Remarks by HUD Secretary Julián Castro
Fighting for Justice and Jobs: The Way Forward
Center for American Progress
Washington, D.C.
January 9, 2017

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon everyone! Thank you Neera (Tanden) for that kind introduction, and for your incredible leadership at the Center for American Progress. I also want to thank Sarah Edelman and the entire team at CAP for putting on this important event, and for releasing a powerful new report on the vital role that housing plays in helping Americans achieve economic security.

I'd like to acknowledge all the distinguished panelists who will share their insights in a few moments. And of course, I want to thank each and every person in the audience for joining this important conversation. I'm especially honored to join you in commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose courage and commitment to the cause of social justice continues to inspire our work today.

You know, this afternoon marks one of the last appearances I'll make as HUD Secretary. And as this Administration draws to a close, I've started reflecting on the extraordinary journey that I've been on over the last two and a half years.

On April 16, 2014, I got a phone call from President Obama. He wanted to know if I'd be interested in taking on the role of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I remember the date because, I don't know about you, but it's not every day that the President of the United States calls and offers me a job.

I felt honored to be asked, for sure. But it wasn't an easy decision for me. I was having the time of my life serving my hometown of San Antonio.

That community had been a huge part of the reason I'd gotten into public service in the first place. I wanted to see others who'd grown up like I did - where I did - be blessed with the same opportunities in life that I'd been blessed with. To grow up with a family that loves you, to get a good education, to go to college, to become a professional, to reach one's dreams.

And we were building that kind of community. We'd just expanded high-quality, full day Pre-K, we'd seen the number of dropouts plummet and high school graduates soar, more young folks were making the leap to higher education, and the city was finally creating more 21st century jobs.

But then I started thinking about the incredible impact that HUD makes on the lives of more than 30 million Americans each year. I'd seen firsthand the difference that HUD made at the local level. And I couldn't turn down the chance to help HUD make that difference on a national scale.

In my time as Secretary, I've called HUD the Department of Opportunity because housing can serve as a powerful platform to spark greater progress in people's lives. Simply put, HUD is an indispensable partner in ensuring that folks of modest means have a fair shot at opportunity. And you can see the results of our work every day, in every corner of our nation.

In Los Angeles, our ConnectHome initiative has provided the family of 11-year-old Lisette Mares with the opportunity to sign-up for affordable Internet access. Lisette can now do her homework on the family computer instead of having to use her parent's cell phone data, or visiting her neighbor's house. ConnectHome has given Lisette and her two siblings an essential tool they need to compete and succeed in today's 21st century global economy.

In Chicago, we've given Christine Magee the support and the training she needed to raise her annual income by $12,000. Now that she receives health insurance from her new job, she's been able to take her family off Medicaid, and she's saved up more than $8,000 to move them out of HUD-assisted housing.

And in Baltimore, we've helped eliminate a series of health hazards from the home of DaWayne Young. These improvements helped put an end to his severe asthma attacks. And instead of having to make frequent trips to the doctor's office, DaWayne was able to make his school's honor roll thanks to his perfect attendance record.

DaWayne's story proves that a good home can lay the foundation for our health, our happiness, and our future success. And today, I'm proud to announce that HUD is joining forces with the CDC and the EPA to launch a series of new steps that will protect more children and families in HUD-assisted housing from the dangers of lead.

I'm confident that, in the years ahead, HUD will keep working to ensure that every child in America has the chance to grow up in a safe and healthy home. And that's just one of the many reasons why HUD is the Department of Opportunity.

We maintain a strong and supportive safety net for many of the most vulnerable people in our country, from elderly and disabled Americans, to those experiencing homelessness. We also offer affordable housing to millions of working class families. Folks who doing their best to put food on the table while still paying their bills. And through efforts of the Federal Housing Administration, we're providing nearly 8 million hardworking and responsible families with the chance to secure a gateway to the middle class.

Over the past two and half years, it's been my profound honor to help advance the mission of HUD. I'm also convinced that. as we take stock of everything we've accomplished in the last eight years, we can see the clear steps that should be taken in the coming years to continue sparking economic and housing opportunity for folks of modest means.

The first is that we need to keep up strong fair housing efforts. Yes, we've made a lot of progress over the generations. But the playing field of housing opportunity isn't quite level yet. When a person of color or someone who is disabled or gay goes out into the housing market, he or she is less likely to be shown available units in the rental market, less likely to find a willing seller in the purchase market. And worse yet, millions of Americans continue to suffer from the legacy of segregation.

A little more than a year after I became Secretary, I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where I heard a sobering fact that I will never forget. I learned that a child born in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of St. Louis can expect to live up to 18 years less than a child born in the community of Clayton that's less than 10 miles away. That's a situation that we simply can't accept. Not here in America. Not in the greatest country in the world.

Too many of our nation's children continue to see that future limited by the zip code where they grow up. And as they come of age, as they recognize the barriers to opportunity that exist all around them, they're forced to ask themselves a heartbreaking question: why don't I deserve a fair shot at achieving my dreams?

Addressing this profound inequality remains one of the pressing challenges of our time. So last year, HUD introduced a historic fair housing rule - Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, or AFFH.

It's designed to knock down undue obstacles that prevent all Americans from moving their families into communities that offer them good schools, safe streets, and reliable transit. Our AFFH rule can serve as an indispensable first step in making sure that every child in America can grow in up a neighborhood of promise. And we can't afford to go back on the progress we've made in providing that basic opportunity to all our nation's children.

Second, the American Dream of homeownership is as alive today as it ever has been. And we have to continue to work to strengthen that dream. In one of my first speeches as Secretary, I set out the case for ending the stigma of promoting responsible homeownership in America. And a few months later, I joined President Obama in Phoenix to announce that the FHA was reducing its mortgage insurance fees.

Since then, HUD has helped an additional 1.4 million borrowers to become homeowners. And just this morning, we announced another premium reduction, one that will help more than a million borrowers save an average of $500 on their mortgage payments over the course of upcoming year.

Today, the homeownership rate is at one of its lowest levels in five decades. So, we should continue to take reasonable steps to ensure that more hardworking, responsible borrowers can buy a home. I believe now, as I said back then, that we can achieve a strong balance between keeping important reforms in place, safeguards we developed after the housing crisis, and opening up the credit box to more Americans.

Third, our nation needs to robustly address the affordable housing crisis that's happening all over our America. Today, nearly 8 million low-income households pay more than half of their incomes on rent. And these are folks who don't currently receive any housing assistance from the federal government.

So it's clear we need to use every tool at our disposal to build up our supply of affordable rental housing, and stem this crisis for hardworking American families. We need to expand the availability of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Congress should increase the number of Housing Choice Vouchers. And we need to urge local communities across our nation to introduce smart land use regulations that make the development of affordable housing less expensive.

Fourth, and finally, we've got to build on the tremendous success of Opening Doors, President Obama's vision for setting America on the path toward ending homelessness. Opening Doors represents the best of what can happen when folks in DC join forces with leaders at the local level.

The President set a bold vision. Congress invested the resources we needed to expand our HUD-VASH vouchers. And after the First Lady issued the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, communities around the nation answered the call.

Thanks to their hard work, we've reduced veteran homelessness in the United States by near 47 percent. And we've learned valuable lessons about the tools and the strategies our nation can use to provide every American with a safe and stable place to call home.

Now, I know many of the folks in this room are concerned about what the future may hold. You're wondering if the progress we've achieved over the last eight years is about to be undone.

The good news is that part of the answer to that question depends on you. As President Obama has reminded us many times, it is "We the People" who hold the greatest power to make change. We have the power to create the political will necessary to ensure that America works for everybody, including the poor and disenfranchised.

As Secretary, I've visited 100 communities in 39 states across the nation. Places big and small, urban, rural and tribal. I've sat down with folks of just about every background and every color. And my experiences have convinced me that the values which unite us as Americans are far stronger than the differences that can pull us apart.

After all, folks generally want the same things in life. To be able to provide for their family. To make sure their kids get a good education. To save up enough for a decent retirement.

They also still believe in America as a place of possibility. They believe that if they're given a fair shot to succeed, and if they work hard, they can earn a better life for themselves and for their families.

As advocates, as educators and researchers, as volunteers or public servants, each of us has a role to play in making that promise of America real. And in sustaining the incredible momentum that has been built up for serving the folks in this country who need it the most.

I hope that in the coming days you will resolve to fight harder than ever for vulnerable communities. That in the years to come they shall be respected, invested in and find equal justice under the law.

I also hope that, as we hand the baton of governance to a new administration, that you will reflect on why you got into this work in the first place - because you care, because you want to make other people's lives better, and because your work can help create a brighter future for our entire nation.

A future in which our nation can live up to its greatest promise, a promise embodied by Dr. King and his work: to be one nation, under God, invisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you very much, and keep fighting the good fight.


Content Archived: February 9, 2018