Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Western Conservative Summit Remarks
Denver, Colorado, Colorado Convention Center, July 12, 2019
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Thank you, Jeff [Director Jeff Hunt], for that warm introduction. It’s an honor to be here this morning to speak with so many Americans who care so deeply about our nation, its principles, and its people.
Two hundred and forty-three Julys ago, the Declaration of Independence set forth that all of us are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights – and among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We aren’t promised happiness itself. But we have a God-given right to pursue our potential.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, our mission is to help millions of Americans pursue their own potentials – by ensuring access to safe, quality, and affordable homes.
Homes are not simply physical structures – they are social, cultural, and economic engines. They are where families are raised, and communities are interconnected.
Housing is also the largest sector of our national economy – not just in terms of GDP, but in terms of the impact it has on the lives of American families. Responsible homeownership is the number one builder of financial capital for most American families. For example, the average net worth of a renter is $5,000 dollars, while the average net worth of a homeowner is $200,000 dollars.
That’s an extraordinary 40-fold difference. And it illustrates the intersection between affordable housing and financial self-sufficiency, which is the first rung on the ladder towards personal freedom.
By many measures, when we gaze out into America’s horizon line, we see a future that is brighter than ever. With the help of President Trump’s policies, We The People are witnessing record low unemployment, a historically strong national economy, and unprecedented job growth. Consumer confidence, productivity, and financial optimism have all returned, and there is a “rising tide that floats all boats.”
But in the area of housing, a challenge that has long been chronic has reached crisis levels: there is a nationwide shortage of affordable homes.
As a result, millions of hard-working Americans who seek affordable rents or sustainable homeownership simply cannot get their foot in the door. And we have reached the point where many of our nation’s teachers, nurses, auto mechanics, construction workers, police officers, and firefighters struggle to live in or around the communities they serve.
Fortunately, HUD has a prescription to lift our nation’s “forgotten men and women” onto a path of self-sufficiency — where they can forge their own destinies, and feel “forgotten no more.” This prescription has three key ingredients: revitalization, innovation, and deregulation.
Revitalization; Opportunity Zones
Across the country and even here in Colorado, many communities have faced serious challenges over the years due to a persistent lack of financial investment. These places have the ability to succeed. What they have needed, more than anything, is opportunity.
But rather than waiting for opportunities, this Administration is creating them. And one of our most powerful creations has been an amazing investment incentive called Opportunity Zones.
Few programs in modern history have the power to unleash the spirit of American enterprise as effectively Opportunity Zones.
Created in 2017 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Opportunity Zones are designed to spur private investments into economically distressed communities through extraordinary investment incentives. These incentives allow investors to defer and reduce their tax liability on capital gains by investing in new construction, rehabilitation, or businesses in designated low-income areas. In some cases, investors’ capital gains tax can be reduced all the way down to zero — as long as they keep their capital in vulnerable communities for the long-term.
There are nearly 35 million Americans now living in the roughly 9,000 distressed areas currently designated as Opportunity Zones, which are comprised of urban, suburban, and rural areas across all 50 states and five U.S. territories.
At their outset, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted that $100 billion [dollars] in private investment would be directed to local Opportunity Zone communities. This quantity of untapped capital could drive a renaissance into the Western States and across the country.
Some pundits thought that forecast was overly optimistic, but like so many other milestones surpassed by this Administration, we’re already closing in on that figure fast. For example, the National Council of State Housing Agencies announced last month that its Opportunity Zone Fund Directory had expanded to nearly $29 billion dollars in anticipated investments. Of those $29 billion dollars, 91 percent of funds plan to invest in multifamily residential, student housing, mixed-use, hospitality, or other commercial developments. And nearly 60 percent of funds plan to invest in affordable and workforce housing or community revitalization.
We are also seeing countless positive reports from local public officials that anticipated investments in Opportunity Zones are stoking economic development into their neighborhoods. Cities across the country are developing Opportunity Zone investment prospectuses to attract private business – these hubs include: Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; South Bend, Indiana; and Stockton, California.
As for direct impact, growth in acquisitions of developable sites in Opportunity Zones surged in 2018 compared to the rest of the country. According to Zillow, property sale prices in Opportunity Zones have appreciated at a rate of more than 20 percent, double the appreciation rate for eligible but not selected areas.
To ensure Opportunity Zones reach their full potential, last December, President Trump established the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, which I have the privilege to chair. Scott Turner is the Executive Director and he has been doing great work for us as well. The Revitalization Council — which consists of members from 16 federal agencies and federal-state partnerships — has a mission to make better use of public funds in the revitalization of economically distressed communities.
As of now, the Council has identified more than 160 federal programs that could increase investments into Opportunity Zones through grant preference points, loan qualifications, reduced fees, and eligibility criteria modifications. These are exciting times for the federal government’s entrepreneurial spirit to match the private market with our alignment of resources.
The Revitalization Council is also conducting a listening tour of Opportunity Zones throughout the nation to incorporate input from entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders — including in many rural areas who are working to attract new development. We are fighting hard to make sure the voices of the Western States – and not just Washington officials – are fully heard.
Revitalizing communities also means ending the tragic instances of homelessness — especially for our nation’s heroes and veterans.
Many of our country’s bravest military men and women come from the American West. These soldiers dedicate their lives to protecting our freedoms — and some struggle financially when they return to civilian life. In turn, the challenges of veteran homelessness often fall disproportionately on the Western States from which they hail.
In my time as HUD Secretary, I have seen the streets of “Skid Row” in Los Angeles, and walked through shelters for veterans facing hardship — it is a terrible situation that no proud country can allow.
Fortunately, HUD has been making tremendous strides toward increasing the availability of homes for our nation’s heroes. Nationwide, the total number of reported homeless veterans decreased by more than five percent last year, and has decreased by roughly half since 2010 — prompting 73 communities across 33 different states to declare an effective end to veteran homelessness in their areas. Three states have also declared an effective end to veteran homelessness altogether, which means that more veterans are off the streets and have a safe place to call home.
Each year, HUD is proud to serve more than a million people through emergency shelter, transitional, and permanent housing programs. We are thrilled with the great progress we have made, but there is still much work to be done. It is not just a federal issue — it is everyone’s issue, and one we can solve by working together.
Innovation; Affordable Housing; Disaster Recovery
Innovation is another area that is essential for us to harness in an ever-changing world.
If “necessity is the mother of invention,” America’s affordable housing challenges have created the impetus for a powerful wave of American ingenuity – in the form an amazing array of new home building technologies, techniques and materials.
One such innovation is the dramatic rise of manufactured housing as a builder of more affordable and resilient homes.
Today, more than 20 million Americans live in manufactured housing, which makes up approximately 10 percent of single-family residences. As a result, manufactured housing has become the largest source of unsubsidized affordable homes in the nation – which saves taxpayer dollars.
With manufactured housing, construction can be done at half the cost, while appreciating in value at a rate similar to site-built homes, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency Housing Price Index. These dramatic cost savings enable responsible citizens to secure housing that may be considerably less expensive than renting or purchasing a site-built home.
By harnessing these new technologies, we can increase production of new homes nationwide, while preserving homeownership’s extraordinary potential to be a wealth creation tool for families from every socioeconomic background.
While home affordability is a challenge that touches every family, natural disasters remain a persistent threat that can decimate local communities and their way of life. Just this May, at least 53 tornados ripped through eight states in the American West, stretching from Idaho to Colorado.
Natural disasters do not just devastate housing capital – they devastate human capital, through lives interrupted, school days missed, and communities fragmented under strain. To address this damage, last year, HUD allocated more than $35 billion dollars in funding to 16 state and local governments, helping America’s hardest hit regions. These grants represented the largest single amount of disaster recovery assistance in HUD’s history.
Technological innovations such as manufactured homes can help mitigate these harms through the use of environmentally resilient construction materials, as well as by providing an affordable and permanent housing solution for lower-income survivors.
For example, on a recent visit to Alabama, I was shown a site that was demolished by massive tornadoes – and the only homes in the area that successfully weathered the storm were manufactured houses. It was a testament to their resilience, befitting the silent strength of the American spirit.
The American West is becoming a hub of innovation for new housing technologies. I was recently at a site in Austin, Texas where they were building homes with 3D printers. And a number of exhibitors at HUD’s inaugural Innovative Housing Showcase on the National Mall last month hailed from out West.
At our Showcase, we featured state-of-the-art building technologies and housing solutions that make homeownership more affordable for American families, and homes more resilient during natural disasters. We helped educate policymakers — and tens of thousands of Americans — through a wide array of exhibitions, prototype homes, panel discussions, and policy conversations with leaders across the housing industry.
Among other new kinds of prototypes on display for people to explore and enjoy, we had three fully built manufactured homes sitting right next to the Washington Monument.
This Showcase kicked off National Homeownership Month, and at the event I saw countless young couples — millennials — walking about the Mall, hand-in-hand, planning their futures. You could hear the excitement of a new generation of Americans, coming together around a vision they could feel with their own fingers, becoming inspired to join the American tradition of sustainable homeownership.
One of the key takeaways from the Showcase was that technology is a fantastic tool for building unity. Technology has no color, no creed, no picket line, and no party line. It’s not Democrat, and it’s not Republican — it’s just plain American.
Finally, I’d like to share our efforts help local cities and towns live up to their potential through deregulation.
If there’s one thing a surgeon is good at, it’s using a scalpel. And deregulation isn’t just about cutting red tape — it’s cutting costs, so we can help more hardworking Americans.
That’s why, at HUD, we are working with local community leaders and public officials across the country to break down burdensome regulatory barriers to new home construction and development, which can account for 25 to 40 percent of costs.
To advance this mission, last month, President Trump established the White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing, which I have the great honor to chair. The Council, which consists of members across 12 Federal agencies, will lead Federal efforts to engage with State, local, and tribal leaders across the country to remove the obstacles that impede the production of more affordable homes – namely, the enormous price tag of burdensome government regulations.
The President has given us a mission to break down barriers — and to clear the path — for millions of Americans to pursue their American Dream. It is a mission we proudly and enthusiastically accept. I am excited to show the fruits of our labor in this initiative over the months to come.
In his State of the Union Address this year, President Trump remarked: “Across this magnificent republic, we come 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 you stop and think about it, the geographic diversity of this nation is unlike anything on earth, and yet we all come together and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” under a common flag.
Nothing can — and nothing will — stop these United States as long as we stay United. We can all do a better job of ending class warfare and embracing our common welfare.
But it also takes courage to wrap yourself in the flag of freedom — and to stand by it, even when it feels like you are alone. I would like to thank each of you here today for joining forces to fight for those freedoms, so they endure for the generations beyond us.
I believe we can make economic opportunity, self-sufficiency — and indeed, the American Dream — a reality for the millions of great men and women who call our country home.
And that is a future we can all fight for together.
Thank you, and God Bless.