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Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting “Rewriting the Rules: Making Change Happen in a “What's Next?” World”

Colorado Convention Center, Denver
Friday, October 19, 2012

Thank you, Marc.  I want to thank all of my fellow panelists for joining -- and ULI for hosting this discussion.

Today, I want to discuss our work together to build stronger, more inclusive, resilient and sustainable communities -- and why this work is inseparable from our need to create jobs and an economy built to last.

I want to describe this work is happening at three different levels -- and I want to explain how this work is all coming together right here in Denver.

Greening America’s Homes

The first is at the building level.  With the Recovery Act, we made an unprecedented commitment to greening America’s homes.  Fully a third of HUD’s Recovery funding was used to green our housing stock. 

Three years later, not only have HUD and the Department of Energy partnered to retrofit 1.3 million homes, but HUD has also made energy and healthy homes improvements to an additional quarter million homes. 

These improvements include everything from installing Energy Star refrigerators and water-saving fixtures, to deep green retrofits to tens of thousands of homes that save up to 40 percent in energy costs. 

These investments not only save money for residents and owners alike. Just as importantly, they create jobs and train a new generation of professionals who are ready to build, install, repair and maintain clean energy technologies -- from mechanics and electricians to plumbers and construction workers.

Colorado has been one of the leaders in these efforts -- and right here in Denver’s La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood you can see that commitment for yourself.

While Tapiz has already used a $10 million Recovery Act grant to create one of the greenest buildings in one of America’s greenest cities--certified LEED Platinum--the South Lincoln redevelopment next door is on track to cut energy costs in half.  

Of course, each of us knows that we aren’t going to green America’s homes on government dollars alone.

Real change requires a market transformation with leadership, solutions and capital from the private sector. 

That’s why we launched FHA PowerSaver--the first federal financing program focused on single-family home retrofits--and Green Refinance Plus -- a joint effort between HUD’s Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae. 

While PowerSaver, which we are piloting here in Colorado, allows homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes, Green Refi Plus provides the insurance coverage and underwriting multifamily owners need to make green improvements.

Tools like these not only save money for owners and renters alike, while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.  Just as importantly, they reflect President Obama’s belief that real change requires a market transformation with leadership, solutions and capital from the private sector.  

Building Strong, Resilient Neighborhoods

But this audience knows that sustainability is about a lot more than green energy -- and buildings.  It’s also about strengthening neighborhoods to ensure those homes are socially and economically sustainable.

After all, it’s no coincidence that the places that faced the brunt of the economic crisis and had the highest foreclosure rates and the deepest job losses, often had the most troubled housing, the poorest performing schools, the least access to transportation, and the far too little economic opportunity.

And if this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that fixing America’s poorest neighborhoods isn’t just a moral problem.  With 1-in-5 kids living in poverty, costing us $500 billion per year, every year, 4 percent of GDP, it’s an economic problem as well. 

Today we can predict a child’s lifespan not by their education or by their parents’ financial position -- but by their zip code. 

It wasn’t long ago that La Alma-Lincoln Park seemed as if it would always be one of those neighborhoods. 

Despite being adjacent to the city’s Santa Fe Arts business district--and within walking distance to the city’s Auraria college campus, its Performing Arts and Convention Centers--the neighborhood was plagued by troubled housing, crumbling infrastructure, deep poverty, and far too little connection to the opportunities around it. 

At the center of that distress was an 18-acre public housing complex -- and a multifamily property right next door.

But with leadership at the local level--and partnership at the federal level--Denver is showing how quickly things can change.

Partners here came together to develop a comprehensive revitalization strategy. 

While the Housing Authority worked to transform public housing into healthy, mixed income housing, the city work with its transit agency which owned the adjacent property, located on a Brownfields site, to build affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, and those with disabilities.

And what made this partnership unique is that it didn’t see the existing neighborhood as a “disease to be cured.”  Rather, leaders saw local assets as something to build on.

Nor did they tell residents what they needed.  Instead, they began by listening -- by asking people in the neighborhood what kind of community they wanted. 

And wouldn’t you know it, what residents wanted was to be a part of all the vibrant, innovative, green development around them that makes Denver a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Today, those two properties form the centerpiece not of neighborhood distress and concentrated poverty -- but of a creative urban community that will house a youth culinary academy, a community resource center, and a nonprofit that will provide job training for young people in the arts. 

South Lincoln and Tapiz--the same two properties I mentioned a few moments ago for being leaders in green building--are not simply a part of this neighborhood transformation -- they’re anchoring it.

What has transpired in La Alma-Lincoln Park is more than just a model for the kind of sustainable development ULI is known for.  It’s also the model for President Obama’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides communities with proven tools to create mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods.

Choice Neighborhoods transforms not just public housing as HOPE VI did, but all kinds of federally- supported housing in poor neighborhoods -- and ultimately, the neighborhoods themselves.

Strengthening Regional Competitiveness

Of course, Denver has also reminded us that the challenges of sustainable development aren’t something you address block-by-block -- that it’s only when these investments are connected to the broader regional economy that their true potential and value are realized.

And no opportunity in this region holds more potential than FasTracks -- the more than 100 miles of new light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lanes being built here in the Denver Metro.

That’s why, two years ago, HUD awarded Denver a grant to help develop affordable housing along FasTracks. 

As developers, you understand that affordable housing depends on access to affordable land.

The resources provided by our Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant helped seed a land acquisition fund -- the first tool of its kind at the federal level to help communities to fund land acquisition, to help developers of affordable housing get out ahead of the market.

The need is obvious.  Today, Americans spend 52 cents out of every dollar they earn on housing and transportation.

And with this region home to 57 percent of Colorado’s population and two-thirds of its economy, Colorado literally can’t afford to have communities fighting amongst themselves for jobs and economic development. 

China and India don’t see Denver and Arvada -- they see a single region, a single economy, a single competitor.

That’s why, last year, we provided the Denver Regional Council of Governments with an additional $4.5 million regional planning grant on the strength of its work in La Alma-Lincoln Park, the execution on FasTracks, the efforts on the acquisition fund in the city, and the leadership of the Metro Mayors Caucus led by then-Mayor Hickenlooper and the District Council of the Urban Land Institute.

These resources ensure the housing and infrastructure investments I’ve described reach not just La Alma-Lincoln Park -- but all 32 of the communities that surround the city.

Since President Obama took office, we’ve awarded $270 million in Sustainable Communities Grants to support local efforts to ensure that all Americans can afford to live in communities with access to good jobs, schools, and transportation options.

By providing the tools communities need to plan and build consensus, these tools play a critical role in clearing barriers to private investment -- ensuring communities have plans in place and are putting money behind them and have the proper infrastructure coming online. 

With Sustainable Communities grants having been particularly instrumental in helping to shift the marketplace toward the building products that ULI members develop to create walkable, mixed use urban centers, we need your help to push Congress to fund these grants for the future when they return after the election.

We need you to make your voices heard -- loud and clear.

Housing and Communities Built to Last

And so, we’ve made critical progress these last three-plus years -- making a historic investment in green building, beginning to reverse the cycle of disinvestment in our poorest neighborhoods, and helping communities recognize that when they solve problems as a region, everybody wins.

Obviously, the job’s not done -- this is just the beginning.

But with your partnership and commitment, we can continue to create jobs, create opportunity and build the kind of economy where everybody gets a fair shot, does their fair share and plays by the same rules.  Thank you.