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Secretary Andrew Cuomo
National Congress for Community Economic Development
National Low-Income Housing Coalition

Washington Policy Conference - Closing Remarks
March 31, 1999

Thank you very much. Good afternoon. First, Cushing Dolbeare. Abdul said that he referred to Cushing Dolbeare as the Rosa Parks of community development, that she stood up. What a beautiful expression. Cushing has forgotten more about this business than most of us will ever know. And I know that I speak for all of us, Cushing, when I say, sometimes in this business the going gets a little tough, by the nature of our business, and you look around and you need an inspiration and when you need an inspiration Cushing Dolbeare is always there. Thank you, Cushing, for everything you're doing.

Mr. Roy Priest. Mr. Roy Priest and I had the pleasure to work together way back when I was the Assistant Secretary of Community Planning and Development and Roy ran the entire operation. We did good things then, we started the Empowerment Zone Program back then, we did a lot of management changes, we started the Consolidated Plan back then, the Section 108 loan program. A lot of great, great work. My career has taken a turn for the worse, but his has skyrocketed. Congratulations Roy Priest.

And we have Sheila Crowley, who is doing great work with the Low Income Housing Coalition, and Abdul Rasheed who is the Chairman, and all of you.

It's a pleasure to be with NCCED and the Low Income Housing Coalition and I'll tell you why. Because these two organizations more than almost any other to me represent the essence of what we do -- that we are now professionals in the field of housing and community development. That we have professionalized ourselves, we've learned the business, we've learned the tools, we've learned about financing, and we've learned how to do the tasks that we need to do. And we can do it as well as any profession can do it.

But while we are professionals, we're not really in a profession. Cushing's word -- we are still pursuing a mission. And that mentality says that this is a crusade, this is a movement, if you will. This thing called housing and community development are tools, are vehicles to reach the mission.

But the mission is doing for those who have been forgotten by this nation. That is a cause and a passion more than it is a profession or an industry. Remembering that mission, and remembering that crusade, means we'll remember why we got into this business in the first place, and that makes all the difference in the world. That's what NCCED does and the Low Income Housing Coalition does and it's my pleasure to be part of that.

Now I looked at the agenda and I heard about all the people who you have heard from so you are filled to the brim, I take it, with all the good ideas and programs and specifics and numbers. Now you're going to go back out to the real world, and you're going to make it happen.

So my message to you is simple. It is up to you. It's not HUD, it's not NCCED, it's not the meetings, it's not the Low Income Housing Coalition. It is up to you to make it happen. And as you leave here today that is the message. It is now up to you to take the tools, to take the advice and to make it happen in your community. And I will come back to that in one minute.

First, I want to thank the panel and thank all of you for what you have done over the past two years before I ask you to do any more, because we have had a great, great two years in this industry, in this mission, in this crusade, in this movement.

If you had told me two years ago we would have accomplished what we have accomplished together I would have said you are being overly optimistic.

We took HUD, the great institution that we love to hate -- and I love to hate it also. As the Secretary I love to hate it. As a former homeless provider in a not-for-profit I love to hate it. -- but we actually took HUD over the past two years and we did the real work that had to be done.

We did the real management work that is not glamorous, that is not pleasant, but we did it. We took HUD from a place where it was an obstacle, and where it was actually used against the movement and we made it an asset.

We did the kinds of changes, we did the kind of devolution we had to do, and now even the harshest critics of our movement will say that HUD has made real progress -- even those people who have used HUD for years as an excuse, as an excuse not to give us the funding, not to build the housing, and not to do the economic development.

They used HUD as an excuse. They said, well, I'd love to do housing and economic development, but you know HUD is dysfunctional, HUD is incapable. The truth is they didn't really want to do it in the first place. But HUD was a convenient rationale, a convenient excuse.

We've changed all that. Now they will begrudgingly say, well, HUD is competent. That's all we needed, because we stripped away the excuse. And now we can talk about the issue on the merits, and we can talk about the needs of this nation.

This week we got the first clean opinion, the first clean accounting opinion in HUD's history. Now why did we work so hard on the management? Maybe because I want to be an accountant when I grow up? No. Why does the clean opinion mean so much? Because once HUD has the credibility now we can do the job that we need to do for you.

And you start to see evidence of it. That's why last year we had such a great year, the best HUD budget in a decade. We raised the FHA loan limits, more homeownership for more Americans. One hundred thousand new Section 8 vouchers, after a four year hiatus.

That's real progress, real momentum, real energy, and we have to build on that. There is no time to rest, because the truth is, our mission, our crusade, needs help as much as it ever has.

You know, we're at a funny state in this nation. Because on the one hand we have such great progress and we have so many things to celebrate. If you just read the headlines, if you just listen to the TV news you would think everything is great. You look at the headlines today, what they're saying -- Dow Jones hit 10,000, God Bless America. The economy is going great guns.

Everybody must be happy, right? Dow Jones hit 10,000! Yes, it's God Bless America if you happen to be in the stock market. If you are one of the 60 percent of Americans who are not in the stock market, then it doesn't mean that much to you that the stock market is going crazy.

If you happen to live in public housing and you're not in the stock market then this Dow Jones 10,000 doesn't really excite you. If you happen to live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation then 10,000 really doesn't excite you. If you happen to live in the Appalachia or the Delta, or in Buffalo, or in Norfolk, or in the South Bronx, or in South Central L.A. then none of this really means anything to you, because you don't sense this great American juggernaut, because it's not carrying you with it.

It's making the rich richer, it's making the powerful more powerful. So it's creating the impression that everyone is doing well, but the �everyone� doesn't include you. That makes our job harder, because the apparent reality is everything is good, but everything is not good.

It makes our crusade harder because not only do we have to solve the problem, but part of the problem is creating the awareness and the recognition, not to get caught up in this economic euphoria. Because there are many Americans who are left out. For every one American who is doing tremendously well you have five who is not. That's part of the crusade, understanding that and communicating that.

Cities -- many of us work in cities -- and I don't mean the big cities, I don't just mean New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, I mean the 1,000 cities. You look at how cities are doing in this nation. Cities by and large are smaller, poorer, and the poverty is more concentrated. Smaller, poorer, and the poverty is more concentrated. Jobs have moved out to the suburbs. People with money have moved out to the suburbs. The cities are suffering. And it's not just the big cities, it's all those medium size cities. The cities next to where you live, they are in real trouble.

You look at the need for housing, affordable housing: worse than ever before. That's the story of housing: worse than ever before. The Department put out a report a couple of weeks ago called �Waiting in Vain.� The waiting lists for public housing are going through the roof. The waiting lists for Section 8 housing are going through the roof. The number of families who need affordable housing -- 5.3 million. An all-time high. Why? I thought the Dow Jones hit 10,000! How can we have this problem, I thought everything was good!

No -- not in the other America. Greatest need for affordable housing in history. Why? Because actually the strong economy creates an affordable housing crisis. It's a cruel irony, but the strong economy drives up the rent. And if your income is going up as high, then you're okay; but if you're on a fixed income or your income is not keeping pace with the economy then the rent goes above your reach.

We have a phenomenon that is happening now where many of the Section 8 properties have their contracts expiring. Meaning what? Meaning a lot of the Section 8 properties were done under 20-year contracts, and their contracts are now expiring.

And the landlords are now saying, look, the contract is over, I'm going to take my building and go to the private market, because I can get more money on the private market. We're losing those affordable housing units..

We have an affordable housing crisis. We have an urban crisis, we have a jobs crisis. Come off welfare, get a job. �About time you went to work.� That's what we said as a nation. �Welfare reform� we called it. The truth is nobody wanted to be on welfare in the first place. Who wanted to be on welfare?

We didn't need the nation to whisper the divine intervention that, really, you should be working. They misread the entire situation. I've been all across this country. People have asked me for a lot of help. They've asked me for help getting housing, help getting transportation, help getting daycare, help getting an education. No one has ever asked me for help in getting a welfare check.

The people who paid the greatest price for welfare in this nation were not the taxpayers. The greatest price was paid by the recipient of the welfare check.

Why? Because they were condemned, because they paid with their pride and dignity, because they became a �welfare mother�, because they became stereotyped because they were ashamed to tell their children and their neighbors that they were taking a welfare check, and because they had no alternative. They paid the price for welfare.

What they wanted was what every other American wanted. Give me a job, give me a career, let me hold my head up high and care for my own family.

But where do the jobs come from, and where do the support services come from, and where is the transportation, and where is the daycare, and where is the healthcare? Nobody is answering those questions, so we have a lot of work to do.

I also believe that now more than ever is the time for us to do it.

Take that strong economy. It can be a tremendous vehicle to do good things. Now is the time when we can actually invest as a nation. If there was ever a point to do it, now is the time.

How many years did we hear, the economy isn't strong enough, we have the deficit? The deficit. We would be fighting for more money for housing, they would say, well, we have the deficit. Can't do it now because we have to pay off that deficit. Well, the deficit is gone. Thanks to President Clinton, the deficit is gone.

Now is the time to invest. We have that great economy, let's employ it. We have a President who wants to make this happen. He is committed to making it happen.

And we have the know- how to deal with these issues that is more sophisticated than ever before. They can't criticize us like they did in the past. We are professionals. We have the CDC movement and the CDC professionals. We have the not-for-profits, the not-for-profit professionals. We know how to build housing, we know how to create jobs. We just need the tools to do it. We need the funding to do it, we need the Section 8 housing to do it, we need the HOME program monies to do it, we need the economic development monies to do it, we need the HUD budget to do it.

And you have to make that happen. No one else can. It is up to you.

That's the point that I want to end on. It is up to you, it is up to you, trust me. I'm here in this town, I'm the head of the lead Federal Department -- I can't make it happen, the President of the United States cannot make it happen, only you can make it happen.

Because the American people have to make it happen. The American people have to say to themselves, look, I do not believe that we are a success, I am not satisfied by your pronouncement of a Dow Jones at 10,000. I want more and I know we can do it, and I insist that my Government do it.

You have to create that message and it has to percolate up. That has to be your charge, that has to be your mission when you leave here.

You are fighters for housing, you are fighters for jobs, you are fighters for empowerment, you are crusaders for justice, because these are broader than the individuals.

That's why we're not just in a profession, we are on a mission. Housing and jobs and community empowerment. Why? Because you have people that have been left out of this nation for too long, that's why. Because we want equality and we want opportunity, we want justice, real justice.

Not the justice that they pursued in this town for the past year, not that kind of justice, that's not justice -- that's not justice. That was a distraction so they didn't have to talk about the real issues. That was, lets box up your Federal Government, let's consume all this time and energy dealing with these personal situations so we don't have to talk about the real issues.

Because, God forbid, we talk about Cabrini-Green and ask people, how do you still have people in public housing that looks like Gabrini-Green? God forbid we had to talk about the unemployment rate, God forbid we have to talk about the Delta and rural Appalachia and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. You couldn't do that, so you took a distraction, you took another topic, and you took all of the attention from the nation and you focused on that.

You have to go back to your communities and say, that was not justice, that was not justice. That was not what Martin Luther King spoke about as justice and Robert Kennedy spoke about as justice, and Lincoln spoke about as justice.

We want true justice, we want economic justice. Economic justice -- that says you don't have a just society when you have the Dow Jones at 10,000, more millionaires than every before, but you still have the greatest income equality in 30 years, and you have a minimum wage set so low that people have to choose between paying rent and eating every month. That is not justice. We want to fight for justice.

It is not justice where the corporations in America have made record profits, the banks in this nation are making record profits, and now they say they want to roll back CRA, the Community Reinvestment Act. CRA was the crumbs from the table for poor people -- and they even want to roll that back. That is not justice.

We want to fight for social justice that says when you proclaim success, 66 percent, the highest homeownership rate in history -- that's what we have, 66 percent, highest homeownership rate in history -- we're a success. I'm a �success� as the HUD Secretary, because I have produced the highest homeownership rate in history -- that is not a success when you have 600,000 homeless Americans sleeping on the street every night That is not justice, and that is not a success.

And when you look at too many of these issues - housing, jobs, cities -- you start to see a common denominator that is painful by its acknowledgment. That common denominator is race.

The truth is, the distraction was because you didn't want to talk about an issue that makes us all a little uncomfortable, and that's race. And the real truth is that racism is still alive and well in America in 1999.

I can tell you that because I feel a small sliver of it as an Italian American. But ask our Latino brothers and ask our Latino sisters, and ask the African Americans and the Asian Americans and the Native Americans -- and they will tell you doors are still shut, bankers still say no, avenues are still closed because of the color of their skin. And that is wrong.

That is the mission that you have to leave here with. It is up to you -- crusaders for justice. Housing is the tool, economic development is the tool, but the crusade is justice. Make it happen, we're counting on you. Thank you.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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