Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
HOPE Global Forums -- Operation Hope Annual Meeting
"Reimagining the Global Economy"
January 14, 2016

Good morning, Atlanta! What a fantastic welcome - thank y'all so much.

Thank you, Maggie, for that gracious introduction.

I also want to thank the entire team at Operation HOPE for bringing us together this morning. I'm thrilled to be back at the Hope Global Forums.

If you believe that the power of an idea can change the world, and if you care deeply about harnessing that power to improve the lives of our fellow citizens, then this annual meeting is an event that you just can't miss.

And - let me tell you - we all owe a debt of gratitude to Operation HOPE founder and Forum Co-Chair John Hope Bryant for his visionary leadership. Thank you, John.

There are so many phenomenal leaders here this morning. You represent different areas of global business and philanthropy. You're economists and engineers. Public servants and corporate titans. But what unites everyone in this room is a commitment to ensuring that opportunity isn't something that's reserved for just a few - but, rather, that it's something that's in reach of all.

That's the mission of Operation HOPE - a mission that seeks to empower every person and every community, not out of charity but because broadly shared opportunity has always been the cornerstone of our nation's strength.

It's also a mission that recognizes the promise and the possibility that lies within so many of us. Most people - no matter where they come from or what they look like, no matter what faith informs their life or if they have no religious belief, and no matter who they love or how much money they earn - want to do what's right. And if you talk to folks, you learn that, at our core, what most of us want is pretty simple: the chance to make the most of our dreams, the ability to care for the people who count on us, and the confidence that your hard work will be fairly rewarded.

Now, you won't hear this from the Distract and Divide Caucus, but President Obama has fought to make that basic assurance real for more Americans from his very first day in office. And I'm convinced that when historians have their say, this President will go down as one of the best jobs presidents, best education presidents, and best opportunity presidents the United States has ever had.

It's also true that we have a responsibility, as leaders and as citizens, to build on the progress of the last seven years. Because as far as we've come, there are still too many Americans who are forced to sit on the sidelines because the barriers to a quality education, a good job, and a secure place in the middle class are just too high.

How do we tear down those barriers and create an economy that works for them, too? How do we build an inclusive, level playing field that gives every citizen the tools to compete? And how do we ensure that everyone - no matter where they live - can make it in America?

Those are the questions the leaders at this year's Hope Global Forum are helping to answer and that task has never been more urgent. 

As we've seen in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson, even when you live in a great city, or near a community with growing industries and vibrant culture, it's still possible to be cut off from opportunity. During a visit to Ferguson, I learned a sobering statistic - that a child growing up in the upscale Clayton area of St. Louis can expect to live 18 years longer than a child living just eight miles away in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. 

A few months ago, the Washington Post ran a story comparing life expectancy rates in Baltimore's neighborhoods to those of various nations. They found that fourteen Baltimore neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester - where Freddie Gray grew up - have lower life expectancies than North Korea. In these United States, a nation founded on the principle of equal opportunity, that's unacceptable. 

I'm proud to say the President is committed to doing everything in his power during the next 372 days of this Administration to tackle the inequality crisis and foster enduring prosperity for more communities. HUD is helping to advance that Opportunity Agenda, and I'd like to take a few minutes to discuss three key ways we're doing that.

First, we're working to make fair housing real in every community in our nation.

As many of you know, HUD announced new guidelines last year to fulfill the promise of the Fair Housing Act. In addition to banning outright discrimination, the Fair Housing Act also requires communities to actively promote equal opportunity and access to housing for all. It's what's known as "affirmatively furthering fair housing."

For too long, communities either haven't had the tools and guidance to do that, or they haven't been held accountable when they disregarded their responsibility. Our agency's new guidelines will change that. They'll also provide a fair and comprehensive process to help local governments better use resources to boost affordable housing.

From Atlanta to Alaska, more and more Americans are finding it harder to find a home that fits within their budget. According to a 2015 report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, there's no state in the U.S. where a minimum wage worker working full time can afford a one-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent. And in 13 states and Washington, DC, the housing wage - what it would take to afford a one-bedroom apartment - is more than $20 per hour.

Still, despite the deepening affordability crisis, I often find that local governments use most of the funding they receive from initiatives like Community Development Block Grants on non-housing projects, like infrastructure. Nationally, only about 25 percent of CDBG funding is being used directly for housing. So we've begun working with mayors and city council leaders on designing plans that use federal resources in a more focused way, especially to create more affordable housing.

Whether we're advancing fair housing or creating housing that low and middle income families can afford, our goal is simple: ensuring that every child, no matter where they're born or who their parents are, has a fair shot to go as far as their dreams and their hard work will take them.

The second thing we're doing is investing in quality education for young people and stronger job skills for their parents.

Today, America finds itself in an unprecedented competition for jobs and investment, with rising nations around the world that are producing millions of young, talented graduates with the intelligence, drive and ability to innovate and to develop new technologies that will define progress in the 21st century.

Brainpower - more than anything else - will determine which nations succeed in this new global economy, and which don't. And I'm proud to say that the Department I lead is doing its part to ensure more Americans have the knowledge and skills they need to compete.

So we're expanding learning opportunities for students, working in partnership with local school districts and with philanthropies like the Gates Foundation who're helping to create afterschool programs for low-income youth.

We've also launched a new effort to connect families living in public housing to the Internet. It's called "Connect Home," and thanks to our partnership with mayors, non-profit groups, and companies like Sprint, Google Fiber, Century Link, Best Buy and a number of others, we're going to reach up to 275,000 households in 28 communities. My goal is that by the end of this Administration, we will have a commitment to connect every single resident of public housing to the Internet.

Another promising effort is an initiative we're undertaking with the Departments of Education and Energy called SEED - "STEM, Energy, and Economic Development." SEED is currently operating in four cities - Cleveland, Tampa, Denver, and Austin - and it's helping help to public housing residents for the green-collar jobs of today and tomorrow. Eventually we'll expand the initiative to 16more cities. That'll connect more than 8,000 children and young adults to STEM learning opportunities and more than 1,000 adults to jobs.

All of this work is part of our broader effort to shape a future where every person has the chance to succeed and where every idea can flourish.

That future has to fully include those who've made mistakes along the way too. That's the third area where HUD is advancing the Opportunity Agenda: improving the odds for folks who've been incarcerated by making sure they get a second chance.

Every year, more than 600,000 Americans are released from jail or prison. Some of them were failed early in their lives. They never really had a chance in the first place. Some failed themselves. But, once they've served their time, they deserve a chance to go as far as their dreams and determination will take them.

That includes folks like 31-year-old Darnell Smith, who served ten years in upstate New York's Sing Sing correctional facility. When Darnell was released, his wife and children were eager to have him back home. But his family lived in New York City's public housing which, until recently, barred folks who'd served time, or who'd even been arrested, from living on the premises.

Leaving their public housing unit wasn't an option for Darnell's family. So Darnell considered living in a homeless shelter before finally securing a room for himself in Harlem to the tune of $600 a month - money we all know would have gone a long way toward paying his family's rent if they'd been allowed to live under the same roof.

Fortunately, after two long years, Darnell was able to take advantage of a pilot effort that's allowing some returning citizens to move into public housing. It's a partnership among the housing authority, the Vera Institute of Justice, the City's Department of Homeless Services, and the Corporation for Supportive Housing. In addition to lowering the barrier to securing a home, the initiative connects folks like Darnell to case management and other re-entry services. And, importantly, it allows them to add their names to the lease at the end of two years, something that's going to help them continue to succeed long after the program ends.

HUD supports these efforts. We also want to make sure that folks aren't denied housing opportunities just because they've had contact with the criminal justice system. That's why we recently announced new guidance to housing authorities to let them know that arrest records should not be used to keep someone from securing a home.

We've also ended the decades-old "One Strike" policy for people arrested for drug offenses. It used to be that if someone was arrested for a drug offense their entire family would be kicked out of public housing. It was a harsh policy that likely did more harm than good. So now we're taking a new approach to these lease violations. Local officials will still have the ability to evict folks when their actions warrant it, but families who pose no risk to community safety won't be unduly punished.

And, finally, because we know that housing alone isn't enough, HUD is doing its part to help connect more returning citizens to jobs. We're investing nearly $2 million to help young public housing residents get expungements of their criminal records, something that'll help them find work and then give them a better shot at turning their lives around.

Tomorrow marks the birthday of one of history's greatest champions for a just and more inclusive society, a son of Atlanta - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to coming back to Atlanta on Monday to help commemorate the King Holiday at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Dr. King, who pastored Ebenezer Baptist from 1960 until his untimely death, once said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice and struggle - the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

You are those dedicated individuals. 

At your companies, on your community boards, and on your college campuses, you're the voice for the folks who so often don't get a seat at the table, and you're the champions for hardworking families who deserve a fair shot to get ahead.

You're helping to forge a more inclusive economy, one that rewards hard work and creativity.

And you're helping to build a society based upon equality for all without regard to race, gender, creed, or circumstance.

That was Dr. King's dream - his prophetic gift to the world. 

Realizing that dream isn't inevitable, but it is possible. That's the task Dr. King left to us. It's the calling you've all answered. And it's the future that I believe we're already building together.

Thank you so much, and have a great conference.


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