Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
National Association of Counties Remarks
Washington, D.C., Washington Hilton Hotel
March 5, 2019


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

Thank you, Greg.

And thank you to NACo [NAY-CO] for hosting this event today.

I'm delighted to speak with you about the many ways HUD is partnering with counties across the country to help Americans access safe, fair, and affordable housing.

Today, under the leadership of President Trump, our nation is strong. Record low unemployment, historic highs in the national economy, and unprecedented job growth have most Americans feeling an optimism unparalleled in recent memory.

Our mission, however, extends to all Americans.

Through our programs, we strive to empower local governments and organizations so you can better serve your own community - especially the most vulnerable among us who need our help the most.

Opportunity Zones

We have a new tool to help us accomplish this mission and revitalize distressed areas in your communities: Opportunity Zones.

Created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Opportunity Zones are designed to stimulate economic development and job creation by incentivizing long-term capital investments in low-income communities.

More than 8,700 distressed areas across the country have been designated as Opportunity Zones, which are now home to approximately 35 million Americans. That's more than 10 percent of American citizens, empowered in a single stroke!

These Zones are structured to serve local communities for the long-term. Investors who commit capital for five, seven, and ten years receive rewards. That means new growth becomes consistent growth and new jobs become steady jobs.

Consider the role of Opportunity Zones in the context of development plans, and how you might align those plans with the value unlocked by the Opportunity Zone tax incentive. County officials may now be better equipped to attract private investments into their local communities by aligning transportation projects, urban development areas, city centers, employment hubs, and other land use plans within Opportunity Zones that maximize returns for both the county as a whole and its most vulnerable residents.

Our credo is: "Everyone does best when you invest in the distressed." Or, for the county officials and community leaders here: "We heard you be vocal, so we're focused on local."

I urge you to take advantage of the powerful benefits offered to those who invest in Opportunity Zones.

Last December, President Trump established the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, which I have the privilege to chair. The Revitalization Council consists of members across 13 agencies and will prioritize Opportunity Zones in a variety of federal efforts, including grant funding, loan guarantees, infrastructure spending and crime prevention.

Housing Affordability

While Opportunity Zones bring us hope, we cannot ignore a major challenge many of you know all too well-the inadequate supply of affordable housing.

One solution to the housing affordability challenge is to increase housing supply. And one of the best ways to do that is to revisit and revamp outdated zoning and land use restrictions.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, local regulations may account for more than 25% of the cost of new home construction and development. Many of these costs are invisible to communities until it comes time to turn house plans into a home.

With the proper focus, these local regulations can be changed.

HUD is also doing its part to address the affordable housing shortage by increasing the supply of affordable multifamily housing through a multitude of initiatives.

We recently announced the expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or "LITHC," Pilot into our New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation loan products.

This new expanded Pilot program will streamline the processing of FHA insurance applications for projects with equity from the LIHTC program and is part of our commitment to further align our policies and underwriting towards supporting affordable housing production and preservation.

We have created a Department-wide "Landlord Task Force" to reduce burdensome administrative requirements and encourage more landlords to participate in the HUD Housing Choice Voucher program.

And, significantly, we continue to work toward amending the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, or AFFH, so that it works for local communities, not against them.

For example, last year, we withdrew the problematic Assessment of Fair Housing Tool for local governments. The tool was confusing, difficult to use, contained errors, and frequently produced unacceptable assessments. Counties that failed this flawed assessment stood to lose critical funding that supported their communities' most vulnerable families.

We reopened HUD's AFFH rule for public comment because the existing rule discourages, rather than encourages, affordable housing development. Practicing fair housing isn't a choice, it's the law, but the existing regulations were too top-down, cookie-cutter and Washington-centric. Local community leaders know their own communities' needs better than Washington does.

America is a national body with a local soul. It has spirit founded on local control. The federal government is at its best not when it dictates to local community leaders from above, but rather when it elevates them from below.

Therefore, any imposition that limits local autonomy must be narrowly tailored, and they must fundamentally serve to empower, not punish, the American people who live there.

HUD Accomplishments in Promoting Local Success

Bearing those lessons in mind, we are realigning federal housing policies to benefit - instead of burden - local community leaders.

To spur local community reinvestment, we have partnered with local authorities and private businesses to preserve more than 100,000 public housing units. This public-private partnership program, the Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program has generated close to $6 billion dollars in construction investment and created more than 100,000 jobs.

To advance economic opportunity, the Federal Housing Administration has served more than 650,000 homebuyers in 2018 alone, most of whom were low-to-moderate income earners. FHA has also supported the production and preservation of more than 120,000 multifamily housing units and provided $2.45 billion dollars in insurance for hospitals and residential care facilities.

And, to help communities recover from natural disasters, HUD has awarded nearly $28 billion dollars since last April through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program to rebuild homes, restore businesses, and repair critical infrastructure. These grants represent the largest single amount of disaster recovery assistance in HUD's history.

As a doctor, I've seen firsthand how health and housing are interconnected. You have seen this in your communities too. HUD is working to make our properties safer and healthier for the families who call them home. We recently awarded $141 million dollars to 48 state and local government agencies for the remediation of lead-based paint, mold, and other health hazards in the home. And, last December, HUD joined with the EPA to unveil a Federal Action Plan to reduce childhood lead exposure.

Recently, I participated in our annual Point In Time homelessness count and visited with some of our homeless neighbors. These are women and men-no different than you and me-who have fallen on hard times. We are working with local communities and supporting their efforts to house more of our homeless citizens, and we are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to fund programs specifically geared to help our homeless veterans.

When one county has a homelessness problem, every county does. Together, I believe that we can end homelessness and ensure that, if homelessness does occur, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.

Conclusion

In closing, rest assured -HUD understands that "counties count."

President Trump described the vast breadth and rich diversity of America's counties as spanning "from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona, from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California".

When looking at a map of America, we may be divided into 3,000 counties, but our name tells the real story: we are the "United" States, and we stand together as one nation, indivisible, under God.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions in the Q&A.

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