Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Rainier Vista Groundbreaking in Seattle

Seattle, Washington
Monday, August 10, 2009

Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here in Seattle to see President Obama's Recovery Act in action at this groundbreaking - to discuss how Recovery funds are helping the families hardest-hit by this recession and putting people to work.

It's a particular honor to join Senator Patty Murray today, and let me take a moment to mention her remarkable work as chair of the Senate Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, which oversees our nation's transportation and housing investments - and our budget at HUD.

Just over a week ago, Senator Murray's subcommittee approved a bill that offers the clearest statement in a generation that Congress and the Administration intend to work together to ensure the government gets back into the business of creating affordable housing in this country.

That bill makes critical investments in the public housing that make developments like the one we're celebrating today possible. It will spur innovation in the area of energy efficiency and green jobs. And it funds HUD's Choice Neighborhoods and Sustainable Communities initiatives, which will help lay the groundwork for the integrated communities we need to meet the challenges ahead.

So, thank you Senator Murray - for your leadership and for your unwavering commitment to providing safe, affordable housing to every family.

The Recovery is Working

Each of the investments I've mentioned build on those we've made through the Recovery Act, which provided Washington State with some $6.8 billion, including $168 million directly from HUD - funds that we expect to create or save 75,000 jobs statewide and 8,600 jobs in this area alone.

We've already come a long way. When President Obama took office, we were facing the greatest economic crisis in a generation and the economy was on the precipice of a second depression or great recession.

The economy was losing, on average, 700,000 a month. Our economic growth rate had hit negative 6.3 percent - the worst since the 1982 recession.

Foreclosures were at record levels and residential investment had fallen by more than 40 percent in just 18 months.

Banks were in crisis and credit was frozen solid.

In just over 160 days, the Recovery Act has worked alongside our other initiatives to stabilize economic conditions and help those harmed by the economic crisis.

By June, we had cut the number of jobs the economy was losing by a third.

And instead of falling by 6 percent, which the GDP fell for two quarters in a row, in the last quarter GDP fell by 1 percent.

Now, that's still not where we want it to be.

But today, 95 percent of working families are seeing the benefits of the Making Work Pay tax credit in their paychecks.

More than 30,000 Recovery Act projects—from community health center expansions to transportation construction jobs to where we stand today—have already been approved.

When it comes to putting Recovery Act funds to work creating jobs, aiding states and jump-starting shovel-ready projects, we're right on-schedule. And in many cases, we're ahead of schedule.

We are not in recovery yet - but we have created the stability necessary to get us there.

Getting Back into the Business of Affordable Housing

Some of the most important work we're doing to create that stability at HUD and restart our affordable housing production engine is through the Recovery Act, which is pumping $14 billion into communities across the country - nearly 75 percent of which we allocated within the first week.

It included $2 billion to reestablish our commitment to full funding of Project Based Section 8 developments.

It included $2.25 billion in HOME funding to stabilize projects financed by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit - the major engine of affordable housing production for the past two decades.

And it included $4 billion to help us address the severe backlog of public housing improvement projects created by underfunding during the last Administration,

One of over 3,000 public housing authorities across the nation receiving Public Housing Capital funds, the Seattle Housing Authority received over $17 million alone from the Recovery Act - $13.5 million of which is helping us get the Rainier Vista project across the finish line.

As many of you know, Rainier Vista was first built in the 1940s - and a decade ago, it was poised to be rebuilt when the Seattle Housing Authority was awarded a $35 million HOPE VI grant from HUD.

As Seattle saw for itself not far from here at the successful High Point complex, HOPE VI investments and the program's focus on more livable, mixed-income housing has resulted in substantial declines in neighborhood poverty, crime, and unemployment across the country, and increases in income, property values, and market investment.

Put simply, HOPE VI changed the face of public housing - and it was poised to do the same for Rainier Vista until increased construction costs and unforeseen developments stalled this project for the better part of a decade.

But thanks to the Recovery Act, I'm proud to say that Rainier Vista is on its way to the finish line.

When completed, it will provide 850 mixed-income, mixed-use units for local residents - 83 of which will be for low-income households here at Tamarack Place, employing several new green initiatives, from energy efficient technologies and water conserving appliances to high-efficiency light fixtures.

Neighborhood Transformation

But perhaps the biggest reason that I'm so optimistic about this project is because of what it means for the neighborhood as a whole.

The investments it's already leveraged will link Tamarack Place and all of Rainier Vista to the surrounding community - to multiple playgrounds and a Neighborhood House Center featuring a Boys Girls Club.

Indeed, in connecting the community to local bus lines and to the new LINK light rail system that was made possible through the commitment and dedication of Senator Murray, we see once again the difference made with leadership that understands that when you choose a home, you don't just choose a home.

You also choose the schools your child attends, you chose transportation to work.

You choose a community.

Seattle gets it - your leadership gets it.

Well, it's time the Federal government got it as well.

In fact, that's one of the reasons that I took some of your leadership to Washington with me - asking Ron Sims, who served as the King County Executive for a dozen years, to join me as my deputy and bring that kind of integrated thinking and holistic approach to neighborhood transformation we need so desperately in Washington.

That's the idea behind our Choice Neighborhoods initiative. Building on the successes of the HOPE VI program, Choice Neighborhoods will expand the range of activities eligible for funding beyond public housing alone.

It will bring neighborhood partners to the table, from public housing agencies and local governments, to community activists, non-profits, and private firms.

And most importantly of all, it will link housing more closely with the kind of intensive school reform and early childhood innovations we've seen here in Seattle and in combination with the most successful housing transformations.

I'm thrilled that Senator Murray has included Choice Neighborhoods in her bill - and I look forward to working closely with her to ensure that it, along with all the investments we need to keep making in communities across the country, are included.

But today we're seeing firsthand what's being done under the Recovery Act to lay the groundwork for these kinds of efforts - to revitalize neighborhoods at the same time we put people to work here in Seattle and rebuild our economy.

Just as we didn't get into this economic crisis overnight, we won't get out of it overnight either.

But the simple fact that we're here for a groundbreaking, restarting a long-stalled but urgently-needed project, ought to send a message to everyone in Seattle and across Washington State that we won't be satisfied until we get every dollar out the door and into the hands of those who need it most - as quickly as possible and as effectively as possible.

That is our task today.

Thanks so much and I'd be happy to take any questions that you may have.


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