Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
National Disability Rights Network Conference
June 15, 2016

As prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon, everyone. What a fantastic welcome - thank y'all so much.

Thank you, Curt, for that kind introduction and for your leadership of this great organization.

I also want to recognize the Board President of the National Disability Rights Network, Kim Moody, who's been such an outstanding partner.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also recognize a great friend of the NDRN, and one of the disability community's strongest advocates in the Obama White House - Maria Town - who's with us today.

And before I go any further, let me congratulate the Maryland Disability Law Center, whose work we're honoring this afternoon.

Their victory on behalf of Rhonda Myers, Myesha Allender, and other Baltimore residents who'd endured decades of housing discrimination because of their race or disability is a powerful reminder that the NDRN is much more than a network of respected housing advocates. You're a civil rights standard bearer and you're one of our nation's preeminent forces for good. And your commitment to the cause of full equality for the 50 million Americans living with a disability gives me hope that one day all people will be accepted and valued as they are.

You do so much for so many. Please give yourselves a round of applause - you deserve it.

I'm really grateful for the opportunity to join you today and share a little about HUD's Opportunity Agenda - our blueprint for building an America where everyone gets a seat at the table and everyone's voice is heard. And like the NDRN, we also put our focus on the word "ability."

The ability of every American to look for a home without fear that they'll be discriminated against.

The ability of every American to secure a good home in a neighborhood of promise that their family can afford.

The ability of every American to be a full member of the community they choose - to have the support and the services, the schools and the jobs they need to live up to their God-given potential.

That's what we're fighting for, and it's why we depend on partners like the NDRN to help us move our nation closer to the day when those goals finally become reality.

I don't have to tell y'all that we have a ways to go to reach that day. 

Too many American children still begin life facing a steep uphill battle because of nothing more than the zip code where they're born.

Too many Americans still face housing discrimination because of the color of their skin, or their gender identity, or their sexual orientation.

And if you're an American living with a disability, those challenges are often magnified.

In 2015 alone, more than half of all discrimination complaints received by HUD and our partner agencies was filed by or on behalf of someone living with a disability. In fact, disability is the number one basis of all discrimination complaints filed with our agency. Number one.

It's wrong - and it has to end.

In this, the greatest nation on earth, we know that opportunity should never be a luxury. Think of the generations of potential doctors, teachers, artists, and community leaders we're losing because the obstacles facing them are so high.

We have an economic responsibility to knock down those obstacles, to unleash every American's potential, and to make our nation more competitive in the 21st Century global economy.

More than that, we also have a moral responsibility to ensure that every American - regardless of their background - can make it if they try. 

All of us are here because we believe that affordable housing and strong communities are necessary to meet those responsibilities. 

When I became Secretary in 2014, I called HUD "The Department of Opportunity" because our work is about more than bricks and mortar. If you tell me where a family lives, I'll tell you what jobs are available to them, where their children go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, the odds they face.

And that's why I've worked so hard as HUD Secretary to ensure we're doing everything in our power to fight housing discrimination and send a clear message that if you discriminate against any American for any reason, HUD will act.

This year alone we're investing more than $38 million to step up our enforcement efforts, as well as support fair housing non-profits who are helping protect the rights of underserved communities, including immigrants and Americans living in rural neighborhoods.

We've brought discrimination charges against housing managers in Utah, Massachusetts, Kansas, California, and New York.

We've stopped property owners from unfairly evicting or discriminating against people with disabilities in Illinois, Las Vegas, and San Diego.

And we worked with the Justice Department to hammer out a landmark agreement to end unfair zoning practices in Beaumont, Texas, that had effectively barred people with intellectual or developmental disabilities from living in the city's small group homes.

This work has been an important pillar for President Obama's Administration. And I'm proud to say that HUD is laying the groundwork for the next Administration so that the progress we've achieved together continues.

That starts with HUD's new AFFH guidelines. Unveiled earlier this year, they're going to make a real difference in how communities fulfill their commitment to promote housing opportunity for all.

They're already providing communities with cutting-edge tools and resources to help tear down the unfair barriers that have held back too many Americans for far too long.

They're also going to hold everyone - at the local level, in state government, and in Washington, DC - accountable for making inclusion and integration a central concern as communities plan for the future.

That's going to mean more Americans with disabilities will be able to move out of institutions, live in affordable housing, and get the supportive services they need and want to live a full life. It's an area where we've seen important progress thanks to President Obama's leadership.

And perhaps most importantly, our new guidelines will mean that the Fair Housing Act is more vigorously enforced than ever before. Simply put: No community, no city, and no state will be allowed to discriminate against Americans with disabilities - not today, not tomorrow, not ever again.

I want you to know that we're also working to ensure those protections include Americans who've been arrested or who're returning to their communities after serving time in jail or prison.

Back in April, I announced new guidance that made it clear HUD will use the full force of the law to make sure that when someone has paid their debt to society, they have an effective second chance in life. The ability to find housing is an indispensable part of that second chance.

I want to thank the NDRN's members for your helpful insight and partnership as we work to expand our guidance so that it specifically includes Americans with disabilities who have criminal records. HUD recognizes they've historically faced disparities in the criminal justice system that make it far too difficult for these citizens to secure housing. And we're working as hard as we can to develop a comprehensive framework that'll protect their housing rights long into the future.

So we have to protect the housing rights of Americans with disabilities, and we will.

We also have to invest in neighborhoods so that we're creating a supply of affordable housing that matches the growing demand.

Last year, HUD awarded $150 million in rental assistance to 25 state housing agencies specifically to help Americans living with disabilities secure a quality home and get the health care they need. The President is fighting to help us continue this work.

In his most recent budget, President Obama outlined $154 million for HUD's Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities initiative - funding that would fully support more than 27,000 housing units for low-income Americans with disabilities. Still, as important as that funding is, we know that it's not enough.

I recently learned of one Vermont man living with a mental illness who was forced to stay in jail for two years after his sentence ended because there wasn't any supportive housing available where he could live. I also know that his story isn't an unfamiliar one.

In fact, it's far too common for the NDRN's members to win a case for folks who've been discriminated against only to find that your clients have nowhere to live. Either there isn't enough accessible affordable housing in the community, or the housing that is available is located in neighborhoods that aren't safe.

In this great nation of ours, that's simply unacceptable. We can and must do better. 

It's why we made sure HUD's AFFH guidelines were designed to help local governments develop fair housing plans that prioritize affordable and supportive housing, so that Americans with disabilities aren't left out or left behind. And it's why we've made it clear to all HUD grantees that they must include input from a broad set of community members when creating their fair housing assessments.

The NDRN's members are among the most engaged advocates our nation has. But I still want to encourage all of you to make sure your voices are heard when your communities develop their fair housing plans. When you receive a survey asking what goals should be set and how local funding should be spent, share thorough insight as only experts like you can. And if you don't receive a survey, ask for one. Write letters, attend the public hearings and meetings and, above all, make sure your leaders and community planners hear you and that they listen.

We're going to need the ongoing partnership of this Network's members more than ever. You've known the challenges for decades. You've seen them, you've studied them, and you've worked to overcome them. So we're going to need your help to make sure we're making investments where they're needed the most - and that we always do so in a way that protects our most vulnerable citizens.

Forty-eight years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law he said, "We have come some of the way, not near all of it. There is much yet to do."

President Johnson's words still ring true today.

But the NDRN and its members - people who've dedicated their careers to building a future where every American's housing rights are protected - give me hope that we'll fulfill President Johnson's vision.

You give me hope that we'll finally reach the day when a zip code doesn't determine how far a child goes in life because every zip code will be a neighborhood of opportunity.

And you give me hope that one day every American, no matter the disability they live with, will have a fair chance to live a life of promise that's free from discrimination.

You've been fighting for decades to make those goals a reality. And I hope you know how grateful this Administration is for the passion and expertise you bring to your work every day.

Your communities are lucky to have you. You make them stronger, more resilient, and more prosperous. Most of all, you make a difference. HUD is proud to be your partner. And we're committed to standing with you and fighting with you until our nation's promise of a decent, affordable home becomes a reality for every single American in this 21st Century and beyond.

Thank you so much. 


Content Archived: February 9, 2018