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DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE
J. RONALD TERWILLIGER FOUNDATION
HOUSING AMERICA’S FAMILIES FORUM
NOVEMBER 15th, 2017
DETROIT, MI

 

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thanks for that warm introduction.

I’d also like to thank everyone at the Terwilliger Foundation, especially your namesake and founder, Ron Terwilliger, and all the organizers of this great event, for inviting me to speak to you today.

We’re joined by one of my predecessors at HUD, The Honorable Henry Cisneros, and former New York Congressman Rick Lazio, both of whom are Executive Committee members of the Foundation. A lot of very talented folks here this evening. 

I’d like to start off by saying that I try to be a law-abiding citizen, and my faith tells me it’s wrong to steal—but the best theft I’ve ever committed was taking your former President, Pam Patenaude, as my Deputy Secretary.

I’d do it again in a second. As you know, she’s amazingly skilled, dedicated, and knowledgeable about the state of affordable housing in America. She’s also a HUD veteran, so she provides our whole team with great leadership and ideas for improvement.

We’re grateful to have her return to government service.

We gather today with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah right around the corner, and a New Year, full of new possibilities, soon after.

2017 seemed to fly by. If you will indulge me, I’d like to take stock of where we are now, and where we’re headed.

As you know, there are 11 million households in America who are “severely burdened.” They pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent.

There are also more than half a million people—men, women, and children—who have struggled with homelessness this year.

Forty thousand of them were veterans of our armed forces.

Everyone gathered in this room already knows the statistics by memory.

You recognize that it is a tragedy that a nation as prosperous as ours should see anyone forced to sleep on its streets, or sacrifice necessities to pay their rent.

So you have dedicated your careers, and this Foundation, to helping your fellow Americans.

I have seen this generous spirit on display every day by the dedicated team at HUD.

They know that safe, fair, and affordable housing is of fundamental importance to the well-being of their fellow Americans. Not just as a matter of shelter, but as a strong foundation for human flourishing, whether in education, health, or economic mobility.

That makes the current shortage of affordable rental homes an urgent concern—to each community in need, and to the whole nation.

To address it, we’ll need “all hands on deck.”

Over the decades, we have seen that public dollars and decision-making from Washington alone is not equal to the task of solving our country’s housing needs.

Our programs have helped many people, but they cannot have permanent effects on our society, or address the full range of human needs, without robust support from the most important units of civil society: our churches, charities, and fraternal organizations. Our businesses, and our families themselves. 

If these parts of our national fabric are not strong, then our efforts are in vain.

And if our efforts weaken them, we must rethink our policies. 

We must engage the genius and leadership of private enterprise and local authorities. They are most connected to the people we serve, and can often do so more effectively. All their combined resources, expertise, and goodwill are necessary for the success of our endeavor.

As you know, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit is one of the most effective tools we have to create affordable housing today, by harnessing private resources to build affordable rental homes.

HUD’s RAD program also allows localities to leverage public and private resources to ensure that public housing units are maintained and improved.

$4 billion in new private and public funds have been leveraged by RAD since its inception. It would have taken Public Housing Authorities 46 years to raise the funds necessary by themselves.

HUD is also committed to putting more Americans on the path to home ownership. It gives a family a chance to build equity, a stake in their community, and a firm basis for future prosperity.

Home ownership and renting are complimentary elements of our housing system. Unfortunately, high rent burdens are making it very difficult for some first-time homebuyers to save for a down payment—we help both groups, if we ease this burden. Affordable housing is itself a path to saving for homeownership.

Recently, we issued regulations for the Federal Housing Administration to make condo ownership easier for first-time buyers. These new regulations eliminate hurdles for first-time ownership of a condominium, which is often the initial step on the home ownership ladder.

This is especially important to the millennial generation, whose housing opportunities have suffered from the housing crisis of the past decade.

I know that later today, Chris Campbell from the Treasury Department will be discussing regulations affecting primary and secondary markets, and Secretary Mnuchin’s views on Housing Finance reform. So I won’t get into too many details now.

But I will say this: there is a broad agreement that there is an opportunity for reform to ensure a well-functioning housing finance system for future generations that expands the role of the private sector and reduces taxpayer exposure. We will approach these questions comprehensively in any reform, to avoid unintended consequences.

Our goals for housing are intimately tied to helping the whole human person—in health, work, and education especially. The private sector has a part to play here as well.

But if our efforts end at the shelter or the voucher, we have only served families halfway. It is not enough to help them survive—we must help them thrive.

That’s why we’re planning “Envision Centers” for American cities—they’re going to be hubs of educational opportunities, counseling, and job training, all with the goal of promoting self-sufficiency and economic opportunities. This won’t be one more big government program, but an opportunity for private investment and partnership in the future of communities.  

Those investments can only happen if we unleash our entrepreneurs, and make it easier for Americans and their businesses to create jobs and build affordable housing.

That’s why I hope that any tax reform we get from Congress strengthens our ability to produce affordable rental homes. That’s why I hope Congress allows Americans to keep and save more of their own money.

I know that President Trump shares this commitment; that is why he has directed federal agencies to guard against burdening American families and their businesses with unnecessary and expensive regulations.

In keeping with his executive order, HUD has established a Regulatory Reform Task Force charged with identifying agency regulations that should be repealed, replaced or modified. We want our partners affordable housing to be free to innovate, renew, and give back to their communities.

There are a lot of indicators that a brighter future is on the horizon.

Homelessness declined by 100,000 people in the last decade. And more and more localities have effectively ended veterans’ homelessness.

More Americans are finding work, with the lowest unemployment rates in 17 years. This is one of the most important factors to self-sufficiency, and therefore, to our mission.

The stock market is also setting records. This matters to more Americans than you might think—because you don’t need to own stock to benefit from a strong economy. It’s a promise of even more jobs and development down the road.

As advocates for affordable housing, our challenge for 2018 is to keep this momentum going, and to make sure these benefits are shared by the most vulnerable Americans. 

Because our nation’s prosperity is only worth bragging about if its giving more opportunities to the working families of America.

Together, I think we can expand these opportunities, strengthen affordable housing, and pave a path to homeownership.

I like where we’re headed.

Thank you.