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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeeting
New Orleans, Louisiana
June 12, 1999

Thank you very much. Good afternoon. First, Mayor Deedee Corradini, I want to thank you for that very kind introduction.

You know, as the HUD Secretary you don't always get the kindest introductions. It's not one of the most glamorous posts in the President's Cabinet. Your family is the one who always tells you the truth. My brother-in-law is Joseph Kennedy. He was a Congressman from Massachusetts. Anyone here from Massachusetts?

But he was also the head of the Housing Subcommittee, so we did a lot of events together, Joe and I, and he would introduce me quite frequently. And he had the same line every time he introduced me. He would say, now ladies and gentleman, it's my pleasure to introduce my brother-in-law, the HUD Secretary, because no one else was stupid enough to take the job. (Laughter). Only family tells you the truth.

Deedee Corradini, we've have had a great, great, great year this past year working together. We have accomplished things in a tough environment that I would have told you were almost impossible had we sketched it out early on. We would not have been able to do it without Deedee's leadership. And we have a small token of our appreciation. I'd like to present her with an award from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Deedee, I would ask you to join me for a moment.

This is to Mayor Deedee Corradini: "With gratitude and thanks for your outstanding leadership on behalf of the nation's cities as President of the United States Conference of Mayor and Mayor of Salt Lake City, for your strong voice in protecting vital housing and community development initiatives, so essential to the rebirth of our communities, and for your courageous efforts to ensure the safety and health of our nation's children." Thank you so much for everything you've done. (Applause)

We have so many other members of the urban family here. We have Mayor Wellington Webb, who just joined us, who is going to be the next President of UCSM. We have Mayor Marc Morial who is our host, and boy, he is some host, isn't he?

Mayor Paul Helmke is with us, he is your past President. Mayor Hal Daub, who heads the Republican Mayors' Caucus. My good friend Mayor Dennis Archer is here. And Tom Cochran is here.

I understood Tom told you he's been in service 30 years at USCM. He's just telling you that because he wants to get his retirement benefits early. Thirty years of service. Tom has been the voice for our nation's cities all during that time. Democratic administrations, Republic administrations, he's always made the case for the nation's cities. Tom, on behalf of HUD we want to thank you very much for everything you've done. Congratulations.

We have the whole HUD team here today in force. We have Deputy Secretary Saul Ramirez, the former Mayor of Laredo, Texas. We have more Mayors at HUD now than have ever been at HUD. Maybe that's one of the reasons we're making so much progress. Saul starts it off as former Mayor of Laredo, Texas. We have Cardell Cooper with us, former Mayor of East Orange, New Jersey. Art Agnos is going to be joining us, former Mayor of San Francisco.

Bill Apgar is here, the FHA Commissioner. We have Harold Lucas here, Assistant Secretary for Public Housing. We have Susan Wachter here, consultant for Policy Development and Research. Howard Glaser who heads up, as my counselor, inter-governmental relations. Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez, Rick Greenfield. And Alexander Cochran, who is an essential member of the team because he really learned from the best -- he worked with the National League of Cities for a while and he brought those lessons to us. (Laughter)

We have had a great couple of years. We have had a great couple of years working together. The progress that HUD has made in many ways reflects the progress that you have made. We said early on when we started this partnership together that we were going to have to get beyond just the rhetoric. We were going to have to prove to the American people what we said we would do could actually be done. That it was not just a case of wishful thinking to bring back America's cities, but it was very much an urgent need, and a reality that we could do it.

When they talk about this new breed of mayor, that's what they're talking about. They're talking about the Mayors that can actually get the job done. To the extent that HUD has transformed itself from a bureaucracy to a vehicle of facilitation, it's only because we followed your lead.

Compassion in this nation without competence failed. We had to prove that it's not just a case of good intent, but also good results. And that we've done together -- it's HUD's accomplishment, as much as it's yours. We've done it very much as a partnership.

The President spoke about the State of the Cities, his third annual State of the Cities. He addressed you yesterday on that. He's the first President to have ever done a State of the Cities report. First President who ever said on an annual basis, the cities are so important that I want to look at them as a separate topic and report on them. This current one is the third annual State of the Cities.

And I think this report has the last piece in our equation. We said to get done what we needed done, we needed three essential steps:

First, we had to communicate the need to the American people, we had to expose the need -- and we've done that.

Second, we had to prove our competence, prove that we could solve these issues -- and we've done that.

And now thirdly, we have to put together a winning coalition. We need a coalition that can actually get these things accomplished. Whether it's in the state legislature or in the United States Congress, we need a winning coalition that can make these initiatives and these dreams a reality.

And we see that in this Report, because we have a real, real opportunity, in my opinion, to form a partnership with the outlying counties and the new counties that we could never have had before.

Five years ago, ten years ago, if somebody had said, we really believe we can put our hands out across the border and join forces between city and county, I would have said it's a nice thought, but it's not a political reality because there is too much between them. Today we can do it, and I want to get to that in just a moment.

The President went through the report with you. But basically it says that the good news is getting even better and the inverse, the bad news is getting even worse.

Those cities that were doing well, the stronger cities, the larger cities, the cities that did well in the new economy, are now doing even better. They have improved. More people are working in central cities than ever before -- four million more people. Unemployment is down from 8.5 percent in 1992 to 5.1 percent. More people are working and they are earning more. Average pay is up 4.6 percent. And the strong cities are actually getting larger. Two-thirds of our cities increased their population between 1980 and 1996.

We also happen to have the highest homeownership rate in history, 66.7 percent. More Americans own their own homes today than ever before, and we have the highest homeownership rate in cities, 50.3 percent. For the first time in history, more than 50 percent of city residents are homeowners.

I told the President of the United States that it may be a coincidence, but I am the Housing Secretary and the homeownership rate is at its highest point in history, but I'll tell you the truth, I'm going to take the credit for it, because you know if the numbers were going the other way I would be getting the blame for it. (Laughter)

Crime, which is a real success story -- it's an urban success story -- is still continuing to go down. It's at its lowest since 1973. That's how well the Mayors have done on crime. (Applause)

And it can get even better. When Washington stops the political diatribe of the past couple of days on guns and focuses on a dose of sanity, once we have a real national gun policy that makes sense, we can get that crime rate down even further. (Applause) Sometimes common sense is the best dictate, and we've exceeded that in Washington.

The Vice President is going to be here on Monday and will talk to you about his thoughts on guns. And I know the Mayors have done a lot of work on it, as recently as this morning. I have hunted, and I enjoy it. I understand the value of having a gun. That does not explain why you need an assault weapon. When you're hunting, you don't use assault weapons. And in truth, if your aim is that bad that you need an assault weapon, you should be taking up a different sport in the first place. (Applause)

It doesn't explain why children need to be able to buy hand guns. It is nonsensical. I love the line in Washington that they use, that guns don't kill people, people kill people. No -- people with guns kill people, and lets remember that. (Applause)

So the strong are getting stronger. The cities that were doing well are doing even better than ever before.

That's half the story. The other half of the story is that those cities that are not doing as well are getting left behind, relative to the high performers. The strong are getting stronger; those that were trailing are being left further behind. And this is through no fault of their own -- it is a function of the economy. These tend to be smaller cities, medium-sized cities that were dependent on industries and parts of the economy which have transitioned.

My home state of New York, Buffalo -- Mayor Maciello is as creative of a Mayor as you can find, but the fundamental economy of Buffalo has shifted, and you haven't had a new economy walk in and say that what steel was to Buffalo we will now be.

And you have hundreds of Buffalos all across this nation who are struggling to find their way in the new economy. And the more time goes on and the stronger the strong get, the further behind the Buffalos become.

You have within this nation pockets of poverty that are also just as bad as they have ever been. You have parts of this nation where it could be 1950 or it could be 1960, rather than on the cusp of a new millennium, things are that bad. You have public housing projects that still exist in this nation that people would not allow their pet to reside in, let alone have our nation's children residing in these places.

You have Indian reservations in this nation that are deplorable. You have conditions in the Mississippi Delta that are deplorable. You have conditions in Appalachia that are deplorable. You have poor communities in cities all across this nation that just should not be as you're heading for the year 2000 and beating your chest and proclaiming success -- it is just wrong.

In one out of three cities, poverty is 50 percent higher than the national rate. In one out of six cities, unemployment is 50 percent higher than the national rate. One out of five cities are actually getting smaller, five percent smaller, at a time when the nation grew by seventeen percent.

So, yes, you have this one story of strength in America and American cities, but you also have another city of need, if we're going to truly proclaim success.

There's another interesting point that came out in this report, and I believe this brings with it a key to salvation. The suburbs are also experiencing the same phenomenon. For so many years it was the cities that were declining, while the suburbs were inclining. That's no longer true.

The inner rings suburbs, the older suburbs, now look like the urban areas. Why? Because they're also getting older, and their schools are aging, and their roads are aging, and their workforce is now mismatched. And they are starting to look like the urban areas that once served as their departure points.

Once we start to form an alliance with those older suburbs, once we come up with a commonality, and we realize that their fates are intertwined, that's the first step toward success.

And it's not just the older suburbs. The newer suburbs, the so-called exurbs are experiencing something called sprawl. Now I don't know exactly what it is, sprawl, but I know they don't like it. (Laughter)

They moved out to the newer suburbs and they don't want to see traffic congestion. They don't want to see further development. And they don't want to see school overcrowding.

The problems are the same. The problems for the cities are the problems for the older suburbs, are the problems for the newer suburbs. But if the problems are the same then the solutions are the same. And what will work for the city will work for the inner ring suburbs, will work for the outer ring suburbs, and that's going to be the first step towards our salvation.

We know what needs to be done because we're doing it in this room. Not everyone is doing everything, but everything we need to do is being done everywhere.

We need economic development, we need to equalize the playing surface, the economic playing surface between cities and suburbs. If a business has to choose between a brownfield and greenfield, a greenfield will win every time, unless you have something that is equating the two.

Unless you can say to a business, I will work with you to clean up the brownfield, the greenfield wins. If they can get a clean acre of land in an outlying area, rather than 10,000 square feet in an urban area, the suburban community will win.

We have to equalize that playing field. That's Empowerment Zones. That's the Section 108 loan program. That's the EDI, Economic Development Initiative Program. Economic incentives that will equalize the playing field. That's what the President is talking about with his new APIC Proposal. American Private Investment Company, like OPIC, Overseas Private Investment Company. Do for this nation what you've done for other nations around the world, the way we invested in them, let's invest in our communities at home. (Applause)

Second point is homeownership, homeownership, homeownership. If there is a silver bullet in this business it is homeownership. It changes everything, it changes the family, it changes the community, it changes the block, it changes the city. We have the highest homeownership rate in the nation, we are over 50 percent in the urban areas for the first time, we have to do more, we have to do more. For so many years we seduced people who wanted to buy a home from the city, now we want to induce people who want to buy a home back into the city.

FHA is a very big part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It's a mortgage insurance company. It charges a premium to get mortgage insurance. FHA, as of today, will cut it's premium by 25 basis points, a quarter of a point, in cities. So that if you are looking for a home, and you're looking for a mortgage, you can get a lower FHA rate if you move into a city than a suburban or a rural community.

We have a program that we're working on in partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors called Raise the Roof. Raise the Roof does two things. We want to raise roofs literally, build more housing. And we also want to raise the awareness of the condition of housing in this nation.

Cruel irony: the strongest economy in history has also created the highest need for affordable housing in history. Why? Because the economy is so strong its driving up rents so fast, that those people on the bottom, or on fixed incomes, can't reach the rents. So we have 5.3 million American families, the highest number in history who need affordable housing, but people don't know it.

We're going to take one day, October 16th, all across the nation, we're going to make it Raise the Roof Day. We're going to work with our partners, Habitat for Humanity, Youthbuild, etcetera, bring in volunteers from all over the cities. Gather in the city in one place, go out, do housing rehabilitation, and use it as an opportunity to talk about the need for housing and homeownership in cities. We invite you all to shine the light with us on that problem. Raise the Roof day will do that in partnership.

The third initiative that we have to push is education. People talk about an educational crisis in this nation and they're right. But it's more refined than that, in my opinion. It's not an educational crisis, because the truth is the wealthier areas in this nation, their education system is fine. It's one of the best in the world, literally.

It is the education system in the middle income communities, or the lower income communities which is in crisis, and that is a very important distinction. Because one of the reasons for leaving a city, more than any other, is not crime anymore, because we've made great progress on that, but it's the education system.

You see, what's happening to the demographics of cities is they're getting younger and they're getting older. We're losing the middle. When they have a child of school age they move. Why? Because they're not going to sacrifice their child's education. And if they can move to a suburban area and get a better education they will.

And, you know what, they should. I have three daughters. I'm not going to sacrifice their education and their future for anything. And if there is a substandard education system in a city then I will move out to the suburb. And you can't ask anyone to do anything else.

What we can do is make sure that urban education system is as strong as any suburban education system anywhere in the nation. And we've made great strides to do that. (Applause) Mayor Daly has been a pioneer in this effort. Mayor Menino has been a pioneer in this effort. Mayor Daly had a suggestion two years ago, he said why didn't HUD as the "cities' department" take responsibility for education also. We pondered it for a while, we would then be the Department of Housing Urban Development and Education. But then I would be the HUD-E Secretary. (Laughter) And I didn't think that was a distinguished title, so we gave up that idea. (Laughter )

But the concept is right, we have to do something about education, and we're going to do something about education, and this is what we're going to do starting this year. We're going to call it the Teachers Next Door Program.

FHA owns many properties, which they take back in foreclosure, about 40,000 across the nation. We tried something two years ago called the Office Next Door. It was a tremendous success. We took the homes that FHA owned, we sold them at a 50 percent discount to police officers who would move into revitalization areas.

And the Officer Next Door Program said to police officers, if you move into those areas, and you buy an FHA home, we will give you a 50 percent discount. It has been a phenomenal, phenomenal success. Thousands of police officers now have moved into those areas in cities all across the nation.

We now want to take that same concept and expand it to education. And what we announced today is the Teacher Next Door Program. A teacher who will buy a home in a revitalized area, a teacher who teaches in a city school will be given a 50 percent discount on the appraised value of a HUD home. (Applause)

This is truly going to be a win, win, win. The community will get a very strong, good resident. A vacant home will become an occupied home. And a teacher will get a financial incentive to be a teacher in an urban district. And I say, God bless them, they deserve it.

We know the solutions, we know about economic development, we know about homeownership, we know about education, because we're doing it all day long. What we need to do now is we need to do more of it. We need to bring these efforts to scale, because we're all doing them in this room.

When the Mayors do their best practices, you see a whole litany of great, great innovative ideas. We just need to bring them to scale. We need to bring CDBG to scale, to do more of these projects. We need the HOME program to go up to scale. We need the HOPE VI Program which finally tears down those failed public housing projects and rebuilds communities instead of institutions. We need to bring that to scale. We need funding and partnerships to make that happen.

And I believe when you read this State of the Cities, what you see is that we have a moment in history to do this, because now is the time. We've talked about it for so many years, and so many decades, we are literally poised, I believe, to make historic progress at this moment.

We have a President in President Clinton who cares about cities, who is committed to cities and is willing to go to bat for the cities. We are not arguing for charity. We're saying to the nation that if you want your economy to keep going, if you want your businesses to keep growing -- you need the cities.

What does a business need to grow? It needs two things. It needs new markets and it needs new workers. The cities have both of them. The unemployed in the city of today are the trained workforce of tomorrow. Cities are an untapped market. They estimate that the untapped urban market is $85 billion, more than the trading of Mexico as an entire country.

We have the solutions that work. We know that they're working. We're not asking for investments in programs that we don't know if they're going to rise or fall. We know how to make this happen.

We have a nation where the deficit is now gone, finally. And we're talking about a balanced budget.

And with what we see in the report today, we have a new realization between the suburbs and cities, that they will not survive in opposition one to the other. But only in cooperation and coordination, one to the other.

Build that coalition between cities and counties. Put it together with our knowledge. That is a winning, winning combination. And I am telling you, my friends, that is the third piece of the equation. The need, the solutions, and the coalition, we are on the cusp of that.

Let me leave you with this point, because it's not just cities. Look at what's going on in the world today. It's the same thing that's going on in this country, in my opinion. There is one question that begs answering. Can we take our diversity and our differences, and will they be a source of strength or destruction?

Kosovo says that we will kill each other literally over our different ethnicities. I was in South Africa a couple of weeks ago. God bless, Thabo Mbeki, the new President, who is still working on that fundamental question -- can you put blacks and whites together? I was in Chiapas last week in Mexico, same question -- can you take the indigenous people and put them together with the rest of the country?

It is a tougher question for our nation, because we had no one common identity, unless you wanted to say the American Indians. The premise of our existence is that we can take people from all over the globe and we will make one nation out of them. We don't care if they're black, or they're white, or they're brown, or they're yellow, they come here and we'll make a nation. We'll make one people, we'll forget the color of their skin and we will all be Americans. That's what we said we would do, and that is the question we still must answer. (Applause)

Littleton, Colorado, Mayor Webb will tell you, put a flag and said, you're not coming together. Alienation and fear is among you at a very young age. In Jasper, Texas last year, lest we forget, we took a black man, chained him to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him until he was decapitated, only because he was African American. In Wyoming we took Matthew Shepherd, a man who happen to be gay and hung him on a fence like an animal to die. These are signs that say we're not, we're not yet there. We're not yet one.

Sprawl says, let's run from one another, and let's run further out, and further out, and further out, so we don't have to solve our problems, so we don't have to face one another, we'll run from one another, and we'll run from our problems. You can't run any further. We've gotten to the edge of the envelope, there is no where else to go.

Cities say the exact opposite. Cities say, we are in this together and we can live together. You don't have to run, turn and face one another.

Cities are the geography, the temple of community. From the Latin communitas, of the common.

We can do this together. We can live together, all colors, all races, all classes. That's what cities say.

They say we are a community, that there is a cord that connects us. It's in this room today -- you can't see it, but I'm connected to you, to you, to you, to you, and that cord weaves a fabric, and the fabric binds us as a nation, and as goes that fabric, so goes this nation.

Cities say, E Pluribus Unum, one out of many. It's our founding premise. It's our enduring promise together we will make it a reality. Thank you and God bless.


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