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Speech of Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Hope VI Grant
Baltimore, Maryland
September 1, 1998


SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Boy that's a tough act to follow. I must admit, I do feel a little badly, though, about the check. I thought it was love between us, Congressman, and now I find out it's just for the money.

The Congressman, as you know, is a phenomenal, phenomenal advocate for his district, and he also brings a sense a spirit and energy and commitment that is infectious.

Several months back, we were at a church on Orchard Street, a beautiful little church, doing something we call "HUD for a Day," where we bring all the senior management of HUD to the city. We spent the entire day in the city. We worked all across the city to come up with a plan for revitalization, neighborhood by neighborhood.

We are in this beautiful church with the stained glass windows, and the sun was coming through the stained glass. You felt that anything was possible; that if you had convening, and that kind of energy and that kind of partnership, anything was possible.

Once again, today says anything is possible, and it will be. Congressman, I want to thank you for all you have done. Thank you very much.

I also want to thank the GSA for allowing us to use the Customs building today. I don't know how many of you have been here before. This was recently revitalized. Today we are so big that it couldn't fit in the HUD offices; so we called GSA late last night, and we asked for their help. They put up this building for us, and it is a beauty. I want to thank them.

Senator Sarbanes could not be with us today. Peter McGruddis is, and we'll hear from him in awhile. I want to thank the Senator for everything he does. You know him as your Senator.

He's also the ranking member on the House Authorizing Committee. He does all of HUD's business for us. He confirmed me twice, first as Assistant Secretary, then as Secretary.

So I call him, not Senator, but I call him the Bishop, because he also used those occasions to give me a little slap in the face on both times, which I took as part of the religious ceremony. But we'll hear from Peter on that, the governor who is doing extraordinary, extraordinary things. One of the reasons we are here today is because this governor has shown a commitment to housing not shown by any other governor in the nation.

Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has been a long friend of housing and has done a lot of neighborhood revitalization. She is your great Lieutenant Governor, but more than that -- don't tell anyone else -- she is my favorite sister-in-law, Kathleen Kennedy.

We have Lawrence Bell here, who is president of the City Council. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm going to introduce the Mayor in a moment.

We also have a really remarkable winning team in Pat Payne on the state side, Dan Hansen on the city side. Why don't you both stand up and be recognized?

I want to thank my team here from HUD and one outstanding member who runs this whole HOPE VI program, and that is Baltimore's own Eleanor Bacon. Thank you very much.

Now that the Congressman has established for us what this relationship is really all about, I guess I should get to the bottom line, but I feel constrained to give a couple of quick thoughts first on today, because it really is a special day.

We are here to talk about public housing in this nation, which is really a fascinating story, when you think about it, because public housing, when it began was not what we now associate with public housing.

Public housing, when it began back in the 1940s, was truly an outstanding, outstanding symbol of this nation at its best. What we said in public housing is, every American should have a safe, clean, decent place to live. That's literally the language that was in the bill -- safe, clean, decent place to live. We said that in the '40s.

I don't believe we would say that today as a nation, and certainly, not as a Congress. You have 600,000 homeless Americans. You don't hear anyone in the Congress standing up and saying we have to make sure every American has a safe, clean, decent place to live.

That's what we said about public housing. That was the dream. That was the vision, a safe, clean, decent place to live -- and not just a unit.

Public housing is not about units. It was about an experience. It was a place where you went. We were then going to work with you to help you make your way into this great American middle class.

You went to public housing. You had a nice foundation, safe clean, decent housing, a good roof. Protect yourself; protect your family, and then we are going to work with you. We are going to get you the education and the job training, the services, so you can move up the ladder. That's what public housing was. That was the dream.

We lost the dream somewhere along the way. Somewhere along the road, we forgot the original vision. Public housing became an end point, as opposed to a beginning point. And we designed and built the projects.

If you go into any city across this nation, you drive in, and you can always find public housing. You don't need a map. You don't need a sign. You don't need a symbol. It will yell out to you, here we are. We are the projects. People who live within us live in the projects. A child goes to the first grade, and everybody knows that child lives in the projects. That's the low income housing.

Almost by design, we built it to yell back to the nation: Every city, big concrete bunkers, built to the sky -- small earth shoeboxes, shoebox after shoebox, lined up, block after block, family after family. Here we are, the projects.

We started to treat people not as someone we were welcoming into the American society, but someone who we were trying to isolate and exclude. You look at the building. What did that statement make? Go look at Flaghouse. They are cages. We built cages for people.

In life, you get what you give. You put a person in a cage, don't be surprised when they act in a way that you consider antisocial. That's what we did. Nobody else did it but us, by design. We lost our way.

President Clinton says, let's recapture the original dream. Let's get back to the original vision and remember what public housing was, as intention and as aspiration for this nation. Get out of those projects. Get out of those high rise cages.

Build places where people should live, not animals should live. Build places where people have a sense of pride and dignity, saying I respect you. You are my neighbor. I won't exclude you. I don't shun you. I will commune. I don't run from you. I don't hide from you. I want you part of my community. I treat you with respect, and I want the respect back.

Don't build public housing institutions. Build neighborhoods. Build communities -- smaller, lower density, not all poor people; mixed income, working people and lower income people and middle class people, all working together; black people and white people together, not black people on one side of the town and white people on the other side of the town; not rich people on one side and poor people on the other side.

Build what you intended to build, and then put in the kind of services and the kind of education you need to make the entire public housing experience work. Put services and training so a person moves up and moves out of public housing. Public housing was the original transitional housing. It was temporary housing. Get back to that original dream.

We all talk about welfare reform. The divine wisdom of Washington, D.C., was that day, legislative welfare reform. Why? Because they knew that people shouldn't be on welfare for a long period of time. That was the wisdom that came out of Washington. Thank you very much for that thunderbolt from the heavens.

We knew that people shouldn't be on welfare for a long period of time. You, who knew best, know that people shouldn't be on welfare for a long period of time, the people who were on welfare for a long period of time.

I've been all across this nation. No one once has ever came up to me and said, Mr. Cuomo, do me a favor; give me a welfare check. Never once. It's Mr. Cuomo, do me a favor; help me get a job. Help me get day care so someone can watch my child so I can get to school, help me get training. No one has ever said, give me a welfare check.

We are not going to just admonish people from welfare to work. We are not going to command it, and it will then happen. You are going to have to work at it. You are going to have to provide the services, and the transportation, and the training and the job at the end of the tunnel if this great experience is going to work.

That's the President's vision of public housing: Get back to that dream. Now is the time. The economy is doing great. It's the greatest economy in history, right? Well, have the intelligence to invest in those places and those people who are not doing as well.

That's American cities, and that's the poorer neighborhoods, and that's public housing in this nation. Rebuilt it today. Take this great dividend that we have. We are talking about a surplus for the first time. Invest in America. That's the President's vision. That's what today is all about. That's the HOPE vision.

There is a different vision at the same time. That is the vision of the United States Congress. Their vision of public housing is this: Don't build any more of it. How many units this year will this Congress build for the nation? How many new units of affordable housing? What's your guess, housing experts only? How many new units? Zero. Zero.

This Congress will not build any new public housing or Section 8 units, not a one, not a one. With this great economy, not a one. This is the first time in the history that a Congress has not built new units. The first time in history.

That's the legacy of this great Congress. That's what they have to think of when they put their head on their pillow at night, not one new unit.

Every other Congress in every other year, in every other economy, has built more housing than this Congress. At the same time, we have the highest need in history; 5.3 million families need affordable housing -- lowest production, highest need.

Then the great wisdom of the Congress is they want to change the law. Not only will they not be building new public housing, but they will change the law as to those who are eligible for public housing. They would raise the income level up to $40,000 per family and give that family preference for public housing.

Think of that for a second. Think what that would mean here in the city of Baltimore. Now families who qualify for public housing can make up to $40,000, and they get preference over other families.

A senior citizen that's on the list, you're on the list forever, because a family making $40,000 can now get preference. A mother with children, you're on the list forever. A family who is making $40,000 goes to the top of the list and gets preference.

They are not building any more public housing, which means, for all intents and purposes, you are on the list for life. You will never get housing. That's this Congress' vision.

That's why it's so important that we have Congressman Cummings who says, no way will that bill pass. Senator Sarbanes, let him stay in Washington, D.C., and let him say in the U.S. Senate, no way will that bill pass. President Clinton has said if that bill passes, he will veto that bill.

There is a difference. I can understand why people like to talk about a lot of things other than the real issues that are affecting people's lives.

But what's affecting people's lives now are housing and jobs and education. Those are the issues that this government should be focusing on. That's the issues that we should be talking about as we are going into the next electoral year, who is going to help us do what we need done.

Forget everything else. It doesn't affect the people's lives. You go to Flaghouse today, and you say what's important to you? Housing, jobs, education, security, that's what counts.

How are we going to rebuild public housing? We're not. We say, we in Washington don't know how to do it. We are going to look to the local communities all across the nation and say, you come to us with your plans on how to do this.

You forge your own partnerships on the state and local level. You work with the residents of your complex, because this is all about the residents of public housing. It's their lives, and their dreams and their visions that we are working to further. You put the plan together.

We, then, sit back in Washington, and we get all these applications in. This round of HOPE VI, we had $500 million. We received about $2 billion in applications for the $500 million, okay? We had $4 requested for every $1 we had. We have 101 cities who applied. Only 22 have won.

Of the 22 that have won, not all of the cities have gotten what they requested, because we didn't have enough money to serve everyone. So 101 applicants, only 22 winners, and of the 22, not everyone has gotten everything they requested.

With that context, it is with great pleasure and pride that I inform you, on behalf of President Clinton, that the city of Baltimore has won $21.5 million, the full amount requested.

Now just to make the victory all the sweeter, there were 22 winners. You were one of the 22 that got the full amount requested, which makes you extraordinary. Of those 22 winners nationwide, what city scored number one in the nation literally? The city of Baltimore.

Why did you win? You won because you remembered the golden rule, which was, teams win championships, and you have an unbeatable team. You put the state and the city together. You put Dan Hansen together with Pat Payne. You bring in your cousin, the Federal Government. Nothing is going to beat that team.

This is the fourth building. We did Lafayette; we did Lexington; we did Murphy, and now we do Flaghouse Forks.

For too long, people lived in places that they shouldn't have been in for a day. That's all over, beginning today. The team did it. It is a winning combination, a powerful, powerful combination, a state that stepped up to the plate and recognizes its responsibility and recognizes that the state is not going to make it without the city, that there is no line between the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.

The line doesn't exist. Each one puts their hand out over the line and joins together to make the state and the city work. That's what today says. It's partnership; it's alliance; it's team; it is a winning combination.

A mayor's voice heard nationwide -- your mayor, my friend.

Thank you. Thank you all. And lest you think we have gotten so caught up in good intention, and good words and well wishes that we forgot the purpose of the day, in the midst of all this, the Congressman leaned over to me, true to form, and said, Mr. Secretary, do you have the check with you?

Yes, Congressman, we have the check with us, and we would now like to present it.


Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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