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Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Denver Kickoff for the HUD Regional Planning Grant

Denver, Colorado
Monday, May 14, 2012

Thank you, Jennifer, for that introduction and for your leadership with “Dr. COG.” 

I’d also like to thank HUD’s own Rick Garcia -- who’s really putting the “regionalism” in “Regional Administrator.”

But most of all, I want to thank all of the local partners who are here with us today for their commitment to helping Denver not just recover from this historic housing crisis, but rebuild stronger and smarter than ever before.

All of you know that when the Obama Administration took office three years ago, we faced a crisis unlike any most of us had seen in our lifetimes.  753,000 jobs lost per month.  Home prices sliding for 30 straight months.  Foreclosures rising to record levels.

It was a crisis rooted not just in shady mortgage practices and phantom profits, but also in a culture in which lenders suggested that anyone could afford to buy a house -- so long as they were willing to move further and further away from the job centers where they worked.

Some called it “drive to qualify.”  But with the average American family spending 52 cents of every dollar they earn on housing and transportation costs, others saw it for what it was: a looming disaster.

That’s why at the same time we had to put a stop to the foreclosure crisis, we also needed to unwind this other crisis that was decades in the making.

And I’m proud to stand before you today and say we’ve made important progress on both.

Not only have we reduced foreclosure notices by more than half since the President took office. 

But most recently, the Administration and a bipartisan coalition of 49 state attorneys general reached a historic, $25 billion settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers that will provide help for Colorado homeowners, and hold the banks accountable for their actions -- not simply by cutting a check, but by helping homeowners once and for all.

But we know that is only one step toward turning the page on this era of recklessness -- and creating an economy built to last.

That’s why from the earliest days of this Administration, we looked to partner with places across the country that understood the importance of connecting housing to jobs. 

And of all the remarkable work we saw at the local level--from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City--Denver stood out.

Indeed, when HUD forged the Partnership for Sustainable Communities with our partners at DOT and EPA, we saw the work the Denver metro area was doing with FasTracks as a model -- for the kind of collaboration, smart planning, and catalytic investment regions need to be successful.

It wasn’t just that this region--home to 57 percent of Colorado’s population and two-thirds of state’s economy--was building more than 100 miles of new light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lanes, as extraordinary of an accomplishment as that is.

It was also that you had leaders from the 32 communities surrounding Denver proper working together.

Indeed, with the partnership of DRCOG, each of the diverse communities here understood that countries like China and India don’t see Denver and Arvada -- they see a single region, a single economy, a single competitor.

Well, we thought it was time the Federal government understood that, too. 

That’s why we’ve awarded $270 million in Sustainable Communities planning grants since President Obama took office -- helping communities and regions across the country undertake a new wave of housing, transportation, and land use reform.

These grants aren’t about telling communities what to do and how to do it -- but rather helping them realize their own local visions for success and for creating jobs.

Because when it comes to the way communities manage transportation, building and land use, it isn’t just federal barriers that get in the way -- but the fact that every community and jurisdiction has a different set of rules and regulations.

Of course, this audience also knows something else:

That you can’t have a truly sustainable community if everyone doesn’t have access to the kind of opportunity it provides. 

Across the country, we’ve seen how rising costs in the communities around transit-oriented development too often prevent the families who need it most from being able to afford to live there.

Indeed, with the Mile High Connects “equity atlas” Patrick Horvath and others have created, policymakers in this region have a critical tool to see for themselves exactly how lives are affected--and even shaped--by the design and development of our communities.

Indeed, efforts like these show why ensuring every member of this community has access to the jobs, good schools, and affordable housing the $6.7 billion expansion of FasTracks promises isn’t just the right thing to do for families.

At a time of scarce public funds, it’s also the smart thing to do for our economy. 

That’s why I’m pleased that the HUD awarded a $4.5 million grant last November to help DRCOG bring the Metro Vision regional framework to fruition -- helping you plan for the affordable housing and mixed-use, mixed income communities around these transit corridors that Colorado families need.

Making it possible will require the continued engagement of the business community -- building on the extraordinary work the Metro Denver Chamber did to get the FasTracks system funded to ensure everyone in this region can benefit from it. 

It also will require elected leaders here to roll up their sleeves once again and make the tough decisions necessary to get the job done.

For all DRCOG has already done to bring together leaders from the Denver Metro area, we will need you to do it again.

So, let’s be clear: this isn’t the end of the process, but in many ways very much the beginning.

But if the progress you’ve made thus far tells me anything, it’s that you know what President Obama knows:

That with our challenges so great, we can’t afford to have a single child on the sidelines simply because of the zip code they grow up in.

We need all hands on deck.

That’s what this grant is about -- it’s what the work you do every day is about. 

And it’s what creating an economy built to last is about.

So, thank you for this opportunity -- and for everything you do.