Preservation: Now and in the Future
National Affordable Rental Housing Symposium

THURSDAY, MAY 24, 2007

Thank you. Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming to this symposium.

I'd like to thank Brian (Montgomery) and Frank (Davis) for all their good work.

And, my thanks to the moderators and panelists. I've looked at the list of presenters - quite an impressive group. I see we even got Ken Conine. Everyone, thank you -- your views are much appreciated.

I believe that affordable housing must stay a national priority. It is vital for millions of people. From New York to Los Angeles, San Antonio to Seattle, those with limited means must have their place in the city, too. The cities cannot become exclusive communities of the rich and well-off�havens of wealth and privilege. We cannot allow people with lower incomes to be disregarded and eliminated. We must not let millions of Americans be priced out, moved on, and then shipped off. Affordable housing is where many of our teachers, firefighters, nurses, policemen, and service workers grow together, and even grow old together. Our cities are great only if they are diverse: open to people from all races, classes, and incomes.

We must use our public and private partnerships to increase the development and preservation of affordable housing.

And we must examine all available information on the need for affordable housing.

Earlier this week, we submitted a report to Congress with the latest data. The report is the tenth to Congress on what are called �worst case rental housing needs.� As most of you know, these needs concern unassisted renters with very low incomes (below 50 percent of area median incomes) who pay more than half of their income for housing or live in substandard conditions. The report found that in 2005, the last year in which we have complete data, the total number of low-income households experiencing critical housing needs was just under 6 million. This is about 5.5 percent of all American households. Most of those in need were elderly or families with children. A rather important finding was that half a million of these families are headed by a person with a disability.

It is unacceptable that so many hard-working families are still struggling to find homes or apartments within their budgets. It is unacceptable that so many people are forced to commute long distances, or live in sub-standard housing, or reside in over-crowded conditions.

We should keep this in mind: almost all of these 6 million Americans said that they were having trouble simply affording the rent. It wasn't about the availability of housing in almost all cases. It was about affordability in the rental market. The study found that the most important factors were increased housing costs, income problems for families, or rental increases.

Now, I realize that, for most people, the American Dream is about homeownership. But homeownership is neither wanted by every person, nor affordable for everyone. There is an obvious demand to keep the market we have - and expand it. That means renovating affordable housing, whenever possible. That means building affordable housing, whenever practical. That means opening up current non-rental properties as affordable housing, whenever workable.

We need to come up with innovative solutions, like the Harmon Pines facility I visited in Las Vegas a week ago. An agreement between Clark County and the Department of the Interior led to the construction of a 100-unit affordable housing facility for seniors there. Another facility is already under construction and I believe more will follow.

There are places where we can take a stand. Recently, I've worked to preserve Starrett City, our nation's largest affordable housing complex. And this happened because a bipartisan coalition of people came together - Representative Ed Towns, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Shumer, and I all joined forces. I was pleased that we could identify substantial common ground on affordable housing. Nelson Mandela has called such bonding �a joining of hands.� He's right. And I believe that we need to join hands often to truly preserve as many units of affordable housing as possible.

We see such a joining of hands here today. And I believe that the pieces are in place for substantial promotion of, and protection of, affordable housing.

It is appropriate to consider the federal response. The largest component of HUD's budget is for affordable housing. You might say that we are in the �affordable housing business.�

All across the country we see burdensome regulations, excessive fees, and out-of-date building codes as barriers to affordable housing. Development is often expensive, and that expense is passed on to the renter or homebuyer. HUD studies show that excessive regulations can increase the cost of housing by 35 percent - maybe more!

In this century, our citizens expect us to do better. They want a modern, efficient, compassionate, and effective government response. In a computerized, digital, virtual age, people expect the government to be pro-active and ahead of the curve, not reactive and lingering behind, buried in bureaucracy.

So HUD created an effort called �America's Affordable Community Initiative.� We did this in 2003. The program is working with state and local governments to cut red tape and reduce regulatory barriers. In fact, over 120 communities have heard this call for action and are taking steps to remove excessive and burdensome regulations.

This is a very promising effort. In fact, the department will be making a significant announcement on this �Call to Action� next month. But the key thing is that government must work harder to catch up and then get ahead. We must be leaders in innovation and responsiveness, educating our citizens about new and better services.

We need to do all that and more. The President's new budget offers some powerful ideas for expanding affordable housing availability.

For example, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program is one of our most successful efforts. Since 1992, more than 600 communities have built almost 762,000 affordable housing units. The President has asked Congress for almost $2 billion for the HOME Program in the coming fiscal year. These funds would help finance land acquisition, new construction, rehabilitation, down payment opportunities, and rental assistance.

Another effort is HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is providing approximately two million low-income families with subsidies to obtain affordable housing. This is a substantial national commitment. The President has asked Congress for $16 billion in the next fiscal year, coupled with some changes in the program that would allow for housing authorities to assist even more families.

The President has also proposed eliminating the cap on the number of families each housing authority is allowed to assist. By better utilizing all appropriated funds, this change would allow the program to assist at least 180,000 more families. Think what that will mean for each of those families. It is a smart move�makes government more responsive and gets more assistance for the money. That kind of approach can make a substantial difference.

The President also wants to make sure that housing tax credits are preserved. Each year, housing tax credits produce about 100,000 affordable units. Since its inception, tax credits have funded more than 1.3 million affordable units of housing.

HUD will also continue its successful implementation of the Public Housing Capital Fund Financing Program. As you know, this program allows public housing authorities to borrow from banks or issue bonds using future Capital Fund grants as collateral or debt service.

And I want to add that seniors and Americans with disabilities deserve independent lifestyles without having to worry about affordable housing. The President's new budget proposes a significant change that would eliminate regulatory barriers to mixed-finance arrangements, including low-income housing credits and other creative options to help develop more units of affordable housing.

These are all important actions and I strongly urge Congress to pass the President's request!!!

I'm willing to listen and to learn. Affordable housing is my background�my life�a professional interest. It is my passion�and I know it is your passion, too

In my case, in three cities, in three different jobs, I've worked for affordable housing for over 30 years. I've talked to hundreds of thousands of tenants, property managers, owners, lenders, government officials, advocacy groups, and service providers. I've walked miles of hallways, been invited into many apartments, smelled a lot of home cooking, and worked the paradoxical pathways of government to help people with limited means find a home. I've done this because our cities must have safe, secure, healthy, and respectful affordable housing. We all work to promote and protect affordable housing because it is the right thing to do.

It is about a joining of hands. Affordable housing is a measurement of what we can do together. Here, together, let's make a passionate - compassionate -- national commitment to affordable housing even better.

Thank you again for coming.


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