U.S. Conference of Mayors
April 5, 2001
National Summit on Investment
in the New American city
Remarks delivered by
HUD Secretary Mel Martinez
"THE HOUSE WE LEAVE BEHIND"
Thank you Brent.
Let me begin by recognizing the importance of today's session.
This effort of mayors and corporate leaders keeps federal programs
grounded in what matters most - results in the streets of America.
In political Washington, results often take a back seat to partisan
politics. Five months ago, this city was paralyzed by the "endless
election" represented by that red and blue map, and all the talk
Then the new President came to town and reached across the aisle
to strike a new tone. Make no mistake, we have not seen the end
of politics. We have not seen the end of debate and differences,
nor would we want to.
But I think this administration does mark the beginning of what
could be a second era of good feelings. The Republican Party, once
led by people passionate in their conservatism, is now dominated
by a President who is com-passionate in his conservatism.
What does this shift mean? It means our party will no longer evaluate
our policies by abstract measures of efficiency, but rather by the
improvements we can bring to peoples' lives.
The Democratic Party has gone through a similar evolution, one
from the opposite direction. Years ago, the emphasis seemed to be
on the purity of one's good intentions. the leaders of the Democratic
Party today clearly care more about the effectiveness of good programs.
Again, real differences of philosophy and approach remain. But
there is now, at least, common ground for moving this country forward
with a new kind of results-based politics.
And as usual, what political Washington takes to be a bold idea
is really just following what mayors and community leaders have
been doing for some time. After all, it was one of you, Phoenix
Mayor Skip Rimsza, who pointed out that, "there isn't a Democratic
or Republican way to fix a pothole."
And it has also been you-the mayors of America - who remind the
comfortable segment of society just how many of our neighbors still
must struggle for decent, affordable housing.
Housing is more than a roof. It is the foundation that makes the
fulfillment of all other needs possible, from health, to work, to
education. It is the sturdy kitchen table on which parents review
their children's homework. It is no mere clich� to call home ownership
the American dream.
That dream is in danger of being squeezed. True, jobs have been
plentiful. But many Americans have found decent and affordable housing
near those jobs hard to come by.
When it comes to home-ownership, it's a good news/bad news statistic
that is all-too-familiar. The good news is that home-ownership rates
are in excess of 70 percent among non-minority households. The bad
news is that for African-Americans and Hispanics, home-ownership
is well under 50 percent.
A recent HUD report reveals that almost 5 million Americans who
earn less than half of median family income face a difficult choice.
They can pay more than one-half of their income for rent or utilities,
or accept grossly substandard housing - unclean, unsafe, unhealthy.
And the worst news of all is that the federal agency tasked with
rectifying this imbalance is, itself, dysfunctional.
Secretaries Kemp, Cisneros and Cuomo have labored mightily to
strengthen management of this department. We have bright and dedicated
people. But for all of this work, HUD still remains an agency with
serious management challenges.
One problem is mission creep. Over the last several years, the
number of programs at HUD have sharply increased, from 50 to a current
level of over 300. I doubt there is a single individual at HUD headquarters
who could name one-third of our programs -- managing these programs
is even more daunting.
Another problem is an emphasis on programs instead of people,
on dollars spent instead of results accrued. Let me give you one
example. Over the past ten years, HUD has spent $10 billion on homeless
programs. Yet over these same ten years, the rate of homelessness
remained constant - despite boom times across America. If any CEO
in this audience had that kind of record, you would be fired.
A final problem is a lack of responsiveness.
I recently visited our Kansas City office, where a senior-level
HUD employee told me that early in his career he operated like a
branch manager of a bank. He had real responsibility, made decisions
and reported back to headquarters about those decisions.
That same representative told me that instead of serving as a
branch manager with real authority, he has now been reduced to nothing
more than an ATM machine.
When our people lack power, they cannot give you straight answers
to simple questions. They cannot make even the most basic promises
for fear of being prevented from keeping them.
So I intend to put more decision-making authority in HUD offices
across the country, not just in Washington.
This conference has brought together the powerhouse names from
American finance to create public/private partnerships to foster
housing for working Americans - names like Citigroup, Bank of America,
the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, Fannie Mae, Freddie
Mac, American Management Services.
Mayors and CEOs are leading strong efforts. We will support your
partnerships. You've asked me to speak about how HUD can best be
a part of your efforts. I think what would be most appreciated -
more than any grant - is to simply be a responsive partner.
Like you, I was a local government leader, the Chairman of Orange
County, Florida. Years before that, I headed the local housing agency.
I know what it is like to deal with HUD from the customer side of
The President is openly and strongly committed to focused programs
and an efficient government that works. And we hold to our hearts
the belief that no task is so hopeless or complex that it cannot
be turned around.
We know this, because we've seen it done in cities across America.
A century ago, a British Ambassador to the United States reported
that "the government of cities is the one conspicuous failure of
the United States." Few would have disagreed with him then, or in
1961, 1971 or 1981.
In 2001, few would agree with such a statement. The government
of American cities is our nation's most conspicuous success. Hope
and progress have returned to the Washington of Anthony Williams,
the Jersey City of Bret Schundler, the Philadelphia of John Street.
Crime is no longer king in the New York City of Rudy Giuliani or
in the New Orleans of Marc Morial.
The Milwaukee of John Norquist and Chicago of Richard Daley are
exploring the nation's most spirited local debates on education
From Boston to Los Angeles, America is not one, but many, shining
cities on a hill.
This is an astonishing transformation, for no group of political
leaders has faced problems as ugly, as torturously complex, as the
ones you are overcoming.
How are you doing it?
The first thing you did was to insist on putting people and results
before process. taxpayers began to be treated like customers, not
You focused on the whole problem. You now use rates of recidivism
- whether it's the reappearance of potholes or the arrests of a
criminal - to measure your progress.
You don't think outside the box. You throw the box away.
For example, Phoenix police officers needed to understand some
Spanish and its nuances to be effective and sensitive to the community.
The traditional approach would have been classroom language training.
What did Phoenix do? It sent its police officers 300 miles south
to live with families in Hermosillo, Mexico, for two weeks of immersion
in Spanish language and Mexican culture.
More than anything else, you are mission focused. In City Halls
across America it is forbidden to say, "that's not my job." City
workers are trained to provide "seamless service," so callers are
handed off, never stranded.
When Mayor White of Cleveland began his third term, he was quoted
as saying, "our job is to deliver public services at the best possible
price - in the most efficient and effective manner - to improve
the quality of life throughout our city."
This may sound like basic stuff to you. Let me tell you, for much
of the federal bureaucracy it is management rocket science. This
is not because of our people. Our people yearn for more challenge
and responsibility. It is because we are encrusted by our rules
and encumbered by our process.
Like many of you, I approach my task by enunciated governing principles.
We have four of them at HUD.
First, our mission will be to serve people, not programs.
Second, we will have the discipline to stick to our mission. Mission
creep is mission death.
Third, we will be good stewards of our resources.
Fourth, we will observe the highest ethical standards. This means
more than prosecuting graft. It means rejecting the subtler corruption
of settling for good appearances rather than insisting on good results.
These are our governing principles. What is our mission?
Our first order of business is to restore credibility and accountability.
Many of you, when you first became mayors, took an inventory of
what you're doing well, what you're not doing well, and frankly
what is better left done by others. We will do the same.
We will seek the resources to do the job. President Bush has made
a commitment to our mission by proposing that HUD's 2002 budget
increase by almost $2 billion. As a former Governor, President Bush
knows what you know - what matters most is how money is spent, not
how much is spent.
That is why the President proposed that $200 million dollars be
directed to an "American Dream Down-Payment Fund" to target that
shameful shortfall of minority home-ownership. President Bush wants
to help 130,000 low-income working families clear that initial hurdle
of pulling together a down payment.
HUD will earmark an additional $105 million to help pay the utility
bills of public housing authorities and resident management corporations
blind-sided by skyrocketing utility costs and a winter that wouldn't
We propose to spend almost $200 million to add 34,000 Section
8 vouchers, providing additional safe, decent, affordable housing
to the disabled, elderly and low-income families.
The President also proposes that HUD raise the FHA loan limits
by 25 percent or more, the first increase in loan limits since 1992.
This is perhaps the single-most effective thing he could do to spur
construction of multi-family rental housing projects across the
I hope you can see that in just his first three months, President
Bush is moving fast with real solutions.
Of course, our programs alone are not enough. We need to prepare
this agency to be a more responsive partner to your public/private
I intend to restore decision-making ability and streamline processes
to empower local HUD offices and our regional representatives across
I will consolidate duplicative programs, and turn over those that
are properly the responsibility of other programs or departments.
Many rural programs are best done by USDA. Homeless cases in which
the root cause is drug addiction, alcoholism or mental illness should
go to HHS.
HUD will not be an ensemble social welfare agency. If we focus
on the things we are meant to do, we will do them far better.
On issues of growth management, I am going to continue the dialogue
I began as a county executive. Orange County has 13 municipalities
in the county, with more than half-a-million people living in the
unincorporated areas. For us, dialogue and cooperation between the
mayors, state legislators, and the governor was a matter of survival.
As the Secretary of HUD, I do not intend to become the "zoning
czar" of the United States. But I do intend to use the office the
President has entrusted to me to lead a national discussion on growth.
We need to make sure that the vibrant suburbs of today do not become
the failed cities of tomorrow.
I also see it as my part in this dialogue to be an advocate for
the President's ideas.
I will argue that the President's tax cuts, like his "single-family
tax credit," will help families struggling to put together a down-payment
for their first home, and encourage developers and non-profits to
make housing more available.
I will also be an advocate for broader tax cuts. When Philadelphia
cut taxes and red tape, it turned a $250 million deficit into the
largest surplus in city history. Four years in a row of cutting
the business and wage tax helped reverse a 30-year loss of jobs
from Philadelphia. Now Philadelphia is gaining jobs.
We know what has worked for city after city, from New York City
to Indianapolis. Why not a nation?
And above all, I will be an advocate of compassionate conservatism,
something many of us have believed even before we heard George W.
Bush adopt them as national watchwords.
Whether you call yourself a compassionate conservative or a hard-nosed
liberal, I am sure you agree that government cannot put hope in
our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives.
That is why we need to connect government to faith-based initiatives.
HUD will establish a resource center, a web site and the necessary
staffing needs to support all federal faith-based initiatives.
If there is one constant in American history, it is that profound
social awareness and progress has relied on institutions of faith.
This was true in 1776, when the spirit of liberty and rebellion
was spread from pulpits from Charleston to Boston.
This was the spirit of abolitionism, the underground railroad and
the civil rights movement.
This was the spirit of monsignor Brian Walsh of the Catholic Diocese
of Miami, who 39 years ago helped the children of persecuted families
escape Communist Cuba at the height of the Cold War.
This was the spirit of preachers, priests, and rabbis who made
appeals from pulpits across Florida-looking for families to take
in and love children whom they had never met.
This was the spirit of Walter and Eileen Young, who could have
sat quietly in their pew that Sunday morning, but instead raised
their hands and took me into their home for two years.
This was the spirit of June and Jim Berkmeyer who extended the
same kindness to me for another two years-until my family was reunited
This is the spirit of Jimmy Carter, every time he takes a hammer
and nails to build a house for Habitat for Humanity. This is the
spirit of Floyd Flake and Jack Kemp and Colin Powell and each and
every one of you.
It's as if we're all one big crew working together to build one
big house. We come to our task out of compassion, but we do not
expect God, history or the American people to judge us by our compassion.
For we know that those who will move into this house will not care
how well intentioned the builders were. They will care about level
floors, sturdy walls and a roof that won't leak.
We will be judged, as we should be, by whether or not we were
good builders. We will be judged by the house we leave behind.
Content Archived: March 11, 2010