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U.S. Conference of Mayors
National Summit on Investment
in the New American city

April 5, 2001
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 of gridlock.

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´┐Ż 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 counter.

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 reform.

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 like cattle.

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 quit.

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 country.

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 efforts.

I intend to restore decision-making ability and streamline processes to empower local HUD offices and our regional representatives across the country.

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 in America.

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.

Thank you.

Content Archived: March 11, 2010

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