Hensarling Opening Statement at Future of Housing in America Hearing
“We can no longer measure success by taxpayer dollars expanded and new HUD programs launched. Measuring success based on how many Americans are standing in line for welfare checks versus earning growing paychecks is a sure sign that the system has failed.”
October 22, 2015 -
Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) delivered the following opening statement at today’s hearing to examine the Future of Housing in America and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during its 50th anniversary year:
In launching the War on Poverty, President Lyndon Johnson told us its purpose was, “not only to relieve the symptom of poverty but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” One of the chief weapons in this war was to be the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a cabinet-level agency President Johnson signed into law 50 years ago last month.
In its history HUD has clearly achieved good. It has made commendable progress to aggressively fight immoral and illegal racial discrimination in housing. It has proven vital to many of our low income elderly and disabled citizens and has undoubtedly made poverty more tolerable. But it also has dramatically failed to meet President Johnson’s noble aspirations much less deliver any measurable results. In fact, poverty levels are largely unchanged since HUD’s creation. With some notable exceptions, HUD’s public housing projects are typically any city’s most despairing places, where generations of poverty stricken families are warehoused and sealed off from the best schools, best job opportunities and the safest neighborhoods.
It is simply not enough to marginally improve the lives of the able bodied poor through perpetual government dependency. A caring and compassionate society must always have as former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp said “a strong social safety net below which no one can fall.” But right alongside that safety net, there needs to be – as he also said – “a ladder of opportunity on which everyone can climb.”
Thus, our collective goal cannot be limited to helping people tolerate poverty it must be to help them escape poverty. Whether I’ve met them at the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter, Habitat for Humanity homes or the Jubilee Center in my native Dallas, I know that is the aspiration of our low income brothers and sisters. We must help them find ways for them to provide for their families, to conquer generational cycles of dependency, and to have the opportunity to enjoy the dignity of meaningful work. Most importantly, they must have their chance to enjoy one quality not measured in dollars and cents: the pursuit of happiness.
We can no longer measure success by taxpayer dollars expanded and new HUD programs launched. Measuring success based on how many Americans are standing in line for welfare checks versus earning growing paychecks is a sure sign that the system has failed.
And now is also the time to acknowledge this fundamental truth: There can be no real progress in the cause of affordable housing without a recognition that government policies are often the impediment: first, by making housing more expensive, up to 30% according to some studies due to regulatory and zoning restrictions, second by shrinking paychecks and harming economic growth and thirdly by denying educational choice for families to escape failing schools and improve themselves.
This hearing will be the first in a series on the future of housing in America where will we investigate questions that ought to matter to all Members concerned for the dignity and well-being of the poor among us. What are the precise problems HUD is trying to solve? Why doesn’t it seem to work? How should we measure success? What should we be doing to meet 21st century challenges?
A decent society has a moral responsibility to help make affordable housing accessible for the elderly, the disabled, those who cannot provide for their dependents, and those who find themselves in hard times and in need of a second chance.
The question here is not should we honor that commitment, but how do we best honor that commitment in the 21st Century? And can we work together on a bipartisan basis to do it?