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Remarks by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo
CDBG 25th Anniversary Celebration

San Francisco, California
Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Good afternoon to all of you. Congratulations to all of you. It's truly my pleasure to be here. Yesterday and the day before I was in McAllen, Texas with the President of the United States and the Vice President of the United States at the Empowerment Conference. Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities from all across the nation came down to McAllen, Texas to share ideas. A lot of excitement in the room. About 800 people all making progress.

The President and the Vice President -- the first time they both addressed this audience. It was a very, very exciting time. But there was only one person and one program that could get me away from the President and the Vice President of the United States and that is Willie Brown and CDBG, and it's my pleasure to be here. (Applause)

Thank you, Willie. Mayor Brown is doing great, great things in the City of San Francisco, as you know, and I can't tell you how important that is.

One of the main challenges I think we have, those of us who do urban development, those of us who work on cities, is to prove that cities can actually work, to prove that it's not a failed experience. That these programs do work and these places do work.

And when you have a Mayor with the leadership and the ability of Willie Brown, he takes San Francisco and he says, this is a city that does work, this is a city with a future and not just a past. Support these programs, support these initiatives because the future is bright. And that helps not just San Francisco, but all cities everywhere.

So it's my pleasure to be here with him in that regard as a Mayor, but also as a national Mayor -- because he truly is a national Mayor and a national voice. What he does with the United States Conference of Mayors helps cities nationwide. What he has done for affordable housing, the issue of affordable housing, bringing it to the forefront, and constantly pushing and pushing and pushing it. It's not the sexiest issue. You really need perseverance, and you need tenacity to make it work. But he has truly been a champion of affordable housing nationwide and I want to thank him for that. Thank you very much, Mayor Willie Brown. (Applause)

You have everybody here, Salt Lake City Mayor and U.S. Conference of Mayors President, Deedee Corradini is here, Leona Plaugh from NCDA, Mayor Box, Tom Cochran, Executive Director of the United States Conference of Mayors and a man who has really kept these programs alive through these many years, through many different administrations and through a lot of politics, Larry Naake from NACO.

I'd also like to take a word and send my regards and my congratulations to Haron Battle. Not everyone in this room had the pleasure of working with Haron, but those of us who did can tell you that this is truly, truly a phenomenal human being and a fine public servant and we wish him our best. We have Mayor Patrick Henry Hayes from Little Rock, Irvington Mayor Sara Bost, San Bernardino County Supervisor Jerry Eaves, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and all our friends.

I'd also like to point out the HUD staff who is here. We have Alexander Cochran, who is a star in our Intergovernmental Relations Office, Howard Glaser who does intergovernmental relations for us as my counselor, and my Mayor, the HUD Mayor, Art Agnos San Francisco's former Mayor, but he is now the Mayor of HUD, and my good friend and my mentor. When we need someone to advise us on any urban problem anywhere, we go get Art Agnos, your own. (Applause)

I also see Buddy Cianci here in the first row, Providence, God bless you, Buddy. Let me just say this about -- (Laughter)

It's safer when Buddy is in the front row then when he is on the dais, I can tell you that. (Laughter)

A little distance is a good thing. (Laughter)

CDBG. You've talked about it all morning and I don't want to repeat what you've heard, but it truly is a perfect example of a government success story.

We're so good nowadays at bashing government and being negative towards government. Government fouled up this and government fouled up that. Why? Because the negative is easy, frankly. The criticism is easy. An old southern politician once said, any jackass can knock down a barn. It's easy to destroy. The trick is to construct, to build, to be positive, to forge solutions.

That's what CDBG says. It says, we believe in ourselves and we believe enough to invest in ourselves.

Community Development Block Grant. The acronym CDBG doesn't do it justice. The beauty of it is the first word -- community. They could have stopped right there. The concept of developing community is what it's all about. It started in 1974 and it was truly ahead of its time. In 1974, it was devolution before devolution was cool. It was let the local government do it. It respected the mayors before there was this new awareness of the �new breed� of mayor. It guaranteed citizen participation in the process. And it was a fair, equitable distribution of resources, giving the resources to the people who need it.

It was a great idea. It said let's keep the politics separate, and make it bipartisan. Who would believe that you could find a program that a Gerald Ford, a Richard Nixon, a Carter, a Clinton, they would all support it. Why? Because at one point the best politics is the best government, and CDBG is both.

Now, it's also improved since then, and it's evolved. Many of the improvements came from the Clinton administration and I'm proud of that.

In 1983 there was a mandate that the program must be 51 percent low/moderate income. Let's make sure that the money goes to the people who need it, the low and moderate- income people. That was 1983. In 1990 that went to 70 percent. The program became even more targeted.

1994. I was running the program then as Assistant Secretary. We moved it from paper to computer. Willie was talking about the new technology at HUD. One of the things we tried to do is a technology revolution at HUD. We came up with something we called the Consolidated Plan. Instead of all those big applications for CDBG funds, it went to a computer. Consolidated Planning. It won the finalist award at Harvard's Kennedy School two years ago and we're excited about that.

In 1995 we took the program and pushed it towards more of a regional approach. NACO and USCM together, Peter McLaughlin working with the surrounding mayors, county and city, using the CDBG to forge regional alliances.

In 1996 we went even more hi-tech. You can now get CDBG information, the Consolidated Plan information on kiosks all around the country, touch screen kiosks. They look like ATM machines, except they're HUD ATM machines. It was Art Agnos's idea first, we just did it in about 25 cities. You can touch the screen, see your community, see your neighborhood, and see exactly where the CDBG dollars are going, as well as the HOME program dollars, et cetera.

In the past couple of years we've been trying to take CDBG and move it towards more of an economic development vehicle, because that is the need for cities nowadays, in my opinion. Doing the housing, doing the infrastructure, but also doing economic development and we're bringing it up to do that.

842 cities, 147 counties, 3,000 small cities, $89 billion over 25 years. Any given year, 200,000 units of housing done by CDBG, 150,000 jobs created for people of low/moderate income. That's the CDBG stories in the numbers.

You know the CDBG story in terms of people and programs. It's Oak Street here in San Francisco, because only San Francisco would take what was thought to be the former home of Janis Joplin and convert it to a homeless facility and use CDBG money to do it. It's the Bay Area video program, bringing low income people into multimedia communications.

In Gary, Indiana there is an Ace Hardware Store, the only new business to move into Gary, Indiana -- now by the way one of the fastest grossing Ace hardware stores. It's only there because of CDBG. Newburgh, New York every left [check] downtown, not even a movie theater opened in 10 years because of CDBG.

Mayor Hayes is making homeownership possible, Supervisor Eaves is making child safety a reality. A beautiful array of programs and go [check] to coast-to-coast. thousands every year. Some communities have running water only because of CDBG. Sewer lines only because of CDBG. Electricity only because of CDBG. A fire truck only because of CDBG. Playgrounds because of CDBG. It really shows what we can do.

But more than the numbers and more than the programs, the real impact of CDBG for me is the principle that it espouses. And it is probably one of the finest principles that we hold to as American citizens.

I come back to the first word of CDBG -- the word community. It says simply, we believe in community and we believe in working towards community. We believe there are people who need a hand up to lift themselves, and we want to help them do that.

Forget the acronym, forget the regulations. That's what it said in 1974. Let's come together and forge community and let's help the person who is on the bottom raise themselves up. Let's help the poor, let's help the moderate income, and let's do it together. True in 1974 and true today in 1999.

Don't kid yourself about this great economic news. The country is a success, we're breaking all records -- for some, but not for others. Before we beat our chests and proclaim ourselves a success, make sure you're looking at this nation everywhere and you're looking at everyone.

Because there are a lot of people in this nation who are not feeling that great American economy; who don't see the 18 million new jobs, and who aren't one of the new millionaires.

Because you have two very different stories in this country at this time. That's what we were talking about down in Texas.

You have a story for winners, which is the strongest economy in history. Lowest unemployment in 41 years, the lowest unemployment since I was born. Eighteen million new jobs, the highest homeownership rate in history, 66 percent. Highest homeownership rate in history. A beautiful story of success.

But you also have another story of people who are left out of that success. And as Americans we say that until everyone everywhere shares in that success we're not done. That we have more to do and we want to reach out to those who have been left behind. And we're not going to celebrate the 66 percent highest homeownership rate when you still have 600,000 homeless Americans on the street any given night in this nation. (Applause)

We're not going to say that our work is done, and that we fulfilled our promise while you have public housing that offers conditions in some places in this country so deplorable that most people would not put a pet in those conditions, let alone raise children.

You have the highest number of Americans who need affordable housing at any time in history period. 5.3 million Americans who need affordable housing, the highest number in history. And at the same time we're at one of the lowest production points in history at the Department of Housing and Urban Development because we can't get President Clinton's budget passed in Congress.

We have much, much more to do.

You have parts of this country that look like third world countries. You can go to Indian reservations, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and you cannot believe what our brothers and sisters who are American Indians are still suffering with. You can go to the Delta, you can go to Appalachia, you can go to Alaska -- the Indians in Alaska, where young girls still drink toxic water because the water has been poisoned.

A lot left to do.

And we have racial tensions that are still a barrier before we can claim that we are a community. Probably, in my opinion, the toughest barriers are the racial barriers. They're very much alive and well. We don't like to talk about it because it's almost too painful to recognize, it's almost too painful to admit it. We would like to believe that we're beyond it, but we're not and we have those painful reminders almost daily.

1998, Jasper, Texas, in case we forgot, an African American was chained to a truck and dragged to his death. All across the country, the case in Missouri -- a Portuguese woman moved into a neighborhood, they planted a seven foot cross on her lawn and burned it. She was Portuguese, they thought she was black.

We're not a success yet, my brothers and sisters.

But we will be, we can reach this great promise that was America and is America -- justice for all, opportunity for all, community for all. When we understand that we really are a community, and we really are interconnected, one to the other.

You don't see it, but there is a cord that connects me to you, and you to you, and you to you, and that cord stretches all among us, and that cord weaves a fabric, and that makes a community.

We'll be a community when we advance to the point where we are colorblind and we don't see black, and we don't see white, and we don't see red, and we don't see yellow, we only see Americans.

And we'll be a community when we understand finally that lifting the person on the bottom does not mean you lower the top, but rather you raise us all. That is the dream that is America, that is the promise. (Applause)

That is the promise of America. That's why it's called the Community Development Block Grant. That's why Martin Luther King spoke of beloved community. That's why our founding fathers said, E Pluribus Unum, one out of many. That's why Bobby Kennedy and John F. Kennedy talked about the connectiveness of man.

Community. We dreamed about it in 1974, we're closer than ever before in 1999, and together we will get there.

Keep up the good work. Thank you for having me.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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