Thank you. It is an honor to be here today.
I want to underline HUD's commitment to Americans with disabilities. My department is dedicated to the expansion of affordable, accessible, and integrated housing options for all Americans.
This is our common purpose.
I have just left a very beneficial meeting with ADAPT representatives. I have learned much from our time together. Those meetings highlight our common purpose.
I have tremendous respect for this organization, for your efforts to promote the values of inclusion, integration, and independence. I grew up under segregation, ...and fought segregation, ...and know the effect of segregation, ...and understand the long reach of segregation. I understand only too well the importance of your struggle and your success.
You should know that, as Secretary and as a civil rights advocate for my entire adult life, I will not stand for discrimination or segregation in any fashion, in any form. Discrimination against Americans confronting disabilities is intolerable. We cannot excuse it. It is illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral.
I will fight it with you...we will work together...for all Americans.
Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act is one of my highest priorities. In fact, we investigated more than 10,000 housing discrimination complaints last year - a record. But it's not a record to really be proud of because it means, even in 2006, discrimination is alive and well. And unfortunately while 40 percent of those complaints alleged racial discrimination, nearly the same percent alleged discrimination against persons with disabilities. For example, just last week we charged a landlord with violating the Fair Housing Act. The landlord refused to rent a house to a mother and her children. Why? Her son's disability!!! That is just one case among the many under investigation.
I asked Bryan Greene, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, to come with me today. He and Assistant Secretary Kim Kendrick have been strong advocates for prosecutions under the Fair Housing Act. As you all are well aware, under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504, housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. They must change their rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.
As I said, we are serious about enforcement. For instance, last July, we obtained a settlement for a resident who alleged that a Housing Authority violated the law (Fair Housing Act and Section 504) by refusing to transfer the resident to an accessible unit. The tenant was refused the transfer after having provided medical documentation for an accessible apartment. We need to remain steadfast in enforcement. And we will be.
I know we can work closely together. I welcome your efforts to identify violators of the law. I applaud ADAPT's efforts, and thank you for all you do to promote fair housing and integrated housing. I support your work to bring people out of institutions and into integrated community-based housing.
Choice is vital. Institutions or nursing homes should never be the only choice. We also need to have options for community-based housing. This is why the "Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Initiative" (MFP) is so important. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) awarded $1.75 billion to the states.
There is still a lot of work to be done. HUD recognizes the five-year time limitation. We vow to do our part to transition as many people with disabilities living in institutional settings into communities. For example, in October, with notably strong support from ADAPT, I sent a letter to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) seeking support for MFP. I encouraged the PHAs to set local preferences to use Public Housing units, and Housing Choice and Mainstream Vouchers, to promote MFP. I am having our Public and Indian Housing staff carefully assess the outcome of that letter. I would like to see how many people with disabilities have community-based housing as a result.
Let me mention a few other actions. In March, a member of my staff spoke about MFPs at the New Freedom Initiative Conference in Baltimore. We heard from both consumers and providers about how best HUD can assist with the Initiative.
Later in March, HUD staff, along with CMS representatives, participated in a conference call with more than 100 housing and service providers. We outlined all the options available to the state MFP awardees. In addition to vouchers, we emphasized the potential benefit from working with state housing finance agencies. We must access HOME dollars and local housing trust funds. We must also promote the development of accessible units using housing tax credits.
Additionally, I have staff working to assess the effectiveness of the Public and Indian Housing Notice to PHAs. You probably know that the notice stated that that incremental vouchers under the One-Year and Five-Year Mainstream Programs shall, upon turnover, be made available to non-elderly people with disabilities. We are checking to see that these vouchers are being re-authorized to the directed recipients. I firmly believe that these vouchers were meant to house people with disabilities, and they should be doing just that. We will also let you know if it is possible to prioritize and direct these voucher to MPF state grantees.
Lastly, we proposed in our 2008 Budget a Section 811 Demonstration Program that has a strong focus on integrated housing options. The intent is to leverage 811 dollars with other funding sources, such as housing tax credits. Doing so will increase the production of 811 units ... units that may serve MFP consumers. The program by its very nature promotes integration. It seeks, for example, to subsidize about 10% of a 200 unit tax credit development. In developing this program, we benefited from the input of ADAPT members.
In closing, I want to reiterate that HUD stands strong in our commitment to doing our part to make MFP a success. Please continue to share your thoughts on what we can do to be of further assistance. Those thoughts are welcome.
I look forward to continuing the dialogue.
I hear you when you say "Free Our People."
Forty-six years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Lincoln University, my undergraduate college. He said that one of the great challenges of our time is to find the wisdom to match our constitutional vision of equality with technological advancements. He said, "We must all live together; we must all be concerned about each other."
In the end, the battle against discrimination is a fight for respect, regard, equality, fairness, and justice.
It is a battle for our constitutional promise.
It is recognition of our common humanity and what Dr. King called "our inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny."
This is a fight we will wage together...and win together