Prepared Remarks for Secretary Shaun Donovan's Press Call Announcing Choice Neighborhoods Grants

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thank you, Melody. You've blessed us with outstanding leadership at the Domestic Policy Council. 

As President Obama has said, there is no greater economic policy than one that invests in our children's future and helps America out-educate the world. 

But quite frankly, that's not possible if we leave a whole generation of children behind in our poorest neighborhoods. 

Today, more than 10 million people live in what we call "neighborhoods of concentrated poverty" -- surrounded by disinvestment, failing schools, troubled housing, and little opportunity. 

Research shows that one of the most important factors in determining whether or not children will do better financially than their parents is not their family's economic status, but whether or not they grow up in a high-poverty neighborhood. 

In fact, we can predict health, economic, and educational outcomes of children based not on their talents, abilities or how hard they work -- but on where they live.

On their zip codes.

And that's a tragedy. That is why, as Melody said, the Obama Administration has been pursuing an interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative

At its center is a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization tool called Choice Neighborhoods. 

First funded by Congress in 2010, Choice Neighborhoods builds on the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program pioneered by HUD Secretaries Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros and championed by congressional leaders like Senators Kit Bond and Barbara Mikulski. 

With strong bipartisan support, HOPE VI has created nearly 86,000 homes in healthy, mixed-income communities that were once troubled by distressed public housing -- leveraging twice the federal investment in additional private development capital and raising the average income of residents by 75 percent or more.

That's smart government.

And today, the Obama Administration is building on that success -- awarding Choice Neighborhoods planning grants to 17 communities around the country and announcing six finalists for implementation grants, to whom we will be providing additional guidance within the next week. 

With these funds, communities will be able to use proven mixed-use, mixed-finance tools available to transform not just public housing as HOPE VI did, but all kinds of federally-supported housing in poor neighborhoods.  

Of course, a healthy neighborhood depends on more than successful, stable housing. That's why the Administration has tied Choice Neighborhoods to the Department of Education's Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

While Secretary Duncan will describe that effort in more detail in a moment, where Choice Neighborhoods' focus is on troubled housing, Promise Neighborhoods works to ensure there are good schools and quality learning opportunities at the center of these neighborhoods, from cradle to career. 

In a community like San Antonio, you can see how this partnership will provide the framework and support to ensure that children growing up in Choice Neighborhoods have access to high-quality educational opportunities. 

As San Antonio's Choice Neighborhoods planning grant helps the city revitalize its Wheatley Courts public housing development, its Promise Neighborhoods grant helps improve schools in that same East Side neighborhood.

Local leaders like San Antonio's Mayor Castro long ago recognized their work to transform housing and improve schools is most effective when localities can align their resources, break down barriers and cut through the red tape. 

And with each of San Antonio's grants bringing the same consortium of local and national partner institutions to the table--organizations like the United Way, the Urban Land Institute and Trinity University as well as the local housing authority and school district--this funding helps make that possible.

And with our agencies working together to leverage an array of untapped assets in those communities--from transit lines that connect housing to jobs, to nearby hospitals and universities--we can help communities take this approach to scale across the country.

That is why we are asking Congress to authorize the Choice Neighborhoods initiative permanently. 

Not only that, to meet the extraordinary demand we have experienced from communities across the country but were not able to support with current funding levels, we are partnering with the Education Department to match communities with the most promising applications to philanthropies who want to help -- and can.

Our partnership is but one powerful example of how the Administration's Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is helping government invest smarter and more effectively -- so we do more of what works and stop doing what doesn't.

It recognizes that all of us--government, businesses, schools, and communities--are responsible for preparing students in every neighborhood to compete in the 21st century.

As President Obama has said, "If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community." 

To out-educate the rest of the world and win the future, we believe we must -- and with these tools and the funds we announce today, we will.

Thank you. And with that, let me introduce my Cabinet colleague and partner, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.


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