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National League of Cities

March 12, 2001
Remarks prepared for delivery by
HUD Secretary Mel Martinez

Thank you Mayor Archer for your kind words of introduction. I admire the work you have done in revitalizing Detroit and I salute your leadership of the National League of Cities.

I want to begin by saying a few words about the President's recently announced budget and tax relief proposals.

As you know, last week the House of Representatives passed the President's tax relief plan. This was a big victory for the American taxpayer.

Americans want tax relief. Three new polls confirm that there is strong support for fair and responsible tax relief.

Americans need tax relief to spur economic growth and get our economy moving again.

And Americans deserve tax relief. Americans have been paying too much of their hard-earned dollars in taxes. It's only fair that we let families keep more of their money. After all, it was their hard work that created the surplus in the first place.

Tax relief will benefit cities by allowing working families to keep more of their money to meet their priorities...whether it is saving for a child's college tuition or helping with a downpayment on a new home.

The President firmly believes that now is the time for tax relief. And most Americans seem to agree with him.

This is a compassionate budget. And it is a responsible budget. The President's approach keeps spending in line with inflation while meeting the nation's most important priorities.

As the President has said, there is no greater priority than education. Our children are our greatest investment. They are our legacy. Education is the first step out of poverty and into a world of opportunity.

That is why President Bush has made his greatest investment in the Department of Education with a nearly 12 percent increase in its budget.

There will be increased funding for reading programs that will open the doors of learning for a lifetime.

And more money will be available to recruit and train the teachers who are so critical to a child's educational development.

The President's budget also makes sure that:

  • Social security and Medicare are strengthened and preserved.
  • A prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors is created so that no one will have to choose between buying food and buying medicine.
  • Our national defense is strengthened and the quality of life for military personnel will be improved.
  • Funding for the national institutes of health will be doubled to aid researchers as they attempt to solve the mysteries of life's deadliest diseases.

After meeting the nation's priorities and putting money back into the pockets of taxpayers, the President uses the remaining surplus to pay down all the possible debt that can be paid. That comes to 2 trillion dollars over 10 years.

I understand the struggles that many of you here today encounter in dealing with the problems of America's cities.

But I'm here to share with you some good news for you and your citizens.

I am pleased to report that President Bush has made a strong commitment to building communities and improving housing opportunities for those in need.

Our agency's budget will increase by nearly 2 billion dollars this year, which is a 7 percent increase.

Let me give you an example. As you know, Section 8 housing vouchers are vital in assisting low-income families find decent housing. We will renew all existing section 8 housing vouchers and increase the number by 34,000. This will help 1.4 million families meet their rent payments each month.

We are also fully funding several programs that I know are of great importance to you who work hard day after day to make our cities more livable.

One such program is the Home Investment Partnership Program, which allows local governments the flexibility to design and implement their own strategies to address the problems of affordable housing.

Community Development Block Grants are another tool at your disposal. That too is being fully funded this year. These grants are the building blocks that empower local governments with the tools for neighborhood revitalization and economic development.

I believe that the key to community renewal is home-ownership. If you help a family buy a home, you are helping to make better citizens.

The good news is that home-ownership rates are at an all-time high at over 70 percent. The bad news is that the home-ownership rate for african-americans and hispanic-americans is below 50 percent.

We can do better. And we must do better.

We know that the biggest obstacle to home-ownership is putting together a down payment on a house. President Bush seeks to remedy that problem by setting aside money to assist up to 130,000 families with his American Dream Down Payment Fund. The President's plan will provide 200 million dollars to match down payments by third-party lenders.

Homeownership is not just about putting a roof over someone's head. It's about transforming lives. This plan will make that happen.

As we look for ways to move people into home-ownership, we must make sure that affordable housing is plentiful. To this end, President Bush has introduced his Single-Family Tax Credit Plan.

This investor-based tax credit will encourage developers and non-profit organizations to build new single-family affordable houses or rehabilitate already existing houses.

This tax credit will help bridge the gap between development costs and market prices, which will expand opportunities for low-income home buyers. We estimate that within 5 years, 100,000 homes will be built or rehabilitated under this plan.

Affordable housing goes hand in hand with the effort to revitalize America's poorest communities. We need to encourage private investment in distressed communities so that people will have good-paying jobs that allow them to find the right home for their families.

I am very excited about the new community renewal legislation that congress passed last year.

The legislation creates 40 new 'Renewal Communities.' These new zones will spur investment in some of America's poorest communities by using various tax incentives and wage credits. It also adds 9 new empowerment zones.

As new businesses invest money and create jobs, these communities will be transformed from places of idleness and despair into places of enterprise and new hope.

There is even more positive news in our budget for some of the neediest in our society.

We are increasing our funding to state and local governments by 20 million dollars to meet the specific housing needs of individuals with AIDS.

We will also increase funding to assist with lead-based paint removal to protect our children from the dangers of lead poisoning.

We will continue to fund homeless assistance programs that aid those with the most pressing need for shelter.

We will also increase funding by 17 percent for fair-housing enforcement to make sure that the blight of discrimination does not prevent any American from gaining access to the home of their choice.

In addition, I want to work closely with local officials to reduce the regulatory burden of our grant application process.

As a former county executive, I know the cost and complications that this red tape can create. The process is too complex. It is too cumbersome. And it must be changed. I will work to improve how we deliver services; particularly, I will look for ways to give more authority to our regional and local HUD offices.

But the President has also given us another task: to be good stewards of our resources, so that we can improve the effectiveness of our programs.

That is why I have made improving the management of my Department the number one priority of my first year.

As a former consumer of HUD services, I realize that mismanagement prevents the Department from being the partner that you want us to be.

I want us to be disciplined in how we approach the task of managing this Department. New programs have increased by the hundreds in recent years. Yet I'm not sure that we have seen much of an improvement in the effectiveness of the services that we provide.

Once we have put our house in order, I believe we can more effectively implement our agenda.

At the core of this mission is an innovative and exciting way to forge a new partnership between the public and private sectors.

I am talking about President Bush's faith-based and community initiatives. Some believe that the answer to meeting our social needs is to rely solely on the federal government. Others say that government has only a limited role to play in solving these complex problems and would totally rely on the private sector.

I think the President has outlined a third way. A better way.

The Bush administration is committed to working with faith-based groups in lifting up the neediest among us. In the past government has not embraced this opportunity for partnership.

There are some things that government cannot do. I know faith-based organizations can transform lives.

As someone who arrived in America in 1962 as a teenage refugee from Cuba with the help of catholic charities, the faith-based initiative is also an idea close to my heart.

There is no reason why we in government can't be partners with them.

As the President has said, we want to "release the armies of compassion so that no American is left behind."

Already in my travels I have seen faith-based groups in action. For example, in Philadelphia, 'Project Home' is a faith-based program that helps chronically homeless men and women break the cycle of poverty and despair. This has been an incredibly successful program, where families have been touched and communities transformed.

My Department will take a lead role in implementing the President's faith-based initiative. We will serve as a clearing-house for information on faith-based programs.

As you can see, we have an ambitious agenda. But it is one that I am confident we can fulfill.

The last decade has seen much progress for many of our urban areas. The credit for this belongs to you mayors and city officials.

But there is more work to be done. Some Americans have not shared in the recent good economic times. And serious problems still plague our cities.

Let us use these keys that you have given us today to help unlock the doors of opportunity for America's cities and make the promise of the American dream a reality for all Americans.

Let us work together as partners to fulfill the challenge that President Bush put forth in his inaugural address: to build a nation of justice and opportunity where citizens join hands in creating communities of service.

Thank you.

Content Archived: March 11, 2010

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