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Remarks by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Chicago Housing Authority Agreement Press Conference

Wednesday, February 5, 2000

Good morning, Chicago. First, let me congratulate your Mayor, Mayor Richard Daley. Now, he is your Mayor - but he is the nation's Mayor, because in so many instances the Mayor of Chicago provides the leadership for cities across the nation. You know he did it with the public school system, which is a national model. And now he is really stepping up to the plate to do it with public housing. We think that he is going to have the same success, the same national impact that he had with the public education system, and it's our pleasure to join him in that. But let me again applaud him for stepping up to the plate, Mayor Daley. (Applause)

I want to thank Mamie Bone, you heard what a great leader she was. You did not hear what a great negotiator she was. Speak softly and carry a big stick. I think that big stick may be broken down, because Mamie broke it over the heads of the HUD officials that she was negotiating with. But she did a great job for the tenants. Senator Richard Durbin, who is my friend, it's been a pleasure to work with him in Washington, DC, as we were working through this. He gave us some advice from time to time on how to traverse the many obstacles we faced and I thank him very much.

Congressman Danny Davis, thank you for your leadership. Congressman Bobby Rush, thank you for your leadership, thank you for your courage, thank you for your conviction, thank you for making sure that this plan worked for everyone. The Congressman was there every step of the way making the case for the tenants, for the residents, making sure the plan worked for the entire city of Chicago, and all its residents. I believe the Congressman's participation truly made this plan a better plan, and made this process a better process and I want to thank him very much. (Applause)

Sharon Gilliam on the Board, who has provided extraordinary leadership. Assistant Secretary Harold Lucas, who is the Assistant Secretary for Public Housing from HUD. He ran the Newark Housing Authority before, which they said was a challenge. I think after Chicago it was a cake walk, but thank you very much Assistant Secretary Lucas for your leadership.

And as a point of personal privilege, I'd like to thank on my team, Howard Glaser, who is my special counsel at HUD who did extraordinary work here. He was in Chicago so much we thought he was going to have to pay taxes for Chicago. And Julia Stash on the Mayor's staff who worked with Howard and they did a great job. (Applause).

They say when you get to this point in the program everything has been said, just not everyone has said it, and that's how I feel. But a couple of quick points, if I might, and if they are somewhat repetitive, excuse me. First, Senator Durbin made the point, that this is an extraordinary American economy right now, a tremendous American success story. But that success story really only provides us the opportunity to address the problems that we haven't addressed thus far.

The Chicago Housing Authority, which you know in the city of Chicago, but I'll tell you the nation knows of Chicago Housing Authority. It is a national symbol of failed urban policy. Everyone knows Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes, and they will bring it up all across the country. When you're talking about trying to do good things, and government trying to make a difference, they'll bring it up as a symbol of failure. They'll bring it up as the icon for the American Dream turned into the American nightmare. The promised land, now developed into 11 of the 15 poorest census tracts in the United States.

While the problem is so obvious and so graphic, the solution has been less so. Truly this joins the most difficult issues that we face today as a society. This is not about buildings, and bricks and mortar. These are about very sensitive and difficult issues. This is about the issue of economic opportunity. This is about the issue of isolation. This is about the issue of race. This is about the relationship between a city and its suburbs. This is about the relationship among neighborhoods within a city, and they are very difficult. They are so difficult that we avoided them for many years. That's why the CHA is the way the CHA is today. Because they were so difficult, these issues, they were so complex, so thorny, that we chose to avoid them, and we allowed the situation to go on and to go on and fester. We nibbled at the edges, but we never really grabbed the problem head on.

Today is different. Today says the status quo is not enough and it is going to be changed, and CHA has failed, and CHA must come down. We can no longer do this piecemeal. You cannot put a band aid on a bullet wound. Provide the right type of solution, it's going to be a ground up solution. That's what CHA is going to be all about. And we have to come up with a plan that works for CHA, and at the same time protects the tenants.

So the agreement that we signed today basically has two components. It is a demolition plan, but it is also a tenant protection plan and it will do both equally as well. There have been many concerns that have been raised. There have been many groups that came forward and said, look, we understand that you need to demolish, but where do the people live once you demolish, where are the affordable units, especially in this economy where you have less affordable housing than ever before. That was the right concern. We spoke to hundreds of tenants who said, yes, I want my family to have better than this, but I want to make sure they have at least this. Those were the tensions we were working through. And I believe this plan does it.

The demolition plan is quick and straightforward. The tenant protection plan, which Congressman Rush outlined, has several points that I think are very important. First of all, we will index the rate of demolition to the number of affordable units within the city. In other words, we will not demolish more units than we have apartments for people to move into. (Applause) We will guarantee the tenants the right to return to their units after the construction is done. We will guarantee that the tenants are heard and included in the process every step of the way. (Applause). And because this transformation, again, is not about buildings, but about people and lives, and about providing opportunity, 50 percent of the work that goes on with CHA, 50 percent will go to minority and woman owned businesses, the highest percentage ever set by HUD. (Applause). So it is a new day and it is an exciting day.

And on a closing note, in some ways I believe this is a beautiful testament to what we can really do in the future. It's fitting, that in just the first few days of the new millennium, we have tackled the problem that has beaten us for decades. And the way we did it was by going right into the teeth of the problem. By not avoiding it, by being honest, by being open, by grabbing it. And then as the Mayor said, by doing it together. By understanding our differences and expressing those differences, and expressing the fears, but also by staying at the table to work through them, to come up with the solution. To light the candle as Congressman Davis said. That's what today is all about.

And with that approach we can tackle anything, my friends. And it's my honor to stand today with Mayor Daly and Congressman Rush, and Mamie Bone, and Congressman Davis and Senator Durbin and Sharon Gist Gilliam, that team, that diversity, that approach can tackle any obstacle. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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