Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Lafitte Ribbon-Cutting Event

Sojourner Truth Community Center, New Orleans
Friday, February 4, 2011

Thank you, Mayor Landrieu, for that introduction and your remarkable leadership of this city. In only one year, Mayor Landrieu has helped New Orleans make extraordinary progress as it continues on the road from recovery to revitalization.

I'd also like to thank Senator Vitter for being here today, and for his leadership. And Laverne Saulny is here representing Senator Landrieu, who I've had the pleasure of working with to help rebuild this great city.

And thanks to Alicia Glen with Goldman Sachs, who I'm thrilled to announce have committed to invest nearly $36 million to complete the second phase of the Lafitte redevelopment.

This is my seventh trip to the Gulf Coast since becoming HUD Secretary, and as we open Lafitte to residents across this city, it's certainly one of the most special.

Since President Obama took office, this Administration has made clear that we wouldn't let New Orleans fail -- that just as you have done your part to make this Great American City great once again, we would do ours.

A big part of that was making sure that every New Orleans family had a safe, decent, affordable home to live in. 

And in that time, with the bipartisan support of congressional leaders like Senators Vitter and Landrieu, I'm proud to say that we've made real, measurable progress.

Where far too many families were stuck in the middle of their recovery process when we took office, with renovations of their homes unfinished, today, by cutting through the red tape, we've helped 99 percent of families who qualified for federal assistance receive it.

We've torn down barriers to put nearly $600 million in rebuilding dollars in the hands of low-income homeowners -- $178 million since last August alone.

We've reduced the number of blighted homes in the New Orleans metropolitan area by 20 percent since December 2008 -- and every month families move into another 500 homes that were abandoned after Katrina.

Of course, we're here today because finishing the job of recovery also means providing more affordable housing. 

Let's not forget that when we first came into office, not a single family had returned to the Big Four public housing developments severely damaged during the storm -- not one. 

Today, we're reforming the Housing Authority of New Orleans. All of the Big Four complexes are under construction, and nearly 700 families have moved in. 

That's progress.

Indeed, we have provided more federally-assisted housing in New Orleans than there was before the storm, providing more than 12,000 affordable homes in New Orleans since taking office -- nearly a third of which have come online in the last six months alone.

And as I just saw for myself on the tour of Ms. Leslie Johnson's new home, beginning today, hundreds of families can once again start to call Lafitte home, as hundreds have already done in Columbia Parc and Harmony Oaks.

Providing one-for-one replacement housing to the more than 800 families who lived here prior to Katrina, when completed by June of next year Lafitte will feature 1,500 affordable and market rate rental and homeownership units -- more than a third of the 4,000 mixed-income homes included among the "Big Four" sites currently being redeveloped.

And so, today we send a clear message: that HUD is committed to providing affordable housing for every family.

That this is a new era, not only for residents of public housing, but for public housing itself and for the way HUD partners with communities to provide it.

And it's particularly appropriate that we celebrate this new era here at a Community Center named after a woman with a remarkable legacy of fighting for racial justice.

We honor Sojourner Truth's legacy by ensuring that some of this community's most neglected residents can return home, and that they are re-integrated into the fabric of the community free from discrimination -- whether in New Orleans East or St. Bernard Parish. 

Of course, the reason we can celebrate today is due to the Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credits -- and I want to thank Senator Landrieu and Senator Vitter for their vote to extend those credits another year as part of President Obama's bipartisan tax cut package.

Because of their leadership, work will continue on more than 6,000 affordable homes along the Gulf Coast.

Just as important, their leadership means we will support more than 13,000 construction-related jobs -- strategically investing in the infrastructure our communities need to grow and thrive.

But as important as that extension was, it was only for one year. To ensure this important work is completed and these developments get across the finish line, we need those credits to be extended one more year -- and I'm grateful to Senator Landrieu and Senator Vitter for introducing legislation that would do just that.

Of course, the President's bipartisan tax cut package is also providing $110 billion in payroll tax relief for families, ensuring that every one of the families who will move into this development is getting the boost they need.

That reminds us that we can't stop at providing the quality affordable housing families need -- families also need access to opportunity, to earn a decent paycheck, and to support their children.

We all know that for too many New Orleans families, long before the storms hit, that simply wasn't the case -- which is why moving from recovery to revitalization isn't just about building back what was here before the storm. 

It's about making this city stronger than ever before, and providing the foundation for opportunity that all the residents of New Orleans deserve.

Indeed, that's what the BioSciences District that's currently being planned just next door to Lafitte represents.

Just yesterday, I spoke to business and community leaders in the BioSciences District about how we can make sure the opportunities the district will provide reach families that live here -- that they have the job training they need, and that local businesses have the incentives they need to hire them.

That discussion reaffirmed my belief that Lafitte, this neighborhood and this city can be a model for the rest of the country -- for the kind of sustainable, comprehensive community development neighborhoods and regions need to have a built-in competitive edge when it comes to attracting jobs and private investment.

I believe that by working together to cut through the red tape and forge partnerships, we can ensure that the homes these families return to provide not only shelter -- but the kind of hope and opportunity worthy of this Great American City.

President Obama said in his State of the Union that our challenge today is to "win the future." 

Well, I believe that winning the future starts at home -- and with these investments and the leadership of those standing with me today, New Orleans is going to prove it.

So, thank you to everyone here today for making this day a reality -- and for making this community whole again. Thank you.   


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