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Public Papers - 1990 - January

Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Home Builders in Atlanta, Georgia

1990-01-19

Well, thank you, Shirley, Florida's gift to the Home Builders and trusted adviser to this President. I'm delighted to be with you. I'm delighted to see a fellow Houstonian -- your next president, your incoming president. Marty, good luck to you in the travails ahead. I wish you the very best. And to other VP's here -- Mark Tipton and Jay Buchert and Kent Colton and Bob Bannister -- delighted to be with all of you. And, Patsy, what a job you've done on this convention. Thank you for including me in it.

It's great to see you. It hasn't been so long, has it, since that last meeting that Shirley referred to, in November. And of course, we have with us several other distinguished guests. Congressman Newt Gingrich is here, and Chalmers Wiley, so active in the housing business. [Representative] Steve Bartlett is over here, a fellow Texan. Kit Bond, Senator Bond -- great leaders in the Senate -- Senator Wyche Fowler flew down with me on Air Force One. So, you have a very distinguished congressional delegation here, and I expect I'm missing somebody.

Also with me on the plane -- and doesn't have that much to do with housing, but he's here and I'm very proud of him -- is Secretary Manuel Lujan, the Secretary of the Interior, who came with me -- over here someplace -- whoops, where is -- there he is on the end -- and other members of what I think is an outstanding Cabinet. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't single out an old friend of mine -- one fatal flaw, he's a Democrat -- [laughter] -- but one old friend of mine, and that is Atlanta's old and yet new mayor, my friend -- and I mean that -- Maynard Jackson and his family are here with us today, too. So, Maynard, we wish you all the best in the job ahead.

And what a treat it is to be back in Atlanta. In fact, I believe that it was in this very hall about a year and a half ago that the party opposite from mine held their 1988 convention. And of course, I have fond memories of that convention. It gave me a very good excuse to go fishing in Wyoming with [Secretary of State] Jim Baker. [Laughter] And the question was appropriately raised, ``Where was George?'' Albeit a year and half later, I'm proud to say, ``Here I am,'' proud to be with the Home Builders. Isn't it great to live in a country with no limits? Who would have thought that I would put my silver foot in the same place where Ann Richards talked? [Laughter]

In any event, it is great to be back among the Home Builders of America. I really hope you all appreciate one thing -- it's not every day that this association gets to hear from one who actually lives in public housing. [Laughter] And let me say parenthetically, I'm very sorry that my favorite Silver Fox is not with me. She's doing literacy work in Florida. But I might add, I am very proud of Barbara Bush, and I wish she were with me here today.

You see, before we moved to the White House, Barbara and I were a home builder's and, yes, a realtor's dream. We lived in 28 places in 45 years. And yet in a real sense, wherever we lived -- whether it was in Houston, Washington, New York, or China -- our family had one true home that we took with us wherever we went.

I remember the first place Barbara and I lived in, when our son George was just a baby -- a tiny, ramshackle shotgun house in the oil town of Odessa, Texas. It had a makeshift partition down the middle that cut the house into two apartments, leaving us with a small kitchen and a shared bathroom, an old water-drip window unit -- you remember those cooler units they used to use out there -- cranked up like a west Texas dust storm still couldn't drown out the noise of the all-night parties next door.

But that first house that Barbara and I lived in couldn't compare to those new ``smart houses'' that you in the NAHB are building. We were fortunate that the wiring even worked, while today you're putting telephone, television, and power together on one master cable, linked to a computer. It is remarkable what free enterprise and American ingenuity can do.

Yet despite it all, Lord Byron was right -- a home is a place in the heart. I can't speak for our neighbors, but for us that little tiny shack was home. And I have to wonder and worry how many families break apart because they can't afford to buy or rent a home even half as decent as that first place that we lived in. We cannot allow the high costs of housing to suffocate the financial life of America's young people. When it comes to housing, this must not become a society of haves and have-nots. And I salute your association, who understands that principle and is doing something about it.

The fact is that for the last decade and a half the cost of new homes -- the cost of the American dream, if you will -- has been escalating. Young couples just starting out, low- and moderate-income Americans, unmarried people trying to invest in the future -- and many are finding themselves priced out of the home market, especially new homes. To create decent housing that people can afford, the Government and the private sector must cut some redtape. So, I've asked my able, distinguished Secretary of HUD, Jack Kemp -- and what a job he is doing for housing in this country -- to convene a blue ribbon commission to identify these barriers to affordable housing construction and to make recommendations on how to eliminate them.

And while I'm at it, let me just get something off my chest. As you know, as I travel around this country, I've encouraged the planting of trees, and even planted a few myself -- half of which lived. [Laughter] But in these same travels, I see so many new suburbs that are utterly denuded of trees. Ironic, since the new owner's first instinct will be to plant as many trees as possible. Ironic also because trees clean out air. And so, I respectfully suggest as a former businessman that leaving the original trees might be a shrewd sales strategy. It's good for business, and it is very good for the environment.

But the truth is, there's one housing policy and one sales strategy that's better than all the others combined, and of course, I'm talking about a healthy, growing economy with low, long-term interest rates. This first month of the 1990's marks the 86th month of economic growth in America. And as Shirley says, it was housing that paved the way to the longest peacetime recovery in modern history. You built nearly 10 million single-family homes in the eighties and nearly 5 million multifamily units. And by working together, the housing industry will keep this country going strong in the nineties.

Now, you understand that the engine of homeownership in America is the private enterprise system. And by helping those entrepreneurs and risktakers, more Americans will have access to the dream of homeownership and decent housing. But to keep America moving -- keep it moving -- we will need the cooperation of Congress. And I can think of one simple action that Congress can take to give this economic expansion a boost. It has already been debated; it has already won the support of the majority of the Members in the House, the majority of the Members in the Senate. And what we need now is a simple up-or-down vote to cut the tax on capital gains.

Some call such a cut a favor for the rich, and they should know better. They should know what you know -- that a capital gains tax cut favors economic growth, jobs, and opportunity for working America. It favors every American who makes a living day after day, brick by brick, hammer on nail; and it helps those get jobs -- those who do not have jobs now. A capital gains tax cut will help every American who holds a job or owns a home. And so, I call on the Democrat leaders of Congress to give the American people a break and to let the House and Senate work their will by having an up-or-down vote on the capital gains tax cut -- and do it soon after the Congress comes back.

Also vital to the home buyer and the home builder alike are low and stable rates of interest. A 1-percent increase in the rate of interest knocks millions of families out of the market. In the last few years, millions of families could afford a new home because mortgage interest rates have dropped from 18 percent in the early eighties to less than 10 percent today. But I want to see them come down even more. I am not satisfied at 10 percent.

The 1990's must be another decade of lower taxes and lower interest rates; but to have a stable economy, it must also be a decade in which Washington at long last adopts fiscal policies as sound as those of the average American household. None of us is allowed to spend our bonus before we earn it, nor should Congress start planning where to spend a possible peace dividend. To the extent that the world events allows us to cut defense spending, then we should recognize that cutting the Federal budget deficit would be a true dividend for America's taxpayers and our children's future. We must get that deficit down.

And too often we forget, Congress forgets, that every house is the handiwork of an architect, a surveyor, a mason, a plumber, a carpenter, painter -- dozens of other working men and women. And if Congress levies new burdens on our economy, it's these very people who will be put out of work. But of course, even if we do cut the capital gains tax, and even if we do keep interest rates low and get them lower, and even if we do protect the economy, this is cold comfort for those Americans who languish in the projects -- or the thousands of others who know no shelter at all. These Americans need help. They need hope. And so, that's just what I call our program that Jack and I are working on together: HOPE. It stands for Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere. Our program addresses the full range of housing concerns -- from shelter, the homeless, to affordable housing for low-income families, to greater access to jobs.

Let's start with what HOPE can do for first-time home buyers. It's time Congress let Americans use their IRA savings to get into that first house.

And then -- God bless them -- there are those who must live in the poverty and fear of public housing. They're disproportionately minority Americans. And they suffer abuse from drug-dealing predators within, and the last thing they need is abuse from without. One of the first and, I think, very best things that Jack Kemp did when he came into office was to change HUD procedures so the drug dealers can be kicked out of public housing. We owe that to those people living in these public dwellings.

And concerning abuse from without, let me say just one thing: Atlanta is a great and cheerful city. It has proudly risen from the ashes of a distant past. And so, for those who plan to revel in a rally of hate here tomorrow, let them know this: Atlantans, like all Americans, turn their backs on bigots.

To escape violence and crime, to live in decent housing, our public housing tenants must first be empowered, empowered to choose where they want to live, empowered by housing vouchers. Low-income families don't need us to build new publichousing horrors, these edifices. They need decent low-income housing. And that's why I call on the Congress to extend the lowincome housing tax credit.

Earlier I discussed my capital gains cut proposal, but even this cut would not be enough for America's impoverished inner cities, often as desolate and as shattered as a war zone. No, for these communities, we've got to go one step further and eliminate the capital gains tax all together within these enterprise zones, because this surely will attract more investment and jobs and encourage more development in these areas.

There is something perverse about discriminatory lending practices that have kept the FHA out of the very places that need the most help. And so, my administration will ensure that FHA is true to its first mission: to make housing affordable for low- and moderate-income families. It's wrong to draw a red line around the inner city -- it's not right or fair. And we're going to replace the red line with a green line of opportunity and jobs for the future.

The centerpiece of HOPE is to let all Americans live in dignity and control their destiny. And dignity is exactly what resident management projects allow. Tenant management and tenant ownership is not just an experiment, it's the future. But even more is needed. We're all going to have to work in a partnership to solve the problems of the helpless and the homeless. My administration is going to do its part by expanding homeless assistance. Late last year I signed a bill that boosts funding under the McKinney Act to reduce homelessness. Our HOPE proposals will tie shelter with basic services for those in need. And Secretary Kemp, I know, will tell you later of the other steps we're taking.

You're doing your part. You certainly are, building and renovating shelters for the homeless, for battered women, for these troubled children and retarded adults. And you're working with the Job Corps, taking the unskilled, the out of work, and training them for lifetime careers in construction and maintenance. And again, I congratulate you on this commitment. What better Point of Light -- one American helping another have a better life.

But our partnership needs a third element: that constellation of volunteers I referred to that I call the Thousand Points of Light. I couldn't come to Atlanta without taking note of one such Point of Light: a part-time carpenter and his wife, who have provided shelter for so many in this very city. And of course, I'm talking about the former President, Jimmy, and Rosalynn Carter. They deserve our thanks, as do all the people behind Habitat for Humanity. [Applause]

And he was President, and he deserves the applause you've given him. And so does a woman named Ella McCall. Ella, once a homeless mother -- now she has her master's degree and serves the homeless as a social worker in a shelter in Washington, DC. And when the family strives to move out of a shelter into a home, they need her, they need Ella. When a homeless mother wanders lost with her children in tow, she needs Ella. And when I look out of the south window of the White House at dusk and see the distant figures of ragged men bedding down for the night, I pray to God that this country find more people like Ella McCall.

Your work in job training, Jack Kemp's work in tenant management and ownership, Ella McCall's work with the homeless -- all of this ultimately saves the taxpayers money. But this isn't about money, it's about caring. And if it takes love to make a house a home, then perhaps the same could be said of a country. For the poorest among us, America must not just be a place to live in but a home for all.

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

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the Omni Coliseum. In his opening remarks, he referred to the following association officers: Shirley McVay Wiseman, president; Martin Perlman, incoming president; Mark E. Tipton, first vice president; Robert J. Buchert, vice president and treasurer; Kent W. Colton, chief executive officer; and Robert D. Bannister, senior staff vice president for governmental affairs. The President also referred to Ann Richards, one of the keynote speakers at the 1989 Democratic National Convention.

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