Symposium 0n Affordable Housing and
Historic Preservation


Thank you, Darlene [Williams], for that kind introduction.

It's great to see you all again. I had the privilege of joining many of you in Puerto Rico a year ago. And while the setting today may not be as glamorous-unfortunately-we do have a lot of progress to report.

This symposium is the culmination of three years of hard work by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The Guidelines are published, and I thank you. Now we're in the next phase, working together to implement them.

Although he was unable to be here this morning, I want to recognize Chairman John Nau, President of the Council; Vice-Chair Susan Barnes; and all the members of the Council for their great work....

I also want to thank the Office of Community Planning and Development, under the leadership of Nelson Bregón....

Finally, I wish to thank the public interest groups that have worked with us to find new ways to provide affordable housing. Their efforts are always appreciated.

As cities become more crowded, as land becomes more scarce, and as buildings age, rehabilitation of historic residential properties makes a whole lot of sense. It houses families, creates jobs, attracts businesses, and stabilizes communities.

So we share the goals of the Council. We believe in increasing the number of affordable housing units. And we believe this is an integral part of community revitalization.

That's why the new guidelines are so important. You say that "rehabilitation can be an important historic preservation strategy."

I agree. Those who say we must choose either preservation or affordable housing are wrong. It's a false choice!

We must show communities affordable housing is in everyone's interest, and can lead to an improved quality of life for neighborhoods and the people who live in them.

We must also change the way we think. Here in Washington, the term "historic neighborhood" conjures up images of Georgetown, or Old Town Alexandria.

For some, it also conjures up that old perennial, fear of gentrification.

But cities have many modest buildings that are decades old but overlooked. They can make fine first homes. And they are close in, saving energy and reducing commuting times.

HUD has found that by tapping these historic buildings for residential purposes, we can improve our stock of housing without pricing people out of the market.

I also appreciate your call for flexibility and consensus building. Too often, the development process turns potential friends into adversaries. We must be responsive to local conditions as we work to meet national standards.

Finally, we must use common sense in meeting those standards. The Guidelines contain practical and time-saving principles to help people comply with the Section 106 review process. I appreciate the Council's ongoing work to educate people about 106.

These Guidelines offer a fresh perspective as we embark on change. And change is what is needed.

We have changed at HUD. Gone are the old days of concrete high-rises and concentrated poverty.

Today, we have mixed-income families in mixed-use, residential areas. We're working with states and localities, using Community Development Block Grants to revitalize neighborhoods and lives.

We've asked states and localities to change as well. Excessive regulations can increase the cost of housing by 35 percent or more. And it's not unusual to see five-year waits to gain all necessary permits and approvals.

The result? Frustrated developers turn to more upscale markets, cities hesitate to label buildings historic, and working families are once again priced out.

It should not be this hard to do the right thing!

That's why we launched the America's Affordable Communities Initiative. We're working with 150 state and local governments to cut red tape and reduce regulatory barriers to affordable housing.

And our Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse enables states and localities to share solutions. Many are contained in HUD's two-volume collection of best practices.

Last year we rehabbed more than 117,000 units of owner-occupied housing, with help from our HOME program and Community Development Block Grants.

And our Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Tax Credit offer real incentives to provide affordable housing.

We take our cue from the President. He has demonstrated a real commitment to helping low-income and minority Americans find decent places to live and raise a family.

We're on our way to meeting his goal of 5.5 million new minority homeowners by decade's end-yes, despite the housing slump.

And we're big believers in the Preserve America Initiative, chaired by the First Lady. When you preserve historic sites, you create new economic opportunities. This is good for cities.

Once upon a time I was Mayor of Syracuse. We worked with HUD to rehabilitate neighborhoods and expand the pool of affordable housing.

I quickly realized that, behind all the statistics and categories, it's about helping people-police officers, firefighters, teachers, service workers, and retirees. In other words, our neighbors.

I know you "get that." And I thank you for striking the right balance.

Thank you all for coming.

Content Archived: December 27, 2011