THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Saturday, December 23, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY TELEPHONE
WITH SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT ANDREW CUOMO
2:00 P.M. EST
SECRETARY CUOMO: (IN PROGRESS) -- the longer I've been here, and
especially given the current circumstances, what has been more and more
clear to me is the number one enemy is the alienation that people are
feeling from government. Just the overwhelming sense that government is
less and less relevant to their daily lives, and government is less and
So part of what we've been trying to do is reconnect government
and citizen. And that's what the President means when he talks about
reinventing government -- reinvent government to get back to the original
mission and to get back to its "customers," which are the citizens.
We worked very hard to reinvent HUD, which in many ways was one
of the more challenged federal departments. I don't know if you remember,
but they talked about eliminating HUD back in '94 because it wasn't working
well. We've come a long way since then. There's been a fundamental
reinvention. The department is smaller than it was before, and it is doing
more than it's ever done before. We've won awards from Harvard University,
what they call the Innovation Award, which are the Nobel Prize equivalent
for government, on what we've done in terms of reinvention.
Building on that newfound credibility, the President will make
three very significant announcements tomorrow in our field, the urban
development field. First, he'll speak to homeownership. President Clinton
made as a goal when he took office the highest homeownership rate in
history, and it is today the highest homeownership rate in history -- 67.7
percent of Americans now own their own home.
One of the reasons for that success is that the economy has been
so strong it's been driving up the homeownership. Within that, the federal
government has its own vehicle to push homeownership, which is called the
FHA -- Federal Housing Administration. The FHA does mortgage insurance --
it will insure a mortgage, so it helps people who can't, who are the verge
of being able to afford homeownership, it helps get them over the hump, the
We have a net increase of 10 million homeowners since 1993.
Since '93, FHA has helped 4.3 million Americans buy their first home. And
we also have a record high homeownership for minorities of 1.9 million
What the President will announce is that we are raising the
maximum loan limit for FHA from $219,000 to just under $240,000. That is a
significant increase, and we're doing that because the value of homes has
gone up and we want to keep pace with the increase in the value of homes,
so we're raising the eligible limit from $219,000 to just under $240,000.
The second announcement that the President will make is that he
will announce new efforts to integrate public housing. President Clinton,
as you know, has talked about the one America initiative in addressing the
issue of race. I believe that the issue of race is one of the most, if not
the most, important issue that we're going to face in the future.
Our position here at HUD is if we can't live together, certainly
we can't come together. And if you look at how we live in this country, if
you look at our housing patterns, our settlement patterns, you see
segregated housing patterns. Cruelly, public housing is often the most
segregated housing in the nation. And if we're talking about coming
together as a nation, we have a President who is talking about the issue of
race and one America, surely then public housing, where the taxpayers pay
the bill, Uncle Sam's own housing should be a model of integration.
We're going to sign a rule which will integrate public housing in
terms of income and race for the first time since public housing has been
created, which is over 50 years. We're saying that the public housing
authorities across the country, which actually manage the public housing,
must deconcentrate poverty and take affirmative steps to promote
The third and final announcement and, in keeping with the holiday
season, is the President is going to announce the federal government's
efforts to help the homeless. They are at an all-time high, over $1
billion in federal funding to help the homeless. They are also through an
entirely different approach, the continuum of care. Harvard University
gave us an award for it, which basically talks about taking homeless people
and moving them towards independence and putting the steps, the system in
place on the local level to help them make that transition from
homelessness to independence, and providing whatever services you need to
provide in the interim to get them from the street to independent living.
Literally, states, almost every state across the country will
win. Four hundred partnerships have been forged across the United States.
We will have 2,600 grants, 2,600 projects, helping more than 200,000
homeless people. And as I mentioned, the over $1 billion in funding, the
largest in history.
Those are the three announcements that the President is making on
homeownership to increase the FHA mortgage rates. The integration of
public housing and the affirmative steps to integrate public housing to
make it a model of integration for the nation. And the homeless grants, a
record over $1 billion.
The President will also speak to the overall context, which is
that this nation is doing very well, there's the strongest economy in
history. But that doesn't mean that everyone and everywhere, everyone and
everyplace is doing well.
And, yes, you have a very strong economy, but you also have many
people who are left out, and this holiday season let's remember how much
more we have to do for the people and places left behind.
Questions, comments? Please identify yourself.
Q Mr. Secretary, on the matter of integrating housing, since
much housing is located originally in ghetto areas, how do you do that? Do
you subsidize people that come from other parts of the town or suburbs to
live in them, or what do you do?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What we're saying is you must integrate public
housing from the universe that is entering public housing. We are not
going to go outside of the eligible universe. To go in to public housing,
you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Income eligibility is the
main one. And the integration must be from within that universe. But
within that universe, you have higher incomes and lower incomes, and you
have people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. From that universe
to the integration. So the higher end of the income spectrum, within that
universe, the lower end of the income spectrum within that universe,
different races and ethnicities, but all within that universe.
Q But how do you do that? How do you do that by ethnic
diversity? Do you suggest that, well, we're going to house people in this
building essentially determined by their race? A certain number of whites,
certain number of blacks, certain number of Latino?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What we do is this -- you have, let's say a
typical housing authority. Let's say it has 10 buildings throughout the
city, or throughout the county, whatever the Jurisdiction. You look at
each of the buildings, and you do a census of the buildings. You then look
at the buildings in comparison, one to the other. If among the 10
buildings you find that there is a concentration of race in some of the
buildings, i.e. white buildings and African American buildings. Or you
find that you have higher income buildings and lower income buildings.
Then you must work to deconcentrate that concentration of race or poverty.
What happens in public housing if you have 10 buildings, the
buildings tend to mirror the homogenous nature of the neighborhood that
they're in. So you can have a typical housing authority with 10 buildings,
you can have five buildings that are predominantly white, five buildings
that are predominantly minority. And we're saying that should not be.
We would also get a lot of advocates who will say the buildings
that are predominantly white tend to be the better maintained buildings
within the housing authority. So this gets very complex. But on the face,
we're saying do the census. When you have a concentration of race or
poverty, then you must affirmatively work to deconcentrate.
Q To follow up on this, it sounds to me almost like a quota
system you're proposing here. Would you move African Americans out of a
predominantly black buildings?
SECRETARY CUOMO: No. There are no quota systems whatsoever.
What we are saying is, when you have new applicants coming into the
building, you should bring in -- allow new applicants in a way that
furthers the deconcentration.
So you do your -- you have your 10 buildings, the five that are
predominantly white, the five that are predominantly minority. When the
next person comes into the system, that person should be admitted to a
building that furthers the deconcentration.
Q Just to clarify, Mr. Secretary, deconcentration does not
involve proactively moving people from their existing apartments or
buildings into other ones, it pertains solely to new applicants entering
the system, right?
SECRETARY CUOMO: That's exactly right. Exactly right. So what
you're saying is, look, we do the census and we see that there are five
buildings that are predominantly white, five buildings that are
predominantly minority. What do we do about it?
Well, we don't want to ask people to go back and move, but as new
people are coming into the system, let's take the opportunity to alleviate
the situation and to deconcentrate. In other words, when a minority family
comes in, rather than putting a minority family in one of the already
predominantly minority buildings, put the minority family in an integrated
When a higher income family moves in -- higher income within the
public housing eligibility -- put the higher-income family into the
lower-income building to achieve integration.
Q Mr. Secretary, this has been tried, I believe, down in
Southeast Texas, a community called Vidor, and apparently it didn't work.
What steps will the Department take to enforce this local housing
SECRETARY CUOMO: No, that's a different case. That's a
different case. But it speaks to the same point.
What happened in Texas was you had a federal court make a
determination that the Housing Authority was deliberately or effectively
segregating and violating civil rights laws. That is a different case.
You have a federal court that says this housing authority has been
operating in a way that violates civil rights laws. And Vidor was a
specific case. But you have multiple housing authorities in Texas which
are under court order to integrate.
Those were egregious situations where there was purposeful
segregation. That's not what we're talking about here today. If you break
the law, that's a different case. That could be criminal, that could have
civil. We're saying as a matter of policy, look, every housing authority
everywhere in the country take a census of what you now have, look at what
you have. If there is segregation, then you should affirmatively work to
There may be no segregation. A housing authority could look at
the 10 buildings, and the 10 buildings could come back fully integrated.
In other words, they're integrated by race, they're integrated by income.
However, if, when you look at the housing authority, you look at
the buildings, you notice patterns of segregation, then we're going to work
to alleviate that segregation. The Vidor, Texas said, you purposefully
segregated. That is a different situation.
Q Yes, sir, Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up on that, what
about if the housing authority refuses to go along with your rule, your
policy? What is HUD going to do then?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Well, first of all, we have talked about --
we've worked this through with the housing authorities, and the housing
authority directors overwhelmingly believe that the best housing is the
most integrated housing, that diversity is a strength of this nation, and
that the housing authority should reflect that. There is also a law,
called the Fair Housing law, which we also enforce, which says, you shall
not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, sex in a housing
determination. So you cannot segregate intentionally. That's what
happened in Vidor. That's a violation of the law. And if you had a
housing authority that was purposely either disobeying a federal law or
purposely segregating, that would be a different case.
Q Mr. Secretary, I have two questions for you. One, I'm
wondering what kind of criteria you'll be using to decide whether or not
segregation exists in a particular housing project. And, two, will any of
this program be endangered by the change of administration?
SECRETARY CUOMO: This is a law that we're implementing. The law
was passed in something called The Public Housing Reform Act. So it is a
law. A new administration would have to change the law, which means they
would have to go to the Congress and they would have to change the law.
This is not just a departmental action, it's a departmental implementation
of a law that we proposed, but which was passed by Congress.
We are not, on how this is implemented, we are not doing anything
directly. We're saying to the local housing authorities, you do the
census, you look at the 10 buildings, 100 buildings, 200 buildings,
whatever it is -- you do the census, you look at the income breakdown and
the racial breakdown. If, once you do the census, there is segregation,
then you must work affirmatively to accomplish desegregation.
But it's up to the housing authority to do the analysis of its
own projects and to do its own census.
Q Also, just following up on that, Mr. Secretary, can you
elaborate a bit on what you see as a benefit to integrating public housing.
SECRETARY CUOMO: You know, when you talk to the public housing
directors, and from my travels over the past eight years, I believe the
best housing communities are the most diverse, most integrated housing
communities. I believe that the diversity is a great source of strength
for this nation, not a weakness whatsoever. It if was a weakness, then the
country wouldn't be the leading country on the globe. What made us work
was the diversity. And public housing should mirror that.
And that's why we did this, it's the law of the land and Congress
passed it. But, again, the public housing authorities overwhelmingly
thought this was a good idea and overwhelmingly supported it. The case in
Vidor, the case in Texas, you have a handful of housing authorities that
violate the law -- which, by the way, you have private landlords who
violate the Fair Housing law, you have commercial landlords who violate the
Fair Housing law.
We will bring several thousand cases, over my term, of violations
of the Fair Housing law. So you always get some people who break the law.
But overwhelmingly, they thought it was a good thing.
Q If it's overwhelmingly supported, and its the local housing
authority that are making the decisions themselves, and are going through
this process themselves, why do they need a federal rule?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Because we want to also say, this is the law of
the land. Integration is a good thing. Segregation is a bad thing. And
we believe most people feel that way. But also, it is one of the
underlying principles of this nation. Discrimination is un-American, and
discrimination is illegal. And public housing should, if anything, be the
strongest case for integration. It is literally the housing that the
people of the nation pay for. So it's the law of the land.
Now, as I said, there are some cases where the segregation is so
egregious that we've even found where it has been illegal. And Vidor is
indicative of that. Those again are a handful of bad actors within the
overall scheme of things. But it's the law of the land, and we want to
make public housing a model.
I have the homeless grants and the loan limits are the other two
announcements. The FHA loan limits and the homeless grants, we haven't
spoken about that. So if anyone has any questions about that?
Q I'd just like to know, Mr. Secretary -- I'd just like to
know where tomorrow we can call if we want to get specific state numbers.
I don't want to take up everybody's time trying to get the California
numbers. I ask this question every -- for those of us who volunteer to
work every Christmas, this has become a great Christmas Eve tradition for
us, doing this particular story. And those are the numbers that we need
every year. So is there a phone number or someone who will be on duty?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Would you do me a favor and call my wife and
tell her that this is a great Christmas Eve tradition?
Q You and I have done the story in past Christmases. You may
not remember, but I was sitting here listening to you, thinking, I wonder
what Secretary Cuomo is going to be doing next Christmas at this time
without another --
SECRETARY CUOMO: I don't know, what would you do on Christmas
Eve if you don't have homeless grants to announce?
Q Well, this is, I think, what, the fourth year in a row?
SECRETARY CUOMO: You know what's funny? It's eight years for
me, because I was the Assistant Secretary before, and I ran the homeless
programs. So it's been eight years. Four years as Secretary but eight
years. But apparently, some other people do other things on Christmas Eve.
They do like gifts, something about gifts. (Laughter.)
Q But I've written this story several times.
SECRETARY CUOMO: This is -- I'm here with Lisa McSpadden. The
state information is on the web tomorrow?
MS. MacSPADDEN: It will be posted on the web as of noon. But we
also will be celebrating our usual tradition and will be here tomorrow.
Q Do you have a phone number?
MS. MacSPADDEN: It's 202-708-0980 or 0685.
Q Thank you. Great.
SECRETARY CUOMO: But I can tell you this. I cannot reveal the
information, because that would be wrong. But Santa was very good to L.A.
Q Oh, well, that's important. That's good to know.
Q How was Santa to Atlanta? (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, can you give us the nationwide figures for
how many families would be affected by this public housing move?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Public housing move, we don't know, because
they have to do the census first. The homeless, we have to make 200,000.
Q That's 200,000 families that will get grants to move into
SECRETARY CUOMO: Yes, 200,000 families that will be benefitted
by the homeless grants. Santa was also very happy with Atlanta, Georgia
this year. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us how many people are right now in the public
housing that would -- the buildings, themselves, that would be affected by
SECRETARY CUOMO: There are about 1.3 million families in public
housing. But let's be clear. Of the 1.3 million families who are now in
public housing, nothing changes, except that the new families who move in
when there are vacancies, the new families will come in, in such a way as
to further integration. But the exiting families, there is no change.
Q Do you know about what rate or number of people enter the
system or would be affected as a result per month or per year?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What is the turnover rate of public housing?
That is a good question. We do not know.
Q A follow-up tomorrow, maybe?
MS. MacSPADDEN: Yes, I was going to say you can certainly follow
up with myself -- and we'll get that information.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Nobody knows that number. I want to say 10
percent, but I don't know that that's right. But we'll get you a number
tomorrow. But of the vacant units, then those units would be filled with
families who further the deconcentration of poverty and race if -- if --
that was a segregated building.
Q Do you know if the numbers are going up or down in terms of
the rate, the turnover?
SECRETARY CUOMO: We don't know. But they will know tomorrow,
because they are far smarter than I.
Anything else on loan limit, on FHA or homeless? All right.
This has been a tradition, and for those of you who have done this with us,
it has truly been my pleasure and my honor to do this. And in some ways --
although, my wife doesn't fully appreciate it -- (laughter) -- there is no
better way to celebrate the holidays than these homeless grants, because
that's what it's all about, and if this nation, with all our strength can't
do good things for people who are literally on the street today --
Q Sir, can you tell us what the exact amount is on the loan
limits now -- $219,000 up to what number?
SECRETARY CUOMO: That's $219,000 up to as high as $239,000 --
Q And is there a total federal budget ceiling for that, I
mean, total --
SECRETARY CUOMO: No. No, sir. Okay?
Q Mr. Secretary, what are your plans for the future?
SECRETARY CUOMO: My plans are to finish being HUD Secretary,
which will take me through January, then I'm going to head back to my home
state of New York and take a look at a couple of different options for the
future, and sit down with my wife and come up with a new chapter -- close
this chapter and move on to a new one.
Q Well, thank you very much, sir.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M.