June 24, 2009
Thanks so much, Janie, for your introduction and for the Partnership for Public Service's commitment to attracting talented and passionate young people to the federal government. We are so grateful for the Partnership's engagement in our recruitment process and thank you for recognizing the critical need for new blood in the Federal government.
And to the HUD interns, welcome to Washington – welcome to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Welcome to where the action is.
That may sound funny coming from a HUD Secretary. After all, this has not always been the most prominent of federal agencies.
But you could not have picked a more exciting or important time to intern here. Like so many of you, I stood in awe of President Obama's passion, energy, and ingenuity on the campaign trail. That energy and passion— and that excitement about change—is actually one of the reasons I was so thrilled to be given the opportunity to serve in President Obama's Cabinet.
If the reason you came to Washington is to make a difference, HUD is the place for you.
If you care about reducing poverty and making sure every American has safe, affordable place to call home, HUD is the place for you.
If you were inspired by President Obama's experience as a community organizer, then HUD is the place for you.
If you're interested in stopping the foreclosure crisis putting the American Dream at risk for millions of families, HUD is the place for you.
If your passion is green jobs, alternative energy and sustainable development, then HUD is the place for you. Indeed, with 40 percent of our carbon emissions coming from our homes and buildings, HUD is going to be a big part of President Obama's efforts to address climate change.
Right now, HUD literally stands at the forefront of the Administration's response to some of the nation's biggest challenges.
Think about it. In just over four months, we are drawing upon the funds and ideas in President Obama's Recovery Act to get our economy moving again while also making a down-payment on our long term needs.
We're helping families hardest hit by the economic crisis.
We are providing support to American homeowners. HUD is on the frontlines of implementing the President's Making Home Affordable Program, which will help millions of homeowners in the coming years.
We are getting funds out the door quickly to communities who have borne the brunt of the foreclosure crisis, and who have suddenly been faced with block after block of run-down buildings and foreclosure notices.
Through the Neighborhood Stabilization and Community Development Block Grant Programs, we are providing avenues for local leaders to tackle foreclosure at the neighborhood level and to bring vibrancy back into people's homes and communities.
We're also putting a much bigger emphasis on affordable rental housing—something I imagine our interns would appreciate—and shifting our focus around homelessness to actually preventing it in the first place.
You have an opportunity this summer to play a big part in our efforts to help our communities recover, while helping us take historic steps to strengthen our communities for decades to come.
We've created the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to coordinate and integrate our housing and transportation systems. Our new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative will link housing more closely with school reform and early childhood innovations.
These efforts are all motivated by a similar principle:
When you choose a home, you also choose the schools your child attends.
You choose transportation to work.
You choose a community.
I believe we can create a geography of opportunity and equity for all Americans. But we have to start doing it now. Our population is expected to grow by another 50 percent in the first half of this century – another 120 million people requiring another 200 billion square feet of homes, office buildings and other construction.
This mix of serious challenges and unique opportunities makes for an exciting moment to join HUD's ranks as summer interns.
You've already taken one step in the direction of public service – and I hope you will keep your eyes, your minds, and your hearts open this summer to the possibility of public service after you graduate.
There won't be a lack of opportunities here at HUD. Forty-three percent of the HUD workforce is eligible for retirement as we speak. Nearly 6,000 positions potentially opening up in the next few years and so many challenges ahead. And so, the need to attract young people just like you is absolutely critical.
My own decision to enter public service may seem obvious now, but it wasn't always that way. You might be surprised to learn I wasn't eager to enter the ranks of government when I left school.
In fact, when I left graduate school, I felt that I could make the most impact in the non-profit sector and joined a community housing lender and developer. Later I worked in the for-profit sector and even spent a wonderful year in academia as a visiting scholar.
But the sad truth is that at my graduation from the Kennedy School of Government, I never considered government a place where I could make a difference. It was only by luck that when my professor and mentor from graduate school asked me to join him at HUD during the Clinton Administration that I entered government.
Even then it was a hesitant decision. Some of you may know that I have a joint degree from Harvard in public policy and architecture.
In my early months at HUD, as I struggled to find my way, I remembered the words of Frank Lloyd Wright describing a career in architecture: "if you can do anything else, you should."
But in government I recognized how true those words were – at the end of the day, I simply couldn't do anything else. Not for long, anyway.
Public service was my calling – and it may be for you as well.
Now, I'm sure you could have easily sought out a job with a big company or a PR firm or even studied abroad.
But you're sitting here today in the Brooke-Mondale Auditorium at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington for a reason.
Now, I don't want to go out on a limb here, but HUD's Weaver Building probably wasn't it.
With its "brutalist" architecture and exposed concrete—despite a workforce that is second to none—the building itself is among the most reviled in all of Washington – and with good reason.
A predecessor of mine, Jack Kemp who recently passed away, famously said this building was like "ten floors of basement."
But today, with all our challenges, the work we are doing at HUD is poised to lay the very foundation of so much that President Obama and the Administration hopes to achieve.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "everyone can be great because anyone can serve."
And so, today, as you start your summers with us at HUD, I hope that you consider coming back when you're out of college.
Because together with your talent, ideas, and energy, I know that we can make the change President Obama has spoken about so many times a reality for our families, our communities, and our country.
I promise you this: you will have no better opportunity to make your mark on history.
So again, thank you for spending your summer with us – we're lucky to have you.