition to the housing-local leaders have redeveloped an abandoned meat factory into a new Food Service Incubator that is creating nearly 150 jobs and serving local startups.

In the Yesler neighborhood in Seattle, the Gates Foundation is partnering with the local housing authority, the school board and other leaders to focus on education. This includes after-school tutoring for 400 children, and from 2011 to 2013, science scores for 5th graders rose from 15% meeting the state standard to nearly 60%.  

We're seeing the development of brand-new parks in Pittsburgh, a grocery store in Philadelphia, an urban farm in San Antonio, and an a senior recreation center in Columbus. And partnerships are fueling this progress, leveraging more than $2.6 billion in public and private investment to bring new life to these communities. 

These outcomes are proof that residents in troubled communities shouldn't be dismissed - they should be engaged. They aren't obstacles, they're assets. They have a lot to offer in knowledge, in experience and in vision and we look forward to continuing to support them as they lead the charge toward a better tomorrow. 

The third step in creating cities of opportunity is ensuring that all folks in distressed communities can connect to the world of knowledge and information that's available through technology. 

In this day and age broadband access is no longer a luxury - it's a necessity. 

But here in the United States the Census Bureau estimates that 1 out of every 4 American households lacks high-speed Internet at home, and so often they're forced to try to find access somewhere, somehow. 

Take the Bronx, for example. I read last year that when the Bronx Library Center opens up every morning, dozens of people are already lined up to use one of the free computers. When it closes, young people lean against the windows from the outside because they're trying to get the free WiFi signal on their phones. Think about that: they're literally and figuratively on the outside looking in. 

These young Americans are not on a level playing field because they're not connected. They're at a disadvantage when studying for a test or preparing for a school project. They're limited when looking for jobs and applying for them. Folks are being denied the world of possibilities that so many of us take for granted, and we've got to do something about it.

President Obama has challenged the nation to connect 99% of American students to broadband and wireless in their schools and libraries by 2018. As HUD Secretary, I've made it a goal to ensure this access follows them home. 

I look forward to working with leaders like you to make this goal a reality. Together, we can shape a future where nobody is left behind and every person has the chance to get ahead.  

This is the promise of the Century of Cities. We have the power to shape a future where the problems of the poor are no longer invisible, where every American can secure housing, where every community can prosper with local leaders at the helm, and where every child has access to the tools needed to succeed in the 21st century global economy. 

I'm not saying the road forward will be smooth. I don't have to tell you that cities are complex beings. Poets and novelists throughout history have written about the city in two ways. Some have cast the city as a place of new beginnings, of excitement.  A place where the sun is rising and the air is fresh with opportunity. A place where anything is possible. To them the city is like dawn.

Others have written about it as a foreboding place, a jungle, a mystery, with an element of danger and of romance. A place where anything might happen-the city like dusk. Our challenge is to make the 21st century city both of these things (well, minus the danger), places of enormous opportunity for individuals willing to work hard and with a vibrancy and character that you can't find just anywhere, places that are unique, unforgettable even.

We all have a stake in meeting this challenge. In this increasingly connected world, our destinies are linked together more than ever before. We all succeed when our cities succeed. 

We all benefit if every person has the chance to fulfill his or her full potential. 

This work depends on big ideas. It depends on partnerships. In other words, it depends on all of us. 

Future generations are relying on us to make the cities of tomorrow cities of promise. Let's work together to fulfill our obligation to them today, next week, next year and always.

Thank you.


Content Archived: March 17, 2017