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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Content Archived: March 11, 2010