DR. BEN CARSON SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT HABITAT ON THE HILL
FEBRUARY 14th, 2018
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Hello everyone! It's great to join you here today.
I'd like to thank your CEO, Jonathan Reckford, and all the wonderful people who helped to organize this event.
I also want to recognize all the corporate sponsors who share the conviction that every family deserves a place to call home. The folks who build, finance, and sell houses in this country, those who employ millions of our fellow Americans, are some of our most important partners in our mission to ensure safe, fair, and affordable housing.
Most importantly, I want to thank Habitat for Humanity for all the amazing work they've done on behalf of countless Americans-and for families across the world-for over 40 years.
I was fortunate enough to attend a Habitat build-site back in November with a group of my staff from HUD.
They've been doing a great job fighting for affordable housing in our country every day. But they volunteered, because we know it's sometimes good to get outdoors and put our backs into it!
It's also great exercise-and as a Doctor, I recommend getting out from that desk once in a while!
You know, today is a funny date on the calendar.
As most people are aware, it is Valentine's Day, where we use flowers and chocolates and teddy bears to tell our loved ones how precious they are to us.
This year is a little strange, because this bright and bubbly day is also shared by Ash Wednesday-in some Christian traditions, the beginning of the Lenten season. A day of soul-searching and humility.
You might see some of our Catholic and Anglican friends, and others, walking around town with the ashes on their foreheads.
But being at this conference today, I don't think these two observances are at odds.
For a global, ecumenical mission like Habitat for Humanity to help so many people in need, it must be motivated by both a great love of neighbor, and a deep humility-a conviction to do good works, and the knowledge that we all need help in our lives, in so many ways.
And of course, the sure belief that all of us, together, can do more than any one of us.
That is an attitude that thousands of men and women bring with them to work every day at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And it is an attitude that our country needs more than ever.
Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies 2017 report on America's Rental Housing pointed out that nearly 21 million American Households pay more than 30 percent of their income towards rent.
Of those, 11 million households pay more than 50 percent, and are defined by HUD as "severely burdened."
In many cases, this happens when urban renewal fails to renew the prosperity of low-income families, especially those who are renting.
It can be a disaster when increasing properties values cause the cost of living to skyrocket.
We should always approach urban redevelopment with an eye to people, as well as property values.
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.
HUD designed The First-Time Homebuyer Education and Counseling Demonstration as a large-scale randomized experiment to definitively answer the question about the effectiveness of homebuyer education and counseling on higher risk borrowers.
Our preliminary findings are encouraging. Participants saw improvement in mortgage literacy, greater appreciation for communication with lenders, and improved underwriting qualifications.
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.
In the long term, we are also committed to the Administration's goal of housing finance reform.
The details have yet to be written, but because our fundamental housing mission, FHA mortgage insurance program, and Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed security guarantees are large and vital components of the housing finance system, HUD will be an active participant in this critical dialogue.
But as you well know, there are many families in this country for whom home-ownership is secondary to living in a home at all. The continued presence of homelessness in our nation costs us not only morally, but in lost human potential.
Who knows how many new doctors and scientists, artists or athletes we might save in the next generation, by reaching out to the forgotten people of our time, and giving them a new beginning. I can guarantee you that there are people without homes right now who would enrich many lives with their talent and dedication, if only given the chance.
HUD's most recent homeless Point in Time Count, which took place in January 2017, revealed an uptick in homelessness that is, primarily, being driven by the lack of affordable housing in high-priced areas on the coasts.
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.
And hundreds of thousands more of their fellow Americans lived month to month, week to week, not knowing whether circumstances would force them into the same misfortune.
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 achieved a 47% reduction in Veteran homelessness, including a 56% drop in unsheltered homelessness among Veterans.
In the last seven years we have also achieved a 23% reduction in family homelessness, including a 65% drop in unsheltered homelessness among family households.
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity continue to be vital to these efforts.
Affordable housing is essential so that every community can have a share of the American Dream.
Too many of our neighbors worry about making rent every month. Some have been forced to live in unsafe homes with unhealthy building materials, like lead. And half a million Americans across the country struggle with homelessness.
But together we can tackle these challenges, and give hope to those who need it.
One of the inspiring things I have seen in the effort to create more affordable housing is deep support from private charities, churches, businesses, and individuals.
Their commitment and cooperation remains vital in improving the situation of families who need homes and shelter.
I believe this is a spirit of generosity and volunteering in our country that can overcome any obstacle, and I know everyone here today shares it.
Thank you for everything you do on behalf of our fellow Americans, and all our fellow human beings!