DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT INSIGHT AMERICA AND THE JOINT CENTER FOR POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STUDIES
July 27th, 2017
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Good morning! It’s wonderful to be with such a dedicated group of talented men and women.
Your mission is a vitally important one: it’s more important than ever to foster understanding, diversity, and knowledge that can benefit our country, for the prosperity of all Americans. I’m happy to be a part of it this morning.
I’d particularly like to thank Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center, and Elroy Sailor, Co-founder of INSIGHT America, for their hospitality.
I’ve been invited to speak on economic development, and the opportunities and challenges ahead for Americans, especially communities of color. So I’m going to offer a few of the thoughts and principles that guide my work, and then we can open things up for some questions.
I came to HUD for the same reason that I went into medicine, so many years ago. I knew there were people hurting in America, and I wanted to do my part in building a system that helped and healed.
There’s actually a lot of overlap between housing and healthcare: a healthy home means a healthier family—and folks lacking stable and clean housing are in danger of ending up in the emergency room or with long-term health problems.
But of course, the challenge of housing in America is a broader issue. It involves economic and social realities, and affects the self-worth and outlook of millions of Americans.
When you can live without fear of losing your home, and you have the opportunities for work and prosperity, it creates a strong foundation for future generations. It’s a cornerstone of self-improvement and self-sufficiency.
Now, the first and most important ingredient to housing is a strong economy, with plenty of jobs, low barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, low cost of living, and good choices in education. A rising tide raises all ships.
This isn’t just HUD’s concern, but all of government. We need to look very closely at places where taxes and regulations are choking economic development or preventing a family from saving, and get government out of the way.
That’s why the President, along with promoting American industry, jobs, and homeownership, signed that executive order calling for two regulations to be removed for every new one.
Fortunately, these days we’re seeing good news across the board:
Unemployment is hovering around 4.4 percent, the lowest it’s been in a decade. Since January, we’ve added 863,000 jobs, 95% of them in the public sector. And Black and Hispanic Americans are experiencing their lowest unemployment rate since 2000.
In the last 10 years, homelessness has decreased by 100,000 Americans.
And the Dow Jones is still hitting records, on the way to 22,000. This is good for American businesses, the people they employ, and the families who depend on those workers.
These are all good signs that the long recovery from the Great Recession is finally ending.
But we still have a lot of work ahead to ensure that our great, new economy is being enjoyed by everyone. The unemployment rate for Black Americans is still twice as high as their white neighbors, and in an era where homeownership is at its lowest level in 50 years, their homeownership rate is still about 22 points below the national average.
Millennials are also in danger of becoming a “lost generation” of home owners, because many have come of age in an economy with fewer opportunities and less economic mobility than their parents.
That’s why we’re working on improving HUD programs to reach as many people as possible. We’re considering rule changes like opening up condominiums to FHA loans, because they’re often a starter-home for many people, especially young people.
We’re also looking to expand our involvement in public/private partnerships to address housing and homelessness issues.
HUD is also continuing longstanding projects, like the neighborhoods near Navy Yard here in DC, where revitalization goes hand-in-hand with giving low-income residents affordable options to stay in the area.
It’s a trade-off that helps everyone: a private enterprise gets assistance redeveloping a blighted area, and in return, they guarantee a certain amount of affordable rental units, or build community centers and other public resources.
This is a similar idea to our “aging in place” initiative, but it holds true no matter how old you are. People generally like to stay in their familiar surroundings, with familiar faces—and it’s healthier, both socially and psychologically, to help them do that.
It really fulfills the human side of our mission: not just tossing people under a roof and calling our job done, but giving them a flourishing community, one that can prevent future problems, act as a safety net, and promote self-sufficiency.
On that note, technology like broadband internet is an important tool to foster entrepreneurship and independence from government. We can’t cut people off from the most important forms of communication and expect them to flourish.
That’s why, at the request of Congress, HUD is becoming the first federal agency to enter a formal data sharing agreement with the FCC to verify the eligibility of our tenants for the
Lifeline program, which provides a discount benefit on broadband internet to the most vulnerable of Americans.
I’m very proud that we’re the first! And the reason why we are the first is that we have a team of in-house federal IT programmers who very quickly turned this around. We didn’t have to go through a contracting vehicle, so we made this happen in a cost-effective manner.
It’s called the Computer Matching Agreement. OMB is still looking at it, but we hope to roll it out at the end of the summer. Its purpose is to streamline the process for eligible folks signing up for the Lifeline program, and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse by bringing the process back in house at HUD. We’re proud of this achievement—our system is going to do eligibility checks in real time.
It’s great progress for an administration which has promised to bring government into the 21stCentury. And of course, the more taxpayer funds we save on this, the more can go to help people elsewhere. We’re looking forward to future conversations about this plan moving forward.
There’s one more thing I want to mention, something that has less to do with the government, and more to do with private businesses, charities, educational organizations, and non-partisan groups like yours.
As part of my job, I talk to a lot of people in private industry—our partners in fighting homelessness, creating affordable housing, and promoting homeownership.
Since this Spring, I’ve spoken to coalitions like the Associated Builders and Contractors, the American Land Title Association, the National Association of Realtors, the Federal Home Loan Banks, and others. These are people who employ many thousands of Americans, and help meet our nation’s housing needs at the state and local level.
Everyone I’ve met with genuinely cares about the future of the country and their fellow Americans, and they are eager to find solutions to help the most vulnerable among us. That goes for countless American businesses.
President Trump has set a valuable precedent in calling companies to the table and encouraging them to do business in a way that lifts up their countrymen, and strengthens our society.
This doesn’t mean strangling businesses with the government, or forcing them to do things. What it really means is good faith and cooperation. That can’t be legislated or regulated—it comes from a deeper place in our hearts, and in our national spirit.
I am confident that this spirit, if we allow it to guide our work and politics, will one day raise up all Americans in equal measure—no matter what their race or background—and finally bring prosperity to people who have lacked it for too long.
If we embrace unity over division, we cannot fail.