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Public Papers - 1989 - November

Remarks to the National Association of Realtors in Dallas, Texas


Thank you, Ira. I know I speak for everyone here today when I salute you for serving so ably as the president of the National Association of Realtors. And my best wishes to your successor, Norm Flynn. And let me also recognize -- rerecognize, if you will -- the man who is doing such wonderful work, bringing vision to HUD, putting through the tough new reforms that ensures that his agency serves people in need, my outstanding Secretary of HUD, Jack Kemp. I am so proud he's with me here today. And of course, an old friend and a fine Member of Congress who traveled down on Air Force One with Barbara and Jack and me today, Dallas' own Congressman Steve Bartlett. And of course, I'm delighted that the mother of the Texas Rangers boss is here today, my wife, Barbara, the ``Silver Fox.''

Before going into my main remarks, let me just say a word about the momentous events in East Germany. I was moved, as you all were, by the pictures of Berliners from East and West -- standing atop the wall with chisels and hammers -- celebrating the opening of the most vivid symbol of the Iron Curtain. And then today, just on the plane coming down, I read a report where 18 new border crossings would be made in the wall in the near future.

And to be honest, I doubted that this would happen in the very first year of this administration. Twenty-eight years after the desperate days of 1961, when tanks faced off at Checkpoint Charlie and that terrible barrier was built -- now the East German Government has responded to the wishes of its people. And while no one really accurately predicted the speed of the changes underway in Eastern Europe -- and certainly I didn't. But last May, right here in Texas, over at Texas A M, I noted hopeful, indeed, remarkable signs of a Soviet break with the cycles of the past. And I called upon the Soviet Union to support self-determination for the nations of Eastern and central Europe and to tear down the Iron Curtain. And now we're seeing it happen. And when I visited Poland and Hungary in July, I sensed that historically important events there held the seeds for even more dramatic change.

And this played a big part in the decision last July made, really, at the G - 7 meeting in Paris. On the way back, I proposed a face-to-face meeting with President Gorbachev before next spring's summit. And the Malta meeting, given recent events, takes on, I think, even more importance than when I conceived the idea 3/2\ months ago.

The changes in recent months make clear that the process of reform initiated by the Eastern Europeans and supported by Mr. Gorbachev and by America and by our allies is real, offers us all much hope, and deserves our continued encouragement. We're living in fascinating times, and we will seize every opportunity to contribute to a lasting peace and to extend democracy. And in doing so, I will conduct the foreign policy of this great country with the prudence that these fascinating times, times of change, demand -- and with the imagination. The 1980's has been the decade of American renewal. And I believe that around the world, the 1990's will inevitably be the decade of democracy.

Ira mentioned to me that my speech is a special occasion for this association, and I said I was honored. And then Ira said: ``Well, it's not often that we're addressed by someone who lives in public housing.'' [Laughter] And you know something: Barbara and I get just as emotional about it today as the day we first walked in there. The truth is, I am not a real estate wizard.

When I was elected to Congress -- and I get reminded about this by Barbara -- when I was elected to Congress in 1966, we needed to make housing arrangements up in Washington. We were in Houston. And at that time, Senator Al Simpson's father, Milward Simpson, was retiring and moving back to Wyoming. So, I bought the Simpson house, sight unseen, over the telephone. And when we got to Washington, there were just two problems: We found out right away that the house wasn't quite big enough for our family, and we found out when we put the place up for sale that it wasn't worth quite as much as we paid for it. [Laughter] And that's my claim to fame in your business. I'm the only person who ever lost money in Washington real estate in the last 20 years. [Laughter] Ira, where the hell were you when I needed you? [Laughter]

But few people have done more for the real estate industry than Barbara and I have. We've moved 28 -- this is true -- we have moved 28 times in our 44 years of marriage. [Laughter] You ought to be smiling. Now, I know what you're thinking: What a dream client my family would make for any realtor. [Laughter] In fact, Dick Darman over at OMB is calculating the commissions we've paid over the years, measured as a percentage of the gross national product. [Laughter]

But I came here today to lay out a comprehensive agenda to help bring basic shelter and affordable housing within reach of millions of Americans, and I call it America's HOPE, Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere.

But before I tell you about HOPE, I want to speak for just a minute about the single most important factor in helping millions of Americans realize the American dream: the economy. Because the truth is, there is no better housing policy than a growing economy. And we've got one, one that provides jobs and wages and opportunities for advancement -- long-term interest rates that open ownership opportunities to hundreds of thousands of first-time homebuyers because every drop in interest rates makes it possible for more families to buy that home they want. And I pledge that my administration will vigorously support the mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions. These deductions encourage home ownership, and they are vitally important to our overall economic prosperity.

And all signs point to continued strength in the economy. November marks the 84th month of economic expansion -- the longest peacetime expansion on record. And here's one statistic that really hits home: Mortgage rates are down from almost 14 percent back in November of '82 to less than 10 percent today. And my goal and Jack's goal -- the goal of our entire administration -- to pursue policies that will bring them down even further.

Of course, part of any responsible economic policy is getting our fiscal house in order. And I want you to know that my administration is hanging tough for a responsible budget, with real deficit reduction -- no smoke and no mirrors. We don't like sequestration; no one does. But we'll have to live with it if we have to and if it's the only way to rein in spending and bring that deficit down to the Gramm-Rudman target. I am ready to sign a budget bill whenever Congress is ready to strip off all those costly extras and add-ons hidden away in those omnibus spending bills.

We're getting down to the wire, and I'm optimistic -- optimistic that my administration and the Congress can agree on a responsible budget; optimistic that we'll see more and more Americans prospering -- providing better lives for their families and looking to all of you to help them realize their dreams. And I know we can count on you, just as we counted on your strong support in helping to pass that 1988 Fair Housing Act. Ira, that is a tribute to your leadership, to your strong organization, and to its dedication to the right of all people to be free from discrimination and prejudice.

But more must be done, and that's where the HOPE initiative comes in. This initiative will address the full range of housing concerns, from shelter for the homeless to affordable housing for low-income families to initiatives that open access to expanded job opportunities and help millions more Americans own their homes.

Let's start right there, with what HOPE can do for first-time home buyers. You all know about families working to buy that first home. Well, they deserve our help, and they're going to get it. I will ask Congress to enact legislation allowing first-time buyers to draw, without penalty, on IRA savings as a downpayment for that first home.

Our HOPE initiative also means efforts to improve low-income housing. As you know, my administration rejects these costly new public construction programs that, in the past, have too often produced the housing projects that symbolize the very absence of hope in our inner cities. There's a better way: housing vouchers that empower low-income families to choose where they want to live.

So, our idea is to create incentives for the construction and rehabilitation of the housing low-income families need. And that's why I'm calling on Congress to renew the low-income housing tax credit, but make it part of a package that also includes the cut in the capital gains tax. I don't care what the political opponents say, what the critics say. A cut in capital gains means an increase in jobs, investment, and growth. And I'm grateful for the fact that the National Association of Realtors has fought hard to make a capital gains cut a reality. Well, let me tell you something: That fight is not over.

And we've got to go one step further, as a matter of fact. In those pockets of poverty where despair has driven out hope, we've got to eliminate the capital gains tax altogether. And that's a key element in the enterprise zone legislation that I want to see enacted, that Jack Kemp has worked so hard to produce. I've called on Congress to create at least 50 enterprise zones over the next 4 years to help create the jobs and incomes that are the real key to affordable housing. And I hope Congress gets the message; it is time that we gave the green light to our inner-city entrepreneurs.

And HOPE can help us reverse a trend that's stunting growth and development in low-income areas. Over 9 million Americans live in these FHA-insured homes, and every year nearly a half a million first-time home-buyers use FHA to help them make their dream affordable. My administration has announced major reforms to ensure that FHA is true to its primary mission of making housing affordable for low- and moderate-income families. We will change the destructive practices which have kept FHA out of the inner cities and distressed communities that most need its support.

And frankly, at all levels of government, we have got to take a second look at some of the well-intended housing policies that actually decrease our housing supply. I'm talking about the excessive rules, regulations, and redtape that add unnecessarily to the cost of housing by tens of thousands of dollars or that create perverse incentives to allow existing housing to deteriorate. And so, I've asked my able Secretary, Jack Kemp, to convene a blue-ribbon commission to identify barriers to affordable housing and then to make recommendations on how these barriers can be removed. And let me make the first recommendation right here, Mr. Secretary: No city, State, or town should receive a single penny of HOPE funding until they have identified barriers to affordable housing in their own backyard and take steps to remove them.

Someone once said: ``We shape buildings; and thereafter, they shape us.'' The same is true when it comes to low-income housing policy. That's the real centerpiece of our HOPE initiative: to recapture the American dream of homeownership for those who have been left behind, through resident management and resident ownership.

It's already working -- Kenilworth-Parkside, back in Washington; Cochran Gardens in St. Louis; in East L.A., public housing through community leaders, like Alicia Rodriguez, and by encouraging nonprofit and resident groups. It's going to work right here in Dallas -- at places like Rhoads Terrace under the take-charge leadership of a courageous mother named Jessie Toles -- and all across the United States.

The results are promising because, you see, with tenants in control, we see better maintenance, more rents paid on time, a decrease in people on the welfare rolls. And we see something more: a sense of pride that is the very core of any thriving community. I don't know any better way to revive hope in our inner cities than to give tenants themselves a say in running their communities, a stake in the future, and the belief that they, too, can own a home. Because the true measure of success isn't how many families we add to housing assistance rolls; it's how many families move up and out and into the ranks of homeowners.

But let's face it: There's more to the HOPE initiative. And now I'm talking about people who stand in the shadows of what is otherwise a very bright economic picture, who live a nightmare in the midst of the American dream. We see them every day on the streets of our cities, sleeping on the steam grates, living out of cardboard boxes. Of course, I'm talking about the homeless.

And for most of us, November is the time of year when we start looking forward to the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. For the homeless, November is the time of year the temperature starts to drop and simply making it through the night becomes a life-and-death struggle.

Think about the children. Pretty soon your kid, our kids, will be dreaming about Christmas toys -- new video game or the bike they'd like. And it's different for kids on the street, though. I read a story not long ago that stuck in my mind about a little boy without a home. And here's what he dreams about at night: ``I dreamed my Mom got her housing assistance,'' he said, ``and we got a house with a great big backyard.'' But in the morning, for that little boy, the dream is over. He is up at 5:30, out of a shelter and back onto the streets. Now, that is a tragedy because no child in America should have to grow up on the streets, and every family in America should have a roof over its head.

And we've got to do better. And my administration is going to do its part to expand emergency shelters. And yesterday I signed a bill that substantially increases funding under the McKinney Act to reduce homelessness. And we're going to continue to push for full funding of homeless programs under that law. And today I'm also asking Jack Kemp to find new ways to put a portion of our FHA foreclosures into the hands of nonprofit groups, groups that are doing such wonderful work rehabilitating abandoned homes, fighting poverty in our inner cities.

But the real answer for the homeless, those with mental problems or dependent on drugs or alcohol, is shelter plus care: shelter supplemented by the necessary support services to get these people the help they need to live in dignity. And that means a partnership -- a combined Federal, State, and local effort -- to supply the funding and other resources that constitute a comprehensive solution for the hardcore homeless. And if we care about them, we've got to take more than a one-dimensional approach to the problem.

The HOPE initiative will include improved coordination of basic needs like shelter, with other social services, to help the homeless get the treatment that they need to get control of their lives; to help them find and hold down jobs; to help them regain hope and leave life on the streets, leave that life behind for good.

Helping the homeless; helping low-income families find affordable housing, decent housing; helping more of the 80 million Americans who don't own a home join the ranks of homeowners. These are the aims of the HOPE initiative, and these are aims well within our reach. And think about that little boy I spoke about a moment ago. Think about his dream because it really is the American dream, what all of us want for ourselves and our families.

We must unleash the resources of the profit and nonprofit sectors, of churches and synagogues, States and localities, in our great national enterprise to assure safe, decent, and affordable housing for all. And only then will we be able to replace hopelessness with hope, and only then will we be able to wage war on poverty and despair. And only then will we be able to complete our vision of a free and prosperous America, full of opportunity for people everywhere.

Thank you all very much. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. in the Chantilly Ballroom at Loew's Anatole Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Ira Gribin, president of the association.

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