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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks on Signing the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act

1990-11-28

Well, thank you all very much for being here today. And of course, it's great to be with our enthusiastic and effective Secretary of HUD, Jack Kemp, who deserves great credit for what we're about to do here. And of course, I want to salute the Members of Congress -- they've been so helpful and instrumental in this -- who are with us today. I see Kit Bond, and Al D'Amato was to be -- they're sitting there. And I want to thank, particularly, the chairmen of the Banking Committee, Senator Riegle and Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, for their work on this. I'm told that their counterparts, Jake Garn and Chalmers Wylie, are not with us today, the ranking Republicans on the committee; but I also want to thank them for their remarkable efforts.

I understand that some mayors are in town. Quite a few mayors and other local elected officials are with us, and I want to welcome them to the White House. I'm told that Kimi Gray is here, over here. And, Kimi, you're kind of a symbol of hope for the aspirations of a lot of people, and I'm just delighted you're here with us today.

Now, let me start with a story, a bit of history -- 1862, the middle of the Civil War. And on May 20th of that year, Abraham Lincoln sat down with pen in hand and signed into law the Homestead Act of 1862. And that bill gave 160 acres to any family who wanted to make a go of it in the wilderness and reach for the American dream.

It is one of the most successful endeavors in American history, causing the great land rush to the Wild West and forming the vision for a new homesteading program in urban America today. Because Abraham Lincoln's Homestead Act empowered people, it freed people from the burden of poverty. It freed them to control their own destinies, to create their own opportunities, and to live the vision of the American dream. Likewise today, creating the opportunity for low-income Americans to become property owners is a key to fighting poverty and offering real hope to thousands.

I've said before that a cornerstone of our effort to reduce the heavy hand of government is this idea of empowering people, not bureaucracies, and giving people -- working people, poor people, everyone -- control over their own lives and access to property and jobs so that all Americans can have a life of dignity, responsibility, and economic opportunity. Secretary Kemp has long been a champion of this idea, and that's why I have appointed him as Chairman of the Domestic Policy Council's Economic Empowerment Task Force.

The status quo of centralized bureaucracy is not working for the people -- the ones who need affordable housing; the ones who want to choose the best schools for their kids or child care for their younger children; the ones who want to pull themselves out of dependency and into a life of self-sufficiency in a safe, clean, and drug-free community. It's the people who have the best answers for themselves and their families, not the Government.

And that's exactly what the National Affordable Housing Act that I'm about to sign here does in several ways: It puts power in the hands of people. First, it authorizes a major administration initiative: Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere, the HOPE Initiative. HOPE will provide new opportunities for low-income families to buy their own homes -- urban homesteaders, if you will -- and helps the residents of public housing to buy their own units. Tenant management, control and, ultimately, ownership of public housing is an idea whose time has come. And let me just tell you why.

When the people who live in public housing are in charge, the results are remarkable: more people pay their rent, maintenance improves, operating costs decline, and crime rates plummet. Employment goes up, more kids stay in school, and neighborhoods spring back to life. And the reason? Because each resident simply now has a stake in society -- an equity stake -- a chance to make a go of it, to live the American dream for themselves.

We want public housing to become a springboard for independence, not a bottomless pit for dependency. HUD used to be asked to give awards for public housing residents who stayed in public housing the longest, and we stopped doing that. Jack made a significant change there. And now -- and even more so with this bill -- we're offering incentives to public housing tenants who move out and move up into the productive economic mainstream. These are the people who will help us meet our goal of 1 million new homeowners by 1992.

But there's more. This bill contains Home Investment Partnerships, a new block grant to provide incentives to States, localities, and nonprofit organizations to provide people who currently rent with vouchers, tenant-based assistance, and rehabilitation of existing housing, because affordable housing is in everybody's interest. And in addition to housing assistance for migrant farm workers, the elderly, and the disabled, this legislation also creates the Shelter Plus Care Program to assist homeless persons who are mentally ill, who have a drug abuse problem or other problems, to give them the support they need to keep them from returning to a desolate life on the streets.

Finally, it reforms certain programs in the FHA, in the Federal Housing Administration, to make them more financially sound. The National Affordable Housing Act gives people the best kind of government assistance: It provides opportunity, and it encourages responsibility without the shackles of dependency. And that is really the American dream, for no matter where people live or how much money they have, all people yearn to control their own lives. Abraham Lincoln knew this, and his vision lives on today as the foundation for our efforts to empower all Americans.

And so, it is with that in mind -- the undying ideal of hope and opportunity for all -- that I am pleased to sign this bill into law.

And once again, I want to thank each and every Member of Congress who has worked hard on this legislation, particularly the two chairmen that are with us today. And of course, again, my respects for his leadership to Jack Kemp, the Secretary of HUD. Thank you all for joining us today.

And now, if I can lift it up, I'll sign it. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Senators Christopher S. Bond and Alfonse M. D'Amato, and Kimi O. Gray, chairperson of the National Association of Resident Management Corps. and chairperson of the Kenilworth-Parkside Resident Management Corp. S. 566, approved November 28, was assigned Public Law No. 101 - 625.

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