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Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Remarks to Best Practices Conference

August 9, 2000

Thank you. Thank you very much. Good morning. Boy, first of all, what a video. Wasn't that video great? I want to acknowledge the Deputy Secretary Saul Ramirez. You got a small taste of how good this Deputy is. He is something else. He's the quarterback of the team, Saul Ramirez.

You know when we began reinventing HUD four years ago there were a lot of people who wanted to see HUD fail. Because to see HUD fail is to say that all the hopes and aspirations that so many of you have worked so hard for, that we couldn't actually do these things. And we would not let them say that. We wouldn't let them say that for HUD. We wouldn't let them say that for you. And we put together what I believe is the best HUD team in history.

When they say what did I do right as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, I got the best people ever in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And they are the team who is there now. And I would just ask them to stand. You've been working with them all week long. Assistant Secretary for Public Housing Harold Lucas, the Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Cardell Cooper, Assistant Secretary for Housing and the FHA Commissioner - the Commish - Bill Apgar, the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Susan Wachter, and the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing Eva Plaza.

Let me make a couple of points if I might. I know you've had a great week and you've really been sharing the experiences among each other which is really the greatest benefit of this conference. Because you are the experts in this room. And the more you can share amongst yourselves the lessons, that's the best that we can do. That's what the conference was all about, getting you to talk and share from each other and that has happened and now we're going to recognize the best. But a few points if I might make just because this is too important a convening to let the moment pass.

You are leaders in your community. You heard from Tom Wheeler. And the essence of leadership is to do what is needed at that time. And we are at a very interesting time in this nation. And you need a moment to almost step back and reflect on where we are.

Because on one hand, you have a great story of economic success in this nation. Unprecedented economic success. And you turn on any television, you open any newspaper you will hear - you will be deluged with the message that this nation is doing great. Stock market hits new high. Dow Jones higher than ever before. 22 million new jobs. Crime down. Unemployment down. Poverty down. Interest rates down. More millionaires than ever. That's a story of America today. That's the snapshot.

But at the same time there is another snapshot. It's not as obvious on the nightly news. It's not as obvious in the newspaper. But it is the picture of America that you see everyday. And it is just as real a picture of America. Maybe we're not publicizing it the same way. But it is just as real, just as powerful.

5.4 million Americans need affordable housing - the highest number of Americans who need affordable housing in history is today. We're consuming 7,000 acres of greenspace per week. Literally consuming the planet. We have one out of five children living in poverty today - same number that we had back in the sixties. We have an education system which is really moving to two education systems.

Education was the great equalizer in our society - right - it said that no matter where you were you could go to a public school and you could get the best education and wind up being whatever you wanted to be. But now you get the real feel that we are moving to two education systems, one for the rich and one for the poor. One is the private education system, one is the public education system. And you can go to any city in this nation and you can walk into a school on the rich side of town and they'll bring you to the first grade and in the first grade they're on the internet. You go to school on the poor side of town they don't even have a basketball net. You go to the private school, the rich school, and the youngsters are on Pentium processors - using the best computers. You go to the poor side of town and the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on the way to the classroom. That is also a picture of this America.

As you come to this conference today, you still walk past brothers and sisters who are homeless on the streets of America- 600,000. Two very different pictures. Both correct. Both right. But both need to be viewed in light of the other. And that is what you do. And our message has been simple. Let's now take this moment and address the other America. Address those problems. I know we tried to do it in the past and I know many would say we failed to do it in the past. I would say we never really tried. But our approach was very simple. We will tell the truth about the issue. And then we will fashion a pragmatic solution.

So we looked at public housing -- Assistant Secretary Harold Lucas - and we told the truth about public housing. The truth about public housing was that most public housing in the nation was a success first of all. You can't condemn all of public housing. It is an overwhelming success. 97-98% of the public housing was a success, we said we will prove it to you, we will go out and we will do inspections of the public housing. And we will come back with the reports because we have nothing to hide. We did that and we now documented the success story of public housing in this nation. And it is a story that we should be proud of and I challenge anyone to come up with any government program for anyone - poor or rich by the way - that has the success rate of public housing, because you can't match it.

And the truth is where public housing didn't work, it wasn't the fault of the public housing administrator or the residents, it was a bad implementation of a good idea. Where the public housing didn't work it tends to be the same lesson over and over again. We concentrated too many poor people on one side of town, they were isolated, they were separated, they were segregated, and then they were abandoned.

And when you do that don't be surprised when public housing fails because it should have failed. It was a bad intent that said 'let's take the poor people and put them on the other side of town and then let's make sure that they can't come here maybe we'll even put a highway between them and us. We'll put up a wall between them and us. But we want to make sure that they stay over there and we are going to stay over here.'

And it didn't work. Chicago Housing Authority was the greatest manifestation of this. Of the fifteen poorest census tracts in the United States, 12 of the 15 are the Chicago Housing Authority. Four and a half miles of high rises - the State street corridor. Building after building after building. And then a highway between the housing authority and the rest of the city. And this went on for forty years. Finally, thanks to President Bill Clinton, after forty years, it's all coming down. It's all coming down.

That is the story of public housing. And our solution was to tell the truth and then address it and that's the HOPE VI program and it's working all across this country - taking down the high rises - taking down the institutions and building communities of opportunity. Bringing people together and not separating them, and not segregating them and giving them the support services they need to make the transition - not just willing them from welfare to work but working with them and giving them the services they need to get from welfare to work. Because no one wanted to be on welfare, they always wanted to be working. But we need to provide the services to do it. That's public housing of today and that's your story and you should be proud of it.

Community planning and development - the economic development efforts - the same thing. We told the truth and then we came up with a practical solution. We said when it comes to economic development, yeah, the nation overall is doing great but there are a lot of people and a lot of places left behind. And let's now go back and invest in those people and places left behind and then we'll bring everybody up. Not to pull down those who are high but to raise up those on the bottom for a greater success for all of us. That's what our economic development efforts have been all about. And it was a moderate approach.

Because you had an extreme conservative approach that said, 'Look if the private sector passes by an area well then that area is gone. Because the lord of the private sector - the god of the private sector - determined that that area should be a failing area. So there is nothing that we should do about it because who are we to fool with the will of the god of the private sector. And if the private sector is not working in a community then so be it.'

The extreme position on the other side was "well if the private sector is not working there government will come in and government will bring in its own economy in those areas. And we'll come in with our AFDC and our food stamps and our housing assistance and we'll provide a government sponsored economy."

Neither extreme worked. The truth is when the private sector doesn't go there we shouldn't just write off that area, we should work with the private sector to go into that community. Provide the incentives to bring in the private sector. Provide the infrastructure to bring in the private sector. That's Empowerment Zones. That's the 108 loan program. That's the EDI program - Economic Development Initiative. Providing the incentives to bring the private sector into a community. Not doing it without the private sector but making the private sector work. Create the jobs, create the tax-base and then let that community take care of itself. That is our economic development efforts and it's working across this country. We just need to do more of it.

Greenspace. Of course we are consuming too much land. Of course we need sustainable development. We put together regional approaches like we've never had before. Brownfields clean-up, redevelop the cities is the answer to consuming more and more land in the green areas.

We told the truth about the problem of the homeless. It's not just a housing problem. Sometimes it is a housing plus problem. Housing plus a mental health problem. Housing plus a domestic violence problem. Housing plus an alcohol problem, a substance abuse problem. That was the truth. But as soon as you say the truth, you say good, now what we need to do is fashion an approach that treats that individual holistically, comprehensively and gives them everything they need. We call it the Continuum of Care. The Kennedy School at Harvard recognized it. It was common sense. It's what the providers in this room have been doing from day one. It just took the Federal government a little ways to get there. But we're serving more homeless than ever before. When we started the homeless budget was about $300 million. It is now up to about $1.2 billion thanks to President Bill Clinton. And we're proud of it.

We told the truth about discrimination in this country. However painful, however sobering. That discrimination is not just a memory of the sixties or the fifties but it is alive and well in America today. And that until you tell the truth, until you face the problem, you are condemned to live with it forever. And racism is an issue and discrimination is an issue. We still judge too many people on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. And we have to say as a nation we will not tolerate it.

And as good as we are at enforcing the laws, and we enforce our laws with a pride and a zeal as we should. Enforce the laws that say that it is illegal to discriminate. You have the fair housing law on the books. Martin Luther King died so that you had that law one week after his death. Enforce the law. As the HUD Secretary one of the proudest accomplishments I have is that we will have done two times - we will have doubled the enforcement actions under the fair housing law and said to this nation 'if you're thinking about discriminating, think again because it is not only wrong, it is illegal and we will prosecute those laws to the fullest extent. And that is a message that we have to bring home everyday.

And my last point is this. We are in the business of housing and community development. That is what we do. I am the HUD Secretary. The housing secretary. You are housers. You are community based organizations. You are local elected officials. But I don't really think of myself as a houser. And I don't think of you as just housers. Don't get me wrong, that is an admirable profession. But I think housing is really a means to an end at the same time. And yes, we are about housing and we are about community development. But we are about something else and something bigger. I say to the people at HUD, if I had my way we would rename HUD. We would name it the Department of Justice. Now we have a problem because we have a building down the block that thinks it is the Department of Justice. So we'd have to rename that building also at the same time. And we'd have to rename the other building the Department of Criminal Justice because that is really what that building is. And then we could be the Department of the broader form of justice. Social justice and racial justice and economic justice, because that concept of justice is just as real. Because that is really what we do at HUD, that is really what you do.

Department of Justice. Social justice that says that as long as you have homeless human beings on the street and you have your brothers and sisters on the street don't call yourself a just society. As long as discrimination is still alive and well don't call yourself a just society. As long as you have the greatest income inequality in thirty years don't call yourself a just society. I don't care how many people you lock up. That doesn't make you a just people and a just society. That doesn't make you fair and right. The fact that you have more people in your prisons than any other industrialized nation on the globe doesn't make you a just society. Unless you are socially just and racially just and economically just. And that is what these programs really do. We don't run programs. We stand for principle. We're not about building with bricks and mortar, we're about building with hopes and dreams. That's what we're about. We're not about the number of units but the amount of unity. That is what is behind all of these programs. The greatest philosophers, the greatest politicians, the greatest religious leaders all will have the same message to us over and over and over again. Which is that the strongest four letter word is still love. The greatest we can be is when we are compassionate. And that community is the goal. That doing all of this together is the goal. Raising us all together is the goal and that's the job that we work in. The programs are a way to get there. But the banner is so much higher than just the programs suggest.

And the American people have been with us. They always have believed what we have sought to do. They didn't always know that we could do it. They didn't know that we could be a just society. That we could actually bring people together, that we could actually lift people out of poverty, that we could actually end discrimination. They didn't know that we could do it. But they wanted so badly for us to do it. They wanted to believe that we could do it. Because that is what we were supposed to be about. That is what we all learned we were supposed to be about in this nation. And that is what we could do as Americans. We somehow lost our way and they said we can't even try anymore. Because we tried and we failed. But what you have said to them all, day in and day out is 'we haven't failed at all'. We know how to do this. We can do it better than ever before and we can raise us all. When you raise our cause you raise us all.

And now is the time to do it. You have added the one element that we needed. You have shown the American people that we can do these things. Now when you go back to your community, you say to your community 'look, you know we've had these issues, you know we've had these problems, you wondered if whether or not we could do it, well we've proved that we can.' We can actually address these issues and now is the time in this nation to do it. We have the strongest economy in history. The deficits are gone, you have a surplus. Why don't you have the intelligence to invest in the people and places left behind and let us do what we know how to do - the way we can do it. We have the models, we have the models all across the country. That is what you've done by giving us the best practices. We can do the affordable housing. We can rebuild public housing. We can bring more people into homeownership. We can fight racism day in and day out. We can take a homeless human being off the street and give them their life back. Just give us the funds and support to do more of it - because we know we can. And that was the ingredient that you brought. The belief that it is possible. That we can dream once again. That we can aspire to be better. That we can reach a higher place as Americans. And you made it so sweet to know that we can actually do these things. Because in our soul we've wanted to do them for so long.

And now we can say to this nation, 'you think this is success? My friends, you haven't seen anything yet." Don't talk to me about your stock market. Don't talk to me about how rich you are as a nation now. Imagine when we bring those people who have been left out to the table how strong we're going to be. Imagine when we go to public housing and we take those young people and we take them out of those institutions and we liberate their talents and their abilities and their skills and we bring them to the table as contributing members.

Imagine how strong we are going to be when we go to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - 73% unemployed and make it 73% employed and we bring our Native American brothers and sisters to the table.

Imagine how strong we are going to be when we go back to those old urban areas that have seen decay, and we make them engines of recovery with more jobs and more taxes paid.

Imagine how strong we are going to be and imagine how sweet it is going to be to say that we took this entire nation to a higher place. And we truly vindicated the promise of this country - Opportunity for all - E Pluribus Unum. That was the founding premise of the nation - the enduring promise - out of many, one. That is what you have made possible. Thank you for doing it. Thank you for letting us be part of it.

Content Archived: April 26, 2010

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