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Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
“A Year of Progress: Building a Stronger HUD for the Next 50 Years”
Monday, July 27, 2015
Washington, DC
 

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much, Nani, for your kind words and for all the great work you’re doing as Deputy Secretary. 

You’ve brought incredible energy and passion to HUD, and I’m proud to call you a partner and a friend.  

I’d also like to thank Assistant Secretary Kathy O’Regan for that powerful presentation.  Kathy and HUD’s entire leadership team make important contributions every single day.

I’d like them to stand and be recognized. 

A special thanks to Betsaida Alcantara, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, who is leaving HUD this week to join the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

She has been an invaluable asset to our entire organization and I know I speak for all of us in wishing her all the best for the future.  

I’d also like to thank our honored guests who spoke earlier for sharing their stories. 

They’re proof that our entire nation wins when people have access to opportunity, and I’m grateful to them for joining us. 

We’re also joined today by policymakers, staffers from Congressional and Mayoral offices, service providers and other vital partners.  Thank y’all for being here.   

Your collaboration means so much to all of us at HUD, and we’re deeply appreciative of your partnership. 

Finally, I’d like to recognize the folks who make HUD such a force for progress: the employees here at headquarters and at every one of our 64 offices around the nation. 

Your dedication, your talent, your effort is what makes us an effective champion for those we serve.  It’s a privilege to work with you, and I appreciate all that you do. 

One year ago this week I had the honor of being sworn-in as the 16th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to leave behind a city I cherish, a job I loved, and so many family and friends.

But I felt compelled to take on this new role because opportunity shouldn’t be a luxury.  Because every American deserves a chance to share in and contribute to our nation’s prosperity. 

Because when we invest in people, we invest in our future.  And because our nation cannot afford to limit any person’s potential in this increasingly competitive 21st century global economy.

HUD plays a vital role in making these goals a living and breathing reality for families from New Mexico to New York. 

On my first day here I called HUD “The Department of Opportunity” because of the unique impact we can make on the lives of all Americans. 

50 years ago President Johnson said that our work could give “every family a home of dignity, a neighborhood of pride and a city of hope.”

Every day we help families secure quality, affordable housing, and ensure that opportunity doesn’t stop at the front door — connecting folks with the jobs, schools, transit options, green spaces and other assets they need to thrive. 

So HUD is more than just housing.  It’s education and transportation.  It’s economic development and the environment.  It’s about giving folks the tools to build a brighter future.

And every one of our 8,000 employees should take pride in knowing that before we shutoff our computers, turn off the lights and leave the office today, we’re going to help a person get off the streets and into housing.

We’re going to work with local leaders to create strong neighborhoods. 

We’re going to help spark economic growth — whether it’s building a house on a construction site, installing solar panels on a rooftop, or improving a city’s infrastructure. 

And we’re going to come back tomorrow morning, turn the lights and computers back on, get to work and make a difference once again. 

This much is clear: HUD matters.  In fact, as Kathy showed, our work is as important as ever. 

Our economy has changed since our Department was created in 1965.  Many Americans have lost their jobs to a machine.  The competition for businesses is no longer just across the street — it’s across the globe. 

Many folks feel it’s getting harder and harder to reach the middle class, and HUD must do business in a new way to help folks succeed in this new age.

We’ve got to make housing a platform that families can use to get the skills and tools they need to make it in the 21st century. 

And I’m proud to say that—building on the work of former Secretary Donovan—it’s been a year of progress.

Our opportunity agenda has made homeownership more affordable for responsible families. 

In January we lowered the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance premiums because hard-working folks shouldn’t be priced out of the American Dream.  Everybody who is ready to own a home should be able to own a home.

Now, more folks like Tameka and Paul can put down roots and build wealth for themselves and their children. 

We’re also helping strengthen the housing market — existing home sales are at their highest level in 8 years.   

And we’re going to keep taking steps to ensure that FHA continues providing a pathway to prosperity for the American people.

HUD’s opportunity agenda is also bringing our nation closer to a goal that was unthinkable years ago: ending homelessness.  Too often in the past, a person sleeping on the street was an accepted part of the urban landscape – like a streetlamp or a newspaper stand. 

Our nation cannot stand for this, which is why President Obama created Opening Doors, the first federal strategic plan to end homelessness.  

In just four years, chronic homelessness has fallen 21%, and veteran homelessness has dropped 33%.

And when folks like Nick and Porsche are thriving, our communities are better off, and our entire nation is stronger. 

Mayor Parker from Houston and Mayor Landrieu from New Orleans have proven that our ambitious goals are possible to achieve, and HUD is going to keep working with our partners until that day when we can all open up our newspapers and read the headline: United States ends homelessness — once and for all. 

Our opportunity agenda is also striving to shape a housing market that values, respects and welcomes all Americans. 

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was created to ensure that every person has an equal chance to access quality housing — no matter who they are, what they look like, how they worship or where they’re from.   

Earlier this month, HUD released its new Affirmatively Furthering Housing Rule to fulfill the full promise of the Fair Housing Act — promoting greater housing mobility with housing choice vouchers and empowering local leaders with new data to prioritize investments in their communities.   

And we’re going to work with our partners to give folks, regardless of their background, the chance to contribute to their full potential — today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

But in this 21st century global economy, these efforts require more than just housing and other community assets — it also requires access to the Internet, and the world of knowledge and enrichment that comes with it. 

Technology has transformed how we live, learn and work, but not everyone has been able to participate in these developments. 

Less than half of the poorest American households have a home internet subscription — and think about the barriers they face in a world where 90% of college applications and 80% of job openings with Fortune 500 companies are done through the web.

We’ve got to give everyone a fair shot, which is why HUD launched ConnectHome two weeks ago. 

Working with public, private and non-profit partners like Reba Watkins and EveryoneOn, this effort will accelerate broadband Internet adoption in 28 communities, and help up to 200,000 children gain access to the life-changing opportunities that are available online. 

It’s going to provide broadband and electronic devices to young people living in public and assisted housing. 

And it’s not just making the Internet more accessible, it’s also making it more meaningful for students and their parents by offering technical assistance and digital literacy training so they can make the most of this opportunity.   

At a time when folks can learn and do business with the swipe of a screen, we can’t allow young people to be held back because they don’t have broadband.  Now, thanks to ConnectHome, many of them will never fall behind. 

Finally, we’re working to ensure that the opportunities I’m talking about reach every corner of our nation — from big cities, to small towns, to Indian Country.

Last September, I had the privilege of visiting tribal communities in South and North Dakota.  I saw firsthand how their housing needs outpace available resources — in one instance I saw 17 people living in a four-bedroom house. 

But I was also struck by the resilience and pride that exists in our tribal regions. 

Every single day, Native Americans make important contributions to our national life, and HUD is proud to work with folks like Nick Tilsen to forge a better tomorrow.

He already talked about how HUD has helped fuel growth in Thunder Valley.  To build on this progress across the nation, last year I announced $60 million in funding for more than 90 tribal communities to improve housing conditions and enhance community development. 

We expanded HUD-VASH to invest $4 million in helping Native American homeless veterans secure housing.  And we’ll keep working with our partners to ensure that tribal communities get their fair chance to realize the American Dream.   

And this is just some of what we’ve accomplished.  No one speech can ever capture the full scope of our work.  No words can adequately express the difference we’ve made in people’s lives. 

But it’s clear: our efforts over the past year have spurred progress block-by-block, community-by-community, nation-by-nation.  

And it’s only been possible because of the talented HUD team.  The dedicated public servants who work across the nation are the reason why our Department is such a powerful agent of change.  And when they’re given the support and the opportunities they need, our entire nation benefits. 

That’s why I’ve been so focused on building a stronger HUD — creating new efforts to help our employees learn new skills, to find new opportunities so they can apply those skills, and to grow into positions with more responsibility.

And we want to keep supporting our employees, and that begins by encouraging them to make their voices heard. 

To reiterate what Nani said, I’m proud that HUD’s response rate to the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey jumped from 51% last year to more than 73% — the highest in our Department’s history and the second-highest increase ever in the Federal Government.

And over the next year and a half, we’re going to keep striving to make HUD a better place to work, to integrate this opportunity agenda with HUD’s core business, to continue to make housing a platform that helps folks achieve a better quality of life, and to better measure our outcomes so that we can make a more powerful case to Congress about why HUD’s investments matter. 

None of us can accomplish this work alone — it takes collaboration.  It takes all of you.  So I want to end where I began: by offering my deepest gratitude to all of you.

Thank you to the HUD family for welcoming me, and for all that you do on behalf of the American people.

Thank you to our stakeholders for your support, your guidance, and your commitment to our common goal: a strong housing market that provides opportunity to everyone. 

And my thanks to all of you in advance for the great things we’re going to accomplish over the next 543 days. 

Ralph Abernathy, the Civil Rights icon, once said “I don’t know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future.”

Well, I know that the next chapter for our nation’s communities will be written, in no small part, by everyone listening today. 

Let’s ensure that this chapter represents a time when opportunity is expanding and prosperity is rising.

A time when every American has access to quality housing in strong communities.

A time when we helped struggling families gain new hope for the future.

And a time when we ensured that the 21st century was another American century. 

Thank you very much.