DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE FINANCE COUNCIL
NOVEMBER 14TH, 2017
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Hello! It’s a pleasure to be here.
I’d like to thank everyone at the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council, especially your Chairman, Mark Zytko and all the talented people who helped organize this annual meeting.
I’d also like to recognize the all-stars who are joining us for this discussion, The Honorable Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia, and The Honorable Jan Brewer of Arizona.
It’s a real treat to talk with such accomplished people on such an important topic: “The Renaissance of American Cities.”
Renaissance, of course, means “rebirth.”
We are living in a time of a great renewal for many of our cities. They are becoming cleaner, safer, and more prosperous.
The rough Boston neighborhoods of my childhood are unrecognizable now. But you don’t even need to go back to the sixties to see this kind of change.
It’s hard to believe that just twenty-five years ago, Washington, DC had the unfortunate title of “murder capital.” Even Capitol Hill at night was not the safest place to be. Don’t worry, this was all long before Mayor Bowser came along!
But now Washington is a much better place to live and work, constantly attracting young people and new development.
Whether here or across the country, this urban renewal should be good news for everyone.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s only good news for certain people.
For lower income families, especially those who are renting, it can be a disaster when increasing properties values cause rent to skyrocket. You might recognize that the cost of living has gone up when the neighborhood grocery store starts selling “free-range local asparagus juice” for twenty dollars.
Perhaps most importantly, a sense of community and belonging can be lost when more and more of your neighbors are only in town for a few years. Your neighborhood is no longer where people are from—its where people stay.
So many families leave, either by choice, or economic necessity. Or they suffer through it, and bear the costs.
We should always approach urban renewal with an eye to people, as well as property values.
You can’t replace all the patients in a hospital ward with healthy people, and declare that you’ve eliminated illness!
You’ve just eliminated the people who needed help.
Of course, this is a free country. The government can’t step in and forbid big new apartment buildings and fancy restaurants.
And even if we could, it would be a disservice to Americans, their businesses, and to those in a neighborhood who have waited a long time for these improvements. We won’t build better cities by preventing development.
So we have a great challenge before us: how do we promote the Renaissance of American cities, while ensuring that everyone may have a share in it?
One of the most important methods is to encourage private investment in communities which gives something back.
I’ve found that many enterprises are enthusiastic to find opportunities to do so—not just because it’s a good thing to do, and not just for good public relations—but because more prosperous communities with better neighborhoods benefit all Americans, including their businesses.
Tax credits and other incentives can be offered to ensure that new, higher-priced housing contains a certain amount of more affordable units, and in combination with housing vouchers and other assistance, families can enjoy the benefits of development, rather than be pushed out by it.
Right here in Washington, we’ve seen the District’s success using these formulas for redeveloped areas like the Wharf and Navy Yard.
Home ownership is also a key way for Americans to have a stake in the rising fortunes of their cities. It insulates them from rising rents, and increases the value of what they have, rather than making it harder to afford.
At HUD, this means reforming FHA policies and other forms of housing assistance to provide a path to responsible homeownership to as many Americans as possible. This cornerstone of the American Dream is a major step to independence, an equity passed down through generations.
Again, there’s a vital role to be played here by the private sector, to make sure that qualified borrowers have access to the credit they need to get on the path to homeownership.
But housing itself is just one piece of the puzzle.
We often talk about education, employment, health, and housing as issues in separate boxes, with a different agency or charity concentrating on each one.
But these parts of our lives don’t fit neatly in to separate boxes. Our education can affect our health. Our health can affect our work. Our work can affect our housing. And where we live can affect what education we have access to.
That’s why it’s not enough to put a roof over someone’s head and wash our hands of it. A community truly in “Renaissance” doesn’t just mean pricier apartments and restaurants; it must take into account the whole human person, in all their needs and achievements.
At HUD, this means founding Envision Centers across the country, institutions which will leverage private sector investment to provide education, training, and counselling to young people climbing upward. These are not big government programs, but locally grown solutions.
The idea of private enterprise vs. the public welfare has always been a false choice.
This administration does not consider private business as a rival to government, or somehow opposed to the best interests of the American people.
Instead, private business is the activity of the American people exercising their rights in a free economy. And our government exists to protect those rights.
Therefore, when pursuing HUD’s mission to ensure safe, affordable housing for our countrymen, we cannot expect to achieve it by hindering those who are rebuilding and improving our cities.
We only hurt our own goals by making it harder to make responsible loans. Harder to build affordable housing. Harder to manufacture safe construction materials.
A country where it is easier to own a home, start a business, hire an employee, and get a job—that’s a country we all want to create.
We do that by working together, while Americans themselves take the lead.
Across the nation, I have seen the successes of public/private partnerships, of churches and fraternal organizations, and of businesses which have made common cause with us in the welfare of their communities.
These alliances for prosperity work best when HUD and other branches of government facilitate cooperation, but do not run roughshod over private initiative and economic growth.
While pursuing its mission to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing for the American people, HUD also realizes its vital duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and, like the medical dictum, to “first, do no harm.”
It is for this reason that President Trump has directed federal agencies to guard against burdening American families and their businesses with unnecessary and expensive regulations.
In keeping with his executive order, we have established a Regulatory Reform Task Force charged with identifying agency regulations that should be repealed, replaced or modified. We want our partners in this urban Renaissance to be free to innovate, renew, and give back to their communities.
I believe that our cities are headed in the right direction. Our challenge is to make sure that every community within them is invited along for the ride.
With your help, and the partnership of thousands of businesses and individuals dedicated to helping their fellow Americans, I think our destination will be a bright one indeed.