There are various ways a Cabinet Secretary can react at a
time like this.
One way would be to react in anger at the wrong that will be
done to the communities and the people with whom we work by this
Another way would be to react defensively to the allegations
about years of work, or for that matter about the Republicans'
12-year tenure here. We will not be defensive.
Another way would be to counter-attack with invective;
attack motives, politics and personalities.
But those are not the way to do the people's business.
The appropriate response is a sense of determination not to
allow the pain that would be inflicted on millions of people by
the disregard for the truth of the conditions in our communities,
and disregard for HUD's record that is inherent in this latest
proposal to dismantle HUD.
Today, I am determined to answer this proposal. I'm
determined to explain to the American people -- the majority of
whom, 203 million people, now live in cities and metropolitan
areas -- why we need a department like HUD and what HUD does. And
I am more determined than ever to continue the work we have begun
to improve this department so that it works better for people.
First: Why we need a Department of Housing and Urban
Development. The plan to dismantle HUD would leave cities and the
people who live in cities without an advocate at the President's
Cabinet table, at a time when it makes sense to pull programs
together in the physical places that are America's cities and
communities. The communities -- that's where it all comes
together. HUD has been their voice in the Cabinet.
Second: Housing and community development programs must be
kept under one roof, because when these programs are coordinated,
a synergy develops between them. The whole becomes greater than (Secretary Henry Cisneros' actual remarks may have departed
from this text.) the sum of the parts. Two plus two equals five. Our proposal to
reinvent HUD preserves and deepens this synergy; their proposal
to dismantle HUD destroys it.
We have proposed Empowerment Zones and consolidated funding
and planning -- CDBG, HOME, homeless assistance. They have
proposed to divide HUD's functions among eight separate agencies.
The housing sector in America deserves better.
Third: If HUD is eliminated, the United States would become
the only country in the industrialized world without a top
national executive agency devoted exclusively to housing and
community development concerns. Every other modern, industrial
nation has an agency like HUD. There is a reason for this. Every
modern, industrialized nation in the world recognizes that the
problems facing their urban areas must be addressed at the
highest levels of government, because if they go unaddressed,
they will grow like a cancer on the body of the nation.
Now they may say, "So What? HUD's programs have not made a
difference." But the record says otherwise. HUD has made a
In 1960, America's national homeownership rate was 61.9
percent. In 1994, it was 64 percent. In 1960, 16 percent of all
Americans lived in substandard housing. In 1994, only 2 percent
of all Americans lived in substandard housing. Since 1965, FHA
has insured 16 million single-family mortgages. In 1960 the
poverty rate in this country was 22.2 percent. In 1992, it was
Fourth: Dismantling HUD will not save taxpayers money. The
4.7 million poor and elderly households now helped by HUD's
assisted-housing programs are not suddenly going to find housing,
unaided, on the private market. The burden of assisting them will
fall on state and local governments that are already fiscally
hard-pressed. If states and localities can't help them, many more
people -- potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including
children -- could become homeless. Somewhere down the line, there
will be a cost. We will pay it in higher state and local taxes or
we will pay it in increased disarray in the communities where we
live -- but there will most definitely be a cost.
Fifth: We have offered a better way. Our reinvention plan
corrects the problems in current HUD programs, saves taxpayers
money, and makes HUD a stronger supporter of local efforts to
expand affordable housing and strengthen the economies of
HUD provides critical support for America's cities and
people who live in our cities -- support which is too often
Approximately 4.7 million households in America who
currently receive HUD housing assistance. Approximately
35 percent of these households are elderly and another
10 percent are people with disabilities. About 45
percent of these households are families with children.
Last year, 453,674 families achieved the American dream
of homeownership for the first time last year because
the Federal Housing Administration was there to insure
Cities like Boston, where HUD support was instrumental
in the revitalization of the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market
area, and Baltimore, where HUD support was critical to
the revitalization of the Inner Harbor area,
are stronger today because there was a federal
Department of Housing and Urban Development to advocate
for them in Washington.
The truth of HUD's 30-year record is that the Department is
part of the same proud tradition of national commitment which
landed astronauts on the moon, ended hunger in America, cleaned
up our polluted lakes and rivers, and made it possible for women
and minorities to advance in achievement and earning power in
every sector of our economy.
Today we should be moving ahead with the same sense of
confidence and optimism that propelled these great achievements.
We can revitalize distressed communities and create jobs; we can
expand affordable rental housing; we can make it possible for
more people to become homeowners in America than ever before --
if we just hold on to this vision.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009