Remarks by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Wednesday, March 8, 2000
Federal Housing Administration Surplus Press Conference
Congressman LaFalce, thank you for the kind comments, thank you for the ideas, thank you for the energy, thank you for the inspiration. Congressman LaFalce saw this issue before it actually developed and was working on legislation to take these FHA funds and make sure they stayed in affordable housing.
Senator John Kerry, who I just spoke to on the telephone, couldn't be with us today. But last year he had a bill that talked about an affordable housing Trust Fund that would capture the money that FHA generates and keep it in affordable housing. So the Senator's actions were prophetic in this regard.
Thank you, first, to all the participants today. Assistant Secretary Apgar - while I was sitting here I was writing a short list of Assistant Secretary Apgar's legacy. The short list is about 10 items, but this is going to be number one. This is unbelievable, that we would be at this point today, especially in light of where we started from. Our friends from the Mortgage Bankers Association, our friends from the Home Builders, our friends from the Low Income Housing Coalition, thank you all so much for being there.
It's basically all been said, but let me just put an exclamation point on it if I can. There are two points, and one special note, if you will.
Point one is that this is one heck of a management story. FHA - you look at the numbers on the first chart, where we were just ten years ago - $2.7 billion in the red and now you're at $16 billion. This is $5 billion dollars over the estimated value, $5 billion over the estimated value, and those estimates were just done last year. That's the $5 billion that we're talking about today.
$16.6 billion dollar value of FHA, why? Because FHA works. FHA was fixed. This is about property disposition, and privatizing the property disposition, the so-called M&M contracts. This is about automated underwriting. This is about going from 81 offices to four. This is about Homeownership Centers. This is about re-posting all the civil service positions. This is about bringing in new blood and new energy in the Community Builders program, and strengthening the Public Trust Officers. Doing all those management details that don't mean anything in and of themselves, but at the end of the day it means a government, a corporation that works. That's what this is.
It's also about our partners who worked with us. It's about the MBA who helped us. It's about the NAHB, it's about the Low Income Housing Coalition. An energized housing coalition that worked, that's the first story. You have $5 billion because we did what we said we were going to do, we made Government work and we did it together.
The second story is the tremendous need for affordable housing in this nation. And you cannot say that often enough, because people don't understand it, they don't believe it. It's almost counter-intuitive - we have a strong economy, the economy is going great, we must have a strong housing market.
But the cruel irony, the shadow of the economy, is that the strong economy has driven up the rents. Those who are at the bottom can't pay the rent, it's actually increased the need for affordable housing.
I'll tell you how bad the need for affordable housing is. We just spent hours at an appropriations hearing, where everyone has the ability to make up their own numbers, more or less. With all the different numbers that were out there, the CBO, the GAO, HUD's numbers, by anyone's numbers, by the best case numbers that the Congress could generate, you still have an affordable housing crisis in this nation.
In other words, no one could come up with even a defensible numerical argument that suggested anything but an affordable housing crisis in this nation. Even Congressmen who don't want to put 15 cents towards HUD or housing, had to admit to the affordable housing crisis. The Mayor of Buffalo makes that case so beautifully. Yes, you have a great economy. Yes, you have the highest homeownership rate in history. But that doesn't mean you have it everywhere.
Go to Buffalo, go to cities that have seen disinvestment with it moving out to the suburbs, where the number of renters is going up, and the numbers of owners are going down. So you see how much more that we have to do. That's the second chart, the 5.3 million worst case housing needs - we need affordable housing.
Now we can have a great debate about what to do with this $5 billion, which will give us one of the most aggressive housing programs in a single year going back three decades. And we'll have a great debate about how to spend the five billion.
Someone will argue we should have homeless housing. And someone will argue we should have senior housing. And someone will argue that we should have more homeownership Someone will argue production. I will argue production, and I'll argue it for a few people, just so I make sure we have some production at the end of the day. Because vouchers are nice, but production is better. And vouchers are good, but in many areas the vouchers are not working well, because the economy is so hot, the market is so tight.
So we'll have a great debate. Take the five billion - how much goes to senior housing, how much goes to homeownership, how much goes to rental, how much goes to production, how much goes to preservation. That will be a great argument, and I welcome that argument. I've been dying to argue about how to spend five billion dollars on housing. If you told me we were going to have this argument a few years ago, I would have laughed.
So this is a great debate to have. I will not debate whether or not the five billion needs to stay at FHA for affordable housing, however. That is beyond question. The money was made by FHA, the money was made by HUD, we have the need for affordable housing, leave the five billion in FHA. It would be a terrible injustice, it would be a gross injustice, if anyone suggested taking a penny of that money out of FHA for any other purpose, because we have the need right here.
Those are the two points. The special note is this. As the HUD Secretary, the bottom line to what we do in Washington - what are the bottom lines? It's where the President of the United States has been on your agenda. And a Cabinet Officer that does his or her job well really serves the President well. The way I best serve is by serving the President who can then serve the nation.
And that the President of the United States, President Bill Clinton sent me a letter yesterday saying, congratulations on the five billion, I want the five billion to stay in FHA. And for President Clinton to say that we have an affordable housing crisis that needs attention -- there were no sweeter words, and there is no better vindication of the agenda that the people in this Department have worked on for 20 years. President Bill Clinton is a champion of affordable housing, and we can have no better champion. And with the President on our side, the odds look pretty good.
Thanks to everyone who participated today. Thanks to everyone who helped us turn around FHA. Thanks to everyone who made the five billion dollars. Let's get on with the argument of how to spend it, because there will be no losers in that argument. But that it stays here and that it's spent here is, is beyond question.
Thank you Congressman LaFalce, Senator Kerry, who, again, has been a great champion on this issue. Thank you all. We will take questions, comments, for me, or for any of the partners.
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