Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan before the Solutions 2013: National Conference on State and Local Housing Policy

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Atlanta, Georgia

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much, Christine (Oliver), for that kind introduction and for all your great work, both in Chicago and around the country.

Please allow me to also thank John Kelly, Chris Estes, and all those at the National Housing Conference for their incredible leadership and service.  

For decades, this organization has done great work to advocate for, and advance critical housing issues.

As a former NHC board member, I have been fortunate to see this work up close, and greatly appreciate our continued collaboration during my time as HUD Secretary. And I deeply appreciate your invitation to be a part of this 2013 Solutions conference. 

Finally, I want to thank all of you in the audience for the extraordinary work you are doing in communities across the country. 

This room is full of champions of change who, in so many ways, embody the best of public service. You've seen the needs of your neighborhoods, and have taken action to address them. 

You've designed new solutions to tackle old problems. You've enhanced access to affordable, quality housing for families.

In short, you've made lasting contributions. And while your work has always been critical, it has never been more important than in recent times. 

Five Years Ago: The Financial Crisis

Five years ago this week, a near financial collapse on Wall Street turned the recession already hurting Main Street into a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis. As President Obama said yesterday: "it's hard to remember everything that happened sometimes … but in a matter of a frightening few days and weeks: some of the largest investment banks in the world failed, stock markets plunged and the auto industry was flat-lining."

At the time, I was a Commissioner for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City. As many of you know, he has a bullpen setup, with no walls, so that his leadership team can easily interact and collaborate together.

As part of this setup, there is this giant TV screen, which has this ticker listing updates from across the city - like the number of complaints that have been answered and the number of potholes that have been filled.

And on the day the House of Representatives took its initial vote to rescue the financial industry, I vividly remember all of us gathering around the TV to watch. When it became clear that the measure had failed, Mayor Bloomberg uttered four words that I'll never forget: "the world is ending."

I could offer statistics to illustrate the crisis, but with you, I know I don't have to. You were on the frontlines and saw the stress and anguish this crisis caused for families and communities across the country. 

The President saw it and felt it, too, and took bold action to address these challenges. To prevent a depression, the President signed the Recovery Act, which saved 7 million people from falling into poverty and more than a million from homelessness. To ensure that every American can get health coverage they can afford, he signed the Affordable Care Act - with open enrollment starting on October 1st. 

To provide struggling families with relief, the Making Home Affordable Program was launched and has helped 7 million homeowners get government or private mortgage modifications. To help hard-hit areas, HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program has allocated $7 billion to thousands of neighborhoods, in all 50 states, to address foreclosed and abandoned homes, an effort on track to support close to 90,000 jobs and treat over 100,000 properties.

To help communities deal with these complex challenges, HUD launched an Office of Housing Counseling which, working with partners across the nation, has helped roughly 9 million families make the best possible decisions as they prepare for the future. 

Through these and other efforts, all of us in the Administration have been working tirelessly to bring relief to families, rebuild communities and turn our economy around. 

I know you have been doing the same in your communities, often in the face of difficult challenges. And together, we have made real progress for individual families and the housing market as a whole. 

Foreclosures are down. Home prices are up. Home equity is growing. Confidence is coming back. And many Americans have finally been able to move forward with renewed hope and optimism. 

All of us in the Administration are proud of the progress we've achieved with partners like you in the first term. 

But make no mistake, we know the job is not done. As long as there are families who are hurting, there is still work to do.  

That's why President Obama is determined in this second term to accelerate the recovery by ensuring that everybody, who works hard and plays by the rules, has a fair shot to succeed and prosper.  

To give them that shot, he has been traveling across the country outlining his plans to secure a better bargain for the middle class, and all those trying to get there.

Better Bargain for the Middle Class and Those Trying to Get There

As the President has said, our economy is at its best when it is growing from the middle out, not the top down; and when opportunity is available to the many, not the few.

Unfortunately, for decades, it has been getting harder and harder for people to lift themselves up into the middle class. Until this changes, our nation cannot achieve its full promise. 

President Obama knows this, and has made reversing this trend a top priority. In fact, affordability and opportunity were key pillars in the housing plan he released last month.

First he outlined steps that should be taken immediately to increase access. For those who already own homes, he renewed his call for Congress to pass legislation that would allow millions of responsible families to refinance, saving as much as $3000 per year.

For the millions who are ready to own, but are being denied access because lenders are reluctant due to uncertainty, the President stressed the need to create clear rules of the road that will encourage lending to qualified buyers.

And for those who chose not to own, he has pushed for the use of important tools, like the low-income housing tax credit, to finance affordable housing.  

Taking these immediate steps, and the many more outlined in his plan, will go a long way in accelerating the economic recovery.But this alone is not enough.

In addition to focusing on what we can do today, the President is also looking to the future to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.

Never again can we allow communities to be held hostage to the extreme booms and busts we just went through. Instead, we've got to build a rock-solid, new housing finance system that will secure homeownership for families ready for it.

This system is guided on four core principles:

  • That private capital should be at the center of this new system.
  • That we need to wind down Fannie and Freddie and put an end to their "heads we win, tails you lose" model.
  • That we ensure widespread access to safe and responsible financing like the 30-year mortgage.  
  • And that affordability and access, both for home ownership and rental housing, remain unshakable tenets moving forward.

As part of this work, it is critically important that affordable housing advocates make clear that housing finance reform yield a major, multi-billion dollar fund for the production of affordable rental housing.

This would build on the years of work done by the National Housing Trust Fund coalition - of which so many of you have been a part. And I urge you to make your voices heard for this cause.

Another area where we need your voice is in supporting the Federal Housing Administration. 

That's because, as you all know, FHA has been critical to opening doors for low, and moderate income families. And during the housing crisis, it helped keep the dream of homeownership alive for families by providing much needed liquidity to the nation's mortgage finance markets.

In fact, economist Mark Zandi has said that if not for the FHA, "the housing market would have completely shut down." 

Of course, like nearly all mortgage market institutions, FHA sustained significant losses due to the distress in the housing market. But the Obama administration recognized this early on, and took swift and effective action to protect the FHA and the American taxpayer alike.

As a result, FHA is currently insuring the strongest loans in its history. And as some debate its future, I ask all of you to make your voices heard about the importance that FHA plays in your communities, and for the country.

I also ask that you stand up and speak out on behalf of the President's housing plan. There are some who think that nothing can get accomplished in DC anymore. But not the President.

He believes this can happen. And so do I. So let's get this done for communities, for the economy, for the nation, and for the future.

Working With Local Partners

Of course, getting things moving in Washington is only one way to achieve progress. As all of you show every day, tremendous progress comes from the grassroots level, as well.

In fact, most of the time, the most innovative ideas and work don't come from the halls in some government building. It comes from local leaders like you. 

Unfortunately, for a long time, the federal government didn't get it. When it came to promoting opportunity in our poorest neighborhoods, the disconnected, one-size-fits-all federal approach of the last half century didn't solve these problems, but often deepened them. 

This audience is all too familiar with the sight of rebuilt public housing surrounded by failing schools, plagued by rampant crime or even by other troubled housing, rife with the kinds of lead hazards and asthma triggers that make kids sick.

As President Obama has said, we can't treat the symptoms of poverty in isolation. We needed a comprehensive approach. So we have ushered in a new approach, knowing that the best way the federal government can maximize outcomes in our neighborhoods is to work with local leaders and help them build on their local visions. 

Of course, while this may be a new concept to the Federal government, it isn't new to you. Long before this President took office, this audience recognized that a comprehensive approach based on partnership was essential - that rebuilding educational opportunities for children trapped in poor neighborhoods was just as important as rebuilding the neighborhoods themselves. 

That tackling problems like homelessness and long-term unemployment in these places was inextricably tied to families' ability to access health and workforce training services in those neighborhoods. 

Perhaps most of all, you understood that when government does not act alone—but as a leader among private, local and non-profit partners, these goals don't just begin to take shape.

For the first time, they become achievable. 

That's what's happening with our efforts like Strong Cities, Strong Communities and our Sustainable Communities Initiative. It's also happening with the Rental Assistance Demonstration, which is helping public housing authorities tap the private market to make physical improvements to their units - enabling the kinds of investments and uses we know are essential to a healthy neighborhood. 

We launched this effort last summer for a simple reason: the need. In the last 15 years, the country has lost at least 170,000 affordable homes to sale or demolition.

There is a backlog of over $25 billion in capital needs for public housing. And the nation continues to lose approximately 10,000 units of public housing units annually, primarily due to disrepair. That's what makes RAD such an important effort.

We have already approved nearly 24,000 units of housing in need of recapitalization, and are actively reviewing applications for another 15,000. We anticipate hitting the statutory cap of 60,000 units well before the calendar year.

The applications we've approved thus far have the potential to generate nearly $816 billion in private sector investment support about 12,000 local jobs in communities nationwide.

RAD represents more than just a new way of preserving and improving affordable housing for future generations. It represents a sea change in how the Federal government partners with communities and the private sector to make progress possible in areas that have been historically overlooked.

Another example of this, in the first term, was the President's Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Bringing together five agencies across the Federal government, including HUD, the goal of the NRI has been clear: to support the work partners like you are doing to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income communities with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools every family needs.

At the center of this effort is Choice Neighborhoods, which as you know builds on the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program. 

Indeed, with the partnership of so many of you, HOPE VI has created nearly 100,000 units of mixed income housing, roughly half of which are public housing. It has also leveraged twice the federal investment in additional capital. That's success. 

And with Choice Neighborhoods - many of you have been full partners in the transformation, using proven mixed-use, mixed-finance tools to build on that success, revitalizing not just public housing, but all kinds of federally-supported housing in poor neighborhoods. 

Since 2010, Choice Neighborhoods grants have leveraged over $2 billion in additional capital to create new schools, park space and transit options, and improve public safety. It's forged dozens of partnerships between not only housing authorities and owners of multifamily housing, but also school district, universities, police departments, and hospitals. 

And with the President's Promise Zones initiative, we want to take this kind of place-based work to the next level. Under this effort, the Administration will partner with many of the communities most impacted by the economic crisis.

Together, we will work with them to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities and reduce violent crime. 

Obviously, HUD will play a significant role in the housing piece through our Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment program.

The Department of Justice will work to keep communities safe, because nobody can parent, and no child can achieve, when they live in a combat zone.

The Department of Education will be making sure that local school districts are providing the elementary and secondary education public school students deserve. 

Across the Administration, we are all pitching in to make this happen - and have called for increased funding for these important initiatives. That's because we deeply believe that this can and should serve as a model for others to follow.

And we ask for your partnership, your input, and your support of this work to transform communities and our nation as a whole, as we continue to rebuild from the economic crisis that devastated so many families. 


We've come a long way in the five years since the financial crisis hit. The world did not end. 

We avoided an economic collapse. We stabilized the housing market. And many families have turned the page on a very painful chapter in their lives.

Now, we've got to look towards the next five years. We've got to ask ourselves: what we are going to do to ensure that the next five years are worthy of all our greatest hopes and ideals.

To me, the answer is clear.

We've got to speak up to secure a better bargain for the middle class, and all those trying to get there. We've got to speak up to build a rock-solid housing finance system for the future so that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.

We've got to speak up and ensure that reform produces a major, multi-billion dollar fund for the production of affordable rental housing.We've got to speak up to ensure that efforts like Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones get the resources they deserve. 

So I ask all of you to spread the word to your communities, your colleagues and your Congress Members.

Let them know about the importance of these efforts. Let them know about the great things we've accomplished together. And let them know about the great potential that lies ahead.  

All of us in the Obama Administration will continue to fight for you and support the great work you are doing. You are out there innovating. You are out there making a difference. And I look forward to working with all of you for many years to come to open new doors of opportunity for every community.

Thank you.


Content Archived: February 24, 2017