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National League of Cities
Annual Congressional Cities Conference

Remarks prepared for delivery by
Secretary Mel Martinez

Washington, DC
Monday, March 11, 2002

Good morning, and welcome to Washington. Mayor Anderson, thank you for your kind introduction. To my friends from Florida, it is always great to see you, especially, Glenda Hood, my mayor.

As you know, you are visiting Washington on a significant day of remembrance� the six-month anniversary of a day that changed America itself, and changed the way Americans see ourselves in the world.

I just attended a very moving ceremony at the White House, where the President and Cabinet remembered September 11th in the company of the many heroes the events of that day inspired: rescue and recovery workers� military personnel, back home after serving in Afghanistan� local first responders� and the families of those who died at the Pentagon.

Since the attacks, our national priorities have changed dramatically. Your priorities at the local level have changed as well. Our cities have added the task of fighting bioterrorism to the other daily problems you face� and you have come through it remarkably strong. Your work is critical to the safety and security of every American. The National League of Cities and its members have my thanks for the job you have done.

Before coming to HUD, I served in elected office at the local level in Florida, so I know that you have a difficult and demanding job. I know the issues you face because I dealt with them every day. I understand how important it is that local communities have the freedom to make their own decisions� and a federal government that listens. The relationship between HUD and our city partners is important to us, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve it and provide better service.

I am proud of the active partnerships HUD has formed with your members. Through these partnerships, we are making our communities better places to live, work, and raise a family.

HUD's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year represents an increase of about seven percent over the previous year. At a time when every dollar is precious, and the cost of homeland security is necessarily consuming many federal resources, this shows the President's commitment to improving housing and communities.

That commitment begins with our focus on increasing homeownership, especially among minority families. From wealth creation to family stability, homeownership helps build good communities.

The Census Bureau reported that more Americans were homeowners last year than at any time in this nation's history. The downside is that there is still a long way to go before minorities match the gains made by the homebuying population as a whole. President Bush is concerned about this issue and we are working to improve the situation.

There are four homeownership priorities in the budget that I want you to know about:

First, by quadrupling the American Dream Downpayment Fund to $200 million, we are targeting assistance to families who cannot meet the cost of a down payment. Each year, the fund will help an estimated 40,000 first-time, low-income homebuyers overcome high down payment and closing costs. All of the 200 million is new money to be administered through the HOME program.

Second, we are tripling funding for the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program - known as SHOP - to $65 million. SHOP will support the construction of some 3,800 homes for low-income Americans through programs like Habitat for Humanity.

The third new effort will allow low-income families to put up to a year's worth of their Section 8 rental vouchers toward a home down payment. And finally, we have proposed making housing counseling, which is an invaluable tool for prospective homebuyers and renters, a separate program, funded at $35 million, with $15 million new money in this important program.

Now I want to turn to a challenge that puts a great strain on American cities: homelessness. As you well know, at least 600,000 people in this country - particularly in our large cities - are homeless on any given night.

Homelessness is not unique to any one state or region. The problem is not a partisan issue, either. Solving it will require the combined resources of the federal government, state and local governments, and the many community based organizations that partner with us.

HUD is the primary provider of targeted assistance to homeless people, and has the lead federal role in the area of shelter. We support thousands of homeless shelters and other assistance centers around the country, and we have spent the past year working to strengthen these partnerships even further. Yet, despite Washington's massive investment in solving the challenge of homelessness, too many Americans are still suffering.

HUD is undertaking a major initiative dedicated to helping homeless Americans get the care and shelter they need. I have issued a challenge that we end chronic homelessness within the next ten years� and this goal can only be achieved with your help.

We awarded a record $1 billion this year to fund homeless assistance programs. Our commitment will increase next year, through $1.1 billion in funding the Administration has proposed. HUD intends to double funding for the Interagency Council on the Homeless, which President Bush reactivated to better coordinate the work of the many federal agencies that provide funding for homeless services.

The White House recently named Phil Mangano as Council director. Phil came to us from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, and we are glad to have him on the team.

To streamline the delivery of funds to local and non-profit organizations, we have called for converting three competitive homeless assistance programs into a single block grant.

Under today's grant process, these three programs each have different eligible applicants, different eligible activities, different match requirements, and different grant terms. It can be difficult for local organizations to negotiate the many complex and inflexible layers. The bottom line is that we are giving you more flexibility so your communities can succeed.

In addition to providing more flexibility to communities, this streamlined approach to awarding funds will cut the time it takes to get a grant out the door from 18 months to three.

This new approach will give local jurisdictions more control over the allocation of resources. It will cut the red tape, workload, and expense generated by the three competitive programs.

I want to make one very important point about HUD's Community Development Block Grants, because as you know, they can be used to provide supportive services for the homeless, as well as fund group homes and shelters. We have increased CDBG formula grants next year by $95 million, to $4.4 billion.

Also, we are following through on a request by Congress to target CDBG funds to lower-income persons. We have proposed changing the distribution of these formula funds by reducing the size of grants going to wealthier communities - those with per-capita income two times the national average. This will help get dollars into communities where they are needed most.

These are just the first steps in what will be a long-term commitment to solving the challenge of homelessness. This new approach demands that we fundamentally change both the way we think. But we are excited about the opportunities ahead� and we will be looking to you, as the leaders of America's cities, to bring your voice and guidance to the debate.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together in just the past year. Through our partnership, we are helping to house the nation's low-income elderly� disabled individuals� and AIDS patients. We are protecting children against the hazards of lead-based paint� providing financial advice to homebuyers� and revitalizing rundown public housing complexes.

We have designated 40 new Renewal Communities, to encourage innovative partnerships between government and the private sector in areas where jobs and housing are hard to find.

And we have dedicated tremendous energy and resources into helping one of the greatest cities in the world - New York City - rebuild and recover following the terrorist attacks.

Working in partnership with the city and New York State, HUD quickly delivered the single largest grant in our history: $700 million to invest in New York City's future.

During the coming year, we will build on each of these commitments to America's cities.

I understand that this is not an easy time in many of our cities. You have been forced to make tough choices in deciding how best to serve your residents. You have had to reallocate resources that are already scarce, in the same way that the federal government has had to shuffle its resources, too. You have been asked to respond to new threats� and be prepared for the unknown threats yet to come.

And you have� and you will continue to meet these challenges, because America's cities have always risen to the challenges presented by the times. HUD is proud to have you as our partners. We look forward to expanding and strengthening our relationships in the coming years, as we work together to bring out the best in our people� and the best in America.

Content Archived: March 11, 2010

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