Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan Announcing Choice Neighborhoods Awards

Grove Parc Apartments, Chicago, IL
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thank you all for joining us today. It's great to be here as we announce $30 million in federal funds to revitalize the Woodlawn neighborhood -- and to do it with the champions for working families who made it possible, from Senator Durbin and Congressman Rush to Amy Anthony and Mayor Emanuel.

Indeed, I want to say a special word of thanks to the Mayor. From the very first time I met with Rahm when he was Mayor-Elect, he was focused like a laser on the importance of this project, and one of the major selling points was this Mayor's commitment to seeing it succeed.

This is an important moment for this community. We all know the challenges this neighborhood has seen for decades: disinvestment, failing schools, troubled housing, and little opportunity -- this despite being just blocks from one of the world's greatest academic institutions.

And ground zero for those problems is the housing development where we stand today: Grove Parc.

As difficult as these challenges are, they're hardly unique. Today, more than 10 million people live in neighborhoods just like this one. Research shows that one of the most important factors in determining whether or not children will do better financially than their parents is whether or not they grow up in a high-poverty neighborhood.

The fact that we can predict health, economic, and educational outcomes of children based on their zip codes is a tragedy.

But I'm here today because the Obama Administration believes this tragedy should never again play out in communities like Woodlawn.

That's why the White House has been pursuing an interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative that supports local leaders like those with me today who are working to transform distressed communities into the sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with the affordable housing, the safe streets and the good schools that every family needs.

At the center of this initiative is a tool called Choice Neighborhoods.

Choice Neighborhoods builds on the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program pioneered by HUD Secretaries Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros.

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.

Now, that's an impressive record. But with the five Choice Neighborhoods grants we are awarding to communities around the country, including Chicago, it's one we intend to build on.

With these funds, local leaders will be able to use the same mixed-finance tools HOPE VI used to transform not just public housing in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, but privately owned affordable housing like Grove Parc as well.

Of course, successful, stable housing is an important step toward building a healthy neighborhood -- but it's only the first. That's why our Choice Neighborhoods competition required winners to provide neighborhood children with high-quality educational opportunities and challenged them to use a portion of their award for early childhood education and after-school tutoring.

Indeed, by partnering with Hull House, the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, and the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community, the city will use its grant to build on local efforts to turn around poor performing schools and create "cradle to career" educational opportunities.

Not only that, with the extraordinary partnership of non-profits like Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc., this grant will help bring grocery stores, a youth center, and improved access to public transportation to Woodlawn.

With Amy's leadership, POAH have done outstanding work helping us preserve affordable housing in communities across the country -- and now their partnership will make a difference for families here at Grove Parc.

And with more than four times the federal investment already committed by partners including the University of Chicago and LISC--more than $133 million in additional funding--this grant shows why the real debate going on isn't whether government is big or small -- but whether it's smart.

Just as importantly, it recognizes that preparing students to compete in the 21st century isn't your responsibility or mine -- but a shared responsibility, whether we serve in government, work in the private sector, or at a non-profit.

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 the funds we award to communities like Woodlawn today, we will. Thank you.


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