Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the HUD Black History Month Closing Celebration

HUD Brooke-Mondale Auditorium
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Thank you, Ron - for your inspirational words.

Well, let me first say thanks to everyone for making this year's Black History Month a success - particularly after the snowstorm here in Washington put a wrench in the Committee and the Weaver Chapter of Blacks in Government's plan for an opening ceremony.

But despite the delay in today's festivities, it's an honor to join with the HUD community to commemorate Black History Month - and reflect on our accomplishments as a nation, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

Indeed, when Robert Weaver was tapped by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to serve as HUD's first Secretary, he made history - becoming our nation's first African American Cabinet member.

But HUD too was part of history - founded at a moment when America's cities were literally burning, and our urban areas were in crisis.

HUD's work since its founding has continually been shaped by the forces of civil rights. Indeed, perhaps Secretary Weaver's most lasting achievement was the Fair Housing Act, which President Johnson signed into law in the wake of Dr. King's assassination.

So let there be no doubt - African Americans hold a special place in the history, work, and future of our Department.

And in the midst of a national housing crisis that has disproportionately threatened our middle class African American and Latino families-families for whom owning a home has been a critically important wealth vehicle and source of financial stability-our work has never been more important. This crisis has led to billions of dollars in lost wealth for the African American community.

That's one reason why this Administration has worked to tackle the housing crisis on every front. It's why we're working through the President's multifaceted Making Home Affordable program and new Help for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets program-as well as the FHA. Indeed, in 2008, 51 percent of African Americans homebuyers purchased homes with FHA financing.

And it's why we're helping families in distress, providing over $87 million for housing and mortgage modification counseling in our FY 2010 budget - an increase of more than a third of our FY 09 funding. Indeed, when it comes to pushing back against the foreclosure crisis, our vast network of counselors continues to be one of HUD's greatest strengths.

But I would be the first to acknowledge that despite our progress, we aren't satisfied with where we are. We have to do more - and will.

To ensure this kind of crisis never happens again, we're putting the Federal government squarely back in the business of building and preserving affordable rental housing. Through our Transforming Rental Assistance Initiative, we will put in place a better, more efficient system of providing rental assistance to vulnerable families - as we work to revitalize neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and give families the tools they need to make good, responsible choices.

Indeed, with our Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, we are making the redevelopment of distressed public and assisted housing the anchor of our community development efforts in our nation's urban cores.

But if we've learned anything in this housing crisis, it's that the problems our economy is facing today didn't begin with the foreclosure crisis - in many cases, they were just made worse.

President Obama, Ron, and I are committed to building a stronger, more resilient economy that offers every American the opportunity for a good job and a better life.

That commitment began with the Recovery Act, through which we've been able to build back some of the safety net that had been dismantled over the previous 8 years - by cutting taxes for 95 percent of working families, extending and increasing unemployment insurance for 12 million Americans, and making COBRA available at a cheaper rate for people who've lost their jobs.

To help communities where foreclosures have torn apart whole neighborhoods, we're helping communities respond to the housing crisis through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program - to reclaim foreclosed homes and place them back into productive use, stabilizing neighborhoods and property values where so much of a family's wealth is concentrated.

And by creating as many as 2.4 million jobs, let's be clear - the Recovery Act has helped stave off a second Great Depression, which would have turned back the clock on decades of progress in the African American community.

Through the Recovery Act, we're also pioneering the green economy that our communities need to thrive - to training the new generation of professionals-from mechanics and plumbers, to architects, energy auditors, and factory workers building solar panels and wind turbines-we need to design, install, and maintain the first wave of green technologies.

Ron often says that people of color, in large part, missed the tech revolution of the 1990s. We both agree that can't be allowed to happen with the Clean Energy revolution- and thanks to the Recovery Act, it's not.

Indeed, through our new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, we're building on Recovery Act investments by tying the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities - access to affordable transportation, good jobs, and quality schools.

But as we saw with the technical assistance grants we've given to communities through the NSP program, many of the communities struggling today have economic and capacity challenges that long predated our housing crisis.

Ron has been HUD's ambassador to these cities - be they Gary, Indiana or Detroit, Michigan. These kinds of communities need a federal partner now more than ever. And with the CDBG Catalytic Investments Competition Grant Program that we've proposed in our FY 11 budget, we're committed to being that kind of partner - to developing the targeted resources and tools these cities need to create jobs reorient their economies for the 21st century.

Lastly, let me say a word about our commitment to building more inclusive communities. The truth is, you can't have a truly sustainable community if you promote segregated development patterns and concentrated poverty.

And let's be honest, the neighborhoods of concentrated poverty we see in communities across America didn't result in spite of government - but it many cases because of it.

That's why, whether it is Westchester County or any community in America failing to meet fair housing obligations, we expect communities receiving federal funding to end practices that limit diversity and start promoting stable, inclusive communities. And we're prepared to provide clearer guidance and more support than ever before to ensure that they can.

Before turning it over to J. David Reeves, the President of Blacks in Government, and a great group of panelists - I want to conclude with a story about another civil rights pioneer-Congressman John Lewis-that took place here in Washington nearly two decades ago. Thirty years earlier, he and a group of others had eaten dinner at a Chinatown restaurant before setting off for the Freedom Rides. This night, I had the fortune of eating with him and about a dozen others in a Chinese restaurant.

The next day, about we departed from Washington. We'd heard about the civil rights movement and knew of its history, but did not experience it firsthand.

Together, we sat at the lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, completely unnoticed - where our presence would have caused a riot 30 years earlier.

I went to Birmingham, Alabama with James Farmer, the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and the initiator of the Freedom Rides.

He was in Birmingham for the first time since he'd been beaten in the streets of that city thirty years earlier. He was blind when he came to Birmingham and we had gathered in a church to hear him speak.

When I introduced him to the crowd, the applause was enormous. He couldn't see the folks out in the audience - he only heard them by their roar of appreciation.

And he turned to me and said, "I can't believe it. I'm being cheered in a church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama."

A few days later, we crossed the Pettus Bridge in Selma together. We walked the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965 - and together, we walked to the other side.

Dr. King famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long - but it bends toward justice.

I believe it does - but ensuring it does starts here.

It starts today.

It starts with each of us in this room and across the country working in common purpose. Working together - we can cross that bridge together. Looking out at all of you, in the coming days, weeks and months, I have no doubt we will.

Thank you.


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