Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of
Housing and Urban Development
at the
National League of Cities Congressional City Conference
Washington, DC
March 12, 2018

 

Thank you, Mayor Stodola.

And thank you to the talented staff of the National League of Cities, my fellow cabinet secretaries, and all those here today representing towns across the nation.

Your communities are what the English statesman Edmund Burke called “the little platoons” of society—those many parts of our nation which, through independence and cooperation, are responsible for protecting the lives and livelihoods of millions.

It is through local government that most Americans first exercise their right to free speech, creating positive changes for themselves and their families.

And it is through their parks and neighborhoods, their backyards and churches, where they come to love their country—by first loving the people and places nearest to them.     

With this truth in our hearts, we who work for the American people from this capital city cannot hope to serve them properly without learning from, and cooperating with, their local governments.

This is especially true at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which I am honored to lead

Housing is necessarily a local issue, because each policy we make will eventually affect some place of brick and mortar, some roof above a family, and some shelter from the streets.

So each of our initiatives is being guided by its real-world effect, not simply the blueprints and spreadsheets in a boardroom.  

This is of the greatest importance in the fight to end homelessness.

There are over half a million men, women and children in our country who have experienced homelessness at some point last year. 40,000 of them were veterans of our Armed Forces.

These are daunting statistics, but they do not erase the great progress our nation has made in the last decade.

Since 2010, we have seen a 14% reduction in overall homelessness nationwide. We have also achieved a 23% reduction in family homelessness, including a 65% drop in unsheltered homelessness among family households.

I understand that yesterday you discussed strategies to help our nation’s heroes as the part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

This is one issue where I believe we will see victory within our lifetime.

City after city has functionally eliminated homelessness among veterans. In the last 7 years, we have also achieved a 47% reduction in Veteran homelessness, including a 56% drop in unsheltered homelessness among Veterans.

And we recently made certain that Ginnie Mae is cracking down on abusive mortgage churning by VA lenders, which harms veterans and drives up the cost of mortgage credit for those who have served our country.

Despite these gains and the economic recovery of the last decade, we are seeing increases in homelessness on our coasts, ironically in some of our wealthiest cities. So we have much work ahead of us.

Our nation's progress was the result by many efforts at the federal, state, and local levels of government, much of it coordinated through the Federal Strategic Plan, and through amazing cooperation with the private sector, independent charities, churches, and community organizations.

Our task is to keep up the good work by looking carefully at which methods work best, and through our Continuum of Care program, keep investing in initiatives and partnerships that have proven track records.

The first step is to put Housing First, because permanently lifting our fellow Americans out of homelessness requires a solid foundation for treatment, education, healthcare, training, and employment.

But we can also supply this solid foundation early in life, so that poverty, unemployment, and addiction are never allowed to mark our communities in the first place.

That is the purpose behind the Envision Centers.

We’re designing them to be hubs of cooperation and partnership, where families can have access to training, education, and mentoring, and streamlined access to services that HUD provides.

They will promote self-sufficiency in communities through four basic principles, which we're calling the Four Pillars: Economic Empowerment, Educational Advancement, Health and Wellness, and Character and Leadership.

By strengthening the Four Pillars, we can once more open the doors of opportunity in our cities, and help families achieve self-sufficiency.

EnVision Centers will not be just another federal program, but an invitation for community investment from private enterprises and charities, and a chance for local problem-solvers to take the wheel.

Community investment can take many forms, however. And the most important one is from regular Americans everywhere.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act allowed millions of men and women to keep more of their hard-earned money by doubling the standard deduction and the child tax credit. That makes a big difference for families at all income levels, especially those looking to buy a home.

Congress also retained the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in its entirety, which has been key to the development of affordable housing.

Of course, housing is deeply tied to infrastructure, and I was very pleased that Congress preserved the tax status of interest generated by private activity bonds. These bonds are key to financing activities that benefit the public such as hospitals and affordable housing, and they are also a critical component of many infrastructure projects.

One provision I'm very excited about is the creation of opportunity zones. Today, if an investor sells an investment with an unrealized capital gain and reinvests the proceeds in a recognized opportunity zone, the capital gains tax can be deferred or reduced.

The zones are low-income areas, designated by Census Tract, and selected by Governors, who may select up to 25 percent of the economically distressed tracts in their states to benefit from this provision.

More than $2 trillion in capital gains could be unlocked for investments in these zones, and affordable housing stands to be a major recipient of this private capital.

I am looking forward to seeing these investments in conjunction with the White House infrastructure plan, so our cities, roads, and bridges can come back stronger than ever before.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD program, also continues to be one of our best tools to serve Americans more efficiently. RAD gives public housing authorities the ability to reinvest in public housing stock by shifting toward private investment and Section 8.

The program has produced over $5 billion in construction activity since it began, and stimulated job creation in many different areas of the country. It would have taken public housing authorities 46 years under current budget constraints to raise the funds to complete a similar level of construction.

All this is just the first page in a grand new book we are writing at HUD.

Some chapters are original, and others continue the story of successful programs from the past. Other parts are being written by Congress as I speak, and some are being composed by my fellow Secretaries at their amazing agencies.

And through it all, we hope that you will assist us in the writing.

For the cities of America, and the people who call them home, are both our audience, and our muse.

They inspire us and drive us each day to serve them better.

And with your help, I think we will. Thank you.