Today marks two years since I became HUD Secretary. I’ve visited with folks in more than 80 communities — from Anchorage to San Juan and so many places in between. And everywhere I go, I hear stories from the Americans whose lives our work has touched. I’m proud of all of HUD’s efforts to help build an America where opportunity is within everyone’s reach.
Here’s a look at ten investments HUD has made in the American people during my time at the Department of Opportunity.
1. Expanding Homeownership
By lowering mortgage insurance costs for responsible borrowers, we helped more than one million hardworking Americans buy their home last year. Most of them were first-time home buyers who, thanks to the Federal Housing Administration, were able to realize a fundamental piece of the American Dream. And the FHA has not only expanded homeownership but also increased its capital reserve, which protects American taxpayers.
2. Closing the Digital Divide
We’re living in a digital age when Internet access at home is so important to learning and finding a job — 90 percent of college applications are submitted online, yet less than half of the poorest households in America have an Internet subscription at home. That’s why last summer, HUD launched ConnectHome, an initiative to provide low or no-cost Internet access, devices, and digital literacy training to families living in HUD-assisted housing. Thanks to the commitment of technology and media leaders, more families will have access to the tools they need to compete in this 21st century global economy. What began as a pilot program in 28 communities just a year ago, is now reaching low-income families in 40 states, including more than 1.5 million children. I’m proud to know this work can leave an impact that will last for generations.
3. Giving Folks a Second Chance
Strong communities and fair housing play important roles in helping people to rebuild their lives when they come back home. Our Pay for Success Permanent Supportive Housing initiative is testing cost-effective ways to help folks cycling between criminal justice and homelessness service systems. We’re also working hard to give all our nation’s youth a real opportunity to reach their full potential. Through our Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program, we’re supporting local efforts that are helping young people who’ve paid their debt to society reintegrate into their communities. Past mistakes shouldn’t determine future opportunity, and HUD is doing everything in our power to make sure of that. For example, we’ve made clear that arrest records can no longer be the sole basis for denying housing. When landlords refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they may effectively and disproportionately bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason at all. We’ll continue using the full force of the law to protect the fair housing rights of people who’ve been arrested or who’re returning to their communities after serving time in jail or prison.
4. Ensuring Full Equality for LGBTQ Americans
All Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love, deserve access to safe, secure, and affordable housing. And we’re fighting for LGBTQ Americans to be treated fairly when seeking a home or shelter. In 2012, HUD established our groundbreaking Equal Access Rule, which makes clear that no American, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can be denied access to any of our programs. And last year, we proposed a new regulation that would protect transgender Americans when they seek emergency shelter. We know that as many as 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. Many have been thrown out of their homes — or have run away from them — because they’ve been rejected for who they are. Our partnership with the True Colors Fund is working with families so that these kids have a home where they can thrive. HUD is proud to do our part to help create a more just nation, one where every American is finally able to live with dignity and be treated with respect — free from fear, violence, and discrimination.
5. Ending Homelessness
In 2010, President Obama launched Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness. The President’s plan included an ambitious goal of ending veteran homelessness in our nation, and we’ve seen tremendous progress. HUD has worked closely with local and state governments as well as nonprofit groups, and together we’ve effectively ended veteran homelessness in two states and 27 communities. And since 2010, veteran homelessness is down nationally by nearly 50 percent. HUD has also worked tirelessly with our partners to address chronic homelessness. Between 2010 and 2015, chronic homelessness in the United States has declined by roughly 21 percent. And for the first time, HUD has awarded supportive housing vouchers to Native American veterans through a joint effort with the Department of Veterans Affairs, known as HUD-VASH. And we won’t stop until every American who needs housing gets the support and care they deserve.
6. Making Homes Healthier for Kids
We know that health and housing go hand-in-hand. A person’s home can have a profound impact on their health. Investments we make in preventing diseases like lead poisoning reap great savings in healthcare costs down the road. The same goes for smoking-related costs, which is one reason that HUD is strengthening our efforts around creating and maintaining healthy homes. Last September, we reached an important milestone: 612 Public Housing Authorities, representing more than 20 percent of HUD’s portfolio, voluntarily became smoke-free. Not only is this a big win for our kids — nearly 40 perecent of public housing residents are children — it’s also a big win for these public housing neighborhoods. It’s been so successful that we’re proposing that all public housing go smoke-free. And as we push to make homes safer from respiratory and other lung diseases, our fight doesn’t stop there. This June, the Department also launched the Lead-Safe Homes, Lead-Free Kids toolkit, a series of bold new steps to ensure no family in HUD-assisted housing is endangered by lead. A safe and stable home can lay the foundation for a family’s health, happiness, and future success, and HUD will continue our commitment to make that a reality for every family we serve.
7. Enforcing Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act requires communities to actively promote equal opportunity and access to housing for all. For too long, communities either haven’t had the tools and guidance to do that, or they haven’t been held accountable when they disregarded their responsibility. Last July, HUD issued new guidelines to change that. We’ve also created a fair and comprehensive process to help local governments better use resources to boost affordable housing. Too many American children still begin life facing a disadvantage because of nothing more than the zip code where they’re born. By enforcing the Fair Housing Act, we’ll help ensure that every child, no matter which side of the tracks they’re born on or who their parents are, has a fair shot to go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them.
8. Transforming Public Housing and Distressed Communities
HUD’s place-based efforts are putting local communities at the forefront of our Opportunity Agenda. Initiatives like Promise Zones are bringing federal and local investment into underserved communities and transforming obstacles into opportunities. Neighborhoods that for too long have struggled with weak economies, high rates of joblessness and crime, and low graduation rates are now jumpstarting businesses, improving schools, and creating safer streets, making opportunity not just an idea, but a reality for many Americans. Through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), public housing is being rehabilitated through public-private partnerships. And we’re taking action to address the affordable housing crisis. This year, HUD established the National Housing Trust Fund, the first effort in a generation to increase affordable housing specifically for low-income Americans. That’s going to mean that fewer families will have to decide between paying the light bill and paying the rent.
9. Building Resilient Communities
HUD is helping communities adapt to the threats posed by climate change. We partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation on our $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition, a groundbreaking public-private initiative that’s helping families in 13 states and communities to better prepare for the next extreme weather event. The National Disaster Resilience Competition exemplifies how government can work together with the philanthropic and private organizations to create lasting partnerships that will allow us to face the challenges of tomorrow together.
10. Building a Stronger HUD
The public servants who support HUD’s vision every day are the backbone of our agency. That’s why Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti and I have focused on keeping our team engaged and strengthening the organization at every level. By improving how we do business, we’re better able to deliver on our mission of creating opportunity for all. And it shows: last year HUD was named the Most Improved Mid-Sized Agency award in the 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. We’ve had an incredible two years together, and I’m very proud of all we’ve achieved. And I’m just as excited about the work ahead as I was the day I arrived.