This week, I am pleased to share my remarks from our wonderful 47th Annual Housing Visionary Awards Gala.
85 years ago, this summer, the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, joined us at
our inaugural Policy Conference at the Willard Hotel
, just a few blocks from here. The following day, a delegation from NHC would meet with her and the President to discuss housing priorities. It was a standard of achievement we have never surpassed. Not yet, anyway.
At our inaugural policy conference, Mrs. Roosevelt called upon us to build public-private partnerships to clear away dangerous housing units, many of which had no running water or electricity, and build quality, affordable housing in its place. Government could not do everything, she said, and the private sector must help solve the housing crisis.
She was joined by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, the father of the New Deal, who declared “we must have, attractive low-cost housing” for the poor, most of whom lived in tenements and shotgun shacks without electricity or running water. And for those in the growing working poor, he said, we must also provide homes “with a little plot of ground… adapted to their desires and to their ability to pay.”
The year before they had succeeded in including nearly $2 billion, adjusted for inflation, for housing construction as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act – America’s first modern infrastructure legislation. But they were not satisfied, not by a longshot. In the next three years, we would work together to lay the foundation of the modern housing finance system and build tens of thousands of units of public housing.
We are their heirs, and like them, we share their sense of duty, their frustration over a job incomplete, and their passion to finish it. Because ten years after the cataclysm known as the Great Recession, far too many people are worse off than they were twenty years ago. Only a few statistics are needed to tell the story.
- The black homeownership rate is lower today than it was in 1968, when housing discrimination was legal.
- One in five Millennials live at home with their parents, despite the best job market for their age cohort since the Korean War, when ten percent of them were in Korea, and
- Half of America’s renters are rent burdened. More than twice as many as fifty years ago.
Our new housing crisis is supply driven. We simply don’t build enough affordable homes. In the three years following the beginning of the Great Recession, we experienced an 80 percent drop in single family housing production. And each year since, we have failed to come close to our housing production needs. More than seven million homes – never built – in the 10 years since 2009. We also have a shortage of 7 million more of units of affordable rental housing units. And each year, we get further behind.
Housing is a continuum. The fewer homeowners, the more renters and the more renters, the more rents rise. Everybody loses when we fail to work together. But when we address our housing shortage holistically, we can all win.
This evening, we celebrate the work of bold visionaries in housing, but also of big achievers. They refused to play by the rules, and wrote new ones instead. They refused to accept obstacles in their path, building bridges to cross them. And they made a difference.
The women and men in this room are our nation’s best and brightest in every aspect of affordable housing. We have the knowledge, experience and political skills necessary to SOLVE America’s housing crisis.
What will we do?
Will we play by the rules, or write new ones?
Will we accept the obstacles in our path, or build bridges to others in our often unlikely coalition, and more importantly, beyond it?
Will we make a difference?
When we leave here, we will begin the hard work of creating a holistic national housing policy for the 21st century. A National Housing Act. With the aim of having that legislation introduced in the 117th Congress as HR 1 with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate and whomever is in the White House. HR 1 in 2021. That is our goal, and that will be our legacy when it is signed into law.
This summer, we will begin to meet and sketch out the framework of this once in a lifetime opportunity, to change the world we live in for the better. This fall, we will build our case and refine our policies, and next year, we will build support for comprehensive housing and community development reform. I believe we can succeed in this work if we work together. But I know that regardless of what we do, one year from tonight, more of our fellow Americans will struggle to pay their rent, or own a home, or climb out of a parked car or tent, and go to work.
Tonight, we recognize men and women who re-wrote the rules, managed the risks and bet big on a vision for their communities and their country. If we do the same, we will succeed in our mission to create an America where everyone has an equal opportunity to live in a quality, affordable home in a thriving community.