Remarks by Secretary Julián Castro
Fort Myers City Hall
Fort Myers, FL
September 29, 2016

As prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Mayor (Randy) Henderson, for your remarks - and for hosting this community event. Thank you, Ms. (Javanda) Sanders, for reminding us about why our work in housing is so important. And thanks to all of you for your participation.

I just came from a tour of several homes in Lehigh Acres, which is making a remarkable recovery - thanks to the combined efforts of state and local agencies, HUD, community groups, and the private sector. I saw first-hand how a community can come back from its near-collapse just a few years ago.

Today, I'd like to speak with you about - the housing recovery here and nationwide - the importance of strategic policy-making and public-private partnerships to get the job done - and how you are pointing the way for others across the nation to follow.

Just eight years ago, Lehigh Acres and much of Southwest Florida was virtually written off during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Its economy had collapsed. In only two years' time, housing sales vanished, values plummeted, abandonments and foreclosures soared, and unemployment and poverty rates jumped.

The nation went from full employment to nearly 10 percent unemployment. Some 58,000 foreclosures were filed in Lee County in 2008 and 2009 alone. It was the highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

President Obama came to Fort Myers for a town hall only three weeks after taking the oath of office in 2009. It was one of his first official visits, and he put it simply - "Doing nothing is not an option."

The Recovery Act soon provided needed investments in everything from unemployment insurance to infrastructure projects. Within months, jobs began to recover. Since early 2010, the number of private sector jobs in America has grown every month - a total of 15.1 million jobs by now - in the longest unbroken stretch of monthly jobs gains ever recorded. Unemployment has fallen by half.

Median household income rose in 2015 by 5.2 percent - the fastest in a half-century. And the total number of Americans below the poverty level fell by 3.5 million last year. These results helped power a strong housing recovery. Nationally, home prices are back where they were before the recession - and, in fact, just edged higher. New home sales are back too, along with housing starts.

I could go on - but you get the point. Our economy is strong. It's getting stronger. And a growing number of Americans are sharing its benefits.

Nowhere is that clearer than here in Fort Myers and Lee County - thanks to all of us working together. When I visited Lehigh Acres just now with Lee County Commission Chairman Frank Mann, I met with Corey Schepp - who bought his home with an FHA loan and State of Florida down payment assistance - after Lee County rehabbed it with Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds.

I met with Renette Bourdeau, who also bought a rehabbed home from Lee County, with conventional financing, plus Florida Assist and Neighborhood Stabilization funding.

I also met with Patricia Howard, who bought her home with an FHA-insured loan.

These are just three of the many other residents who are taking part in this housing success story.

In 2009 alone, HUD invested in Lee County more than $26 million in Community Development Block Grants, Neighborhood Stabilization Program bonds, and other related initiatives. In Lehigh Acres, since 2009, FHA has insured mortgages totaling one-third of a billion dollars ($332 million) - financing 2,266 homes for first-time buyers.

I also want to congratulate Fort Myers and Lee County for reaching the goal of effectively ending veteran homelessness - part of HUD's national Mayors' Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Fort Myers is the latest of 29 communities and two states nationwide who've reached this ambitious goal. And with some 70 mayors, nine governors and a host of other local officials working to achieve that goal elsewhere, that number will keep growing.

Looking ahead, HUD and the Obama Administration remains committed to work with state and local governments - and community organizations and the private sector - to ensure sustainable growth in housing and the rest of the economy.

Our Community Development Block Grants provide the flexibility for cities and counties to innovate and adapt their growth policies to new realities and needs. I've heard good things about the Town Center project in Lehigh Acres for three mixed-use centers in the community - with great participation by stakeholders, especially neighborhood residents.

I'm also impressed by the plans of the Commercial Revitalization Task Force by business owners and civic leaders to help boost areas of Fort Myers and Lee County that are lagging behind economically.

By all signs, you're on the right track to grow your economy and expand opportunities to all segments of your population.

There are more than enough challenges ahead, to be sure.

But with the community spirit and public involvement I've seen here today, I'm confident that you can meet these challenges and continue to prosper in the years to come.

As a former mayor, I know that you care deeply about the people you serve in your community. And I know that the residents of Fort Myers and Lee County are ready and willing to pitch in.

I heard that from homeowners in Lehigh Acres earlier today and Javanda Sanders here. I heard that from your local elected officials like Frank Mann and Randy Henderson - from local housing officials - business owners - and the public.

All the ingredients for success are here in this room. All we need is to pull together and take action. At HUD, we will continue to be your strong partner.

Florida has always believed in a bright future - we're all committed to making that future happen - and we're off to a great start.

Thank you again for inviting me here today. You've all been great.


Content Archived: February 9, 2018