WEB EXTRA: HUD secretary speaks to students about inequality in housing

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development spoke about economic development, homelessness and racial segregation in housing assignments across the country Tuesday night to a group of about 100 students.

The event, sponsored by the College Republicans, marked the first time in at least seven years that a sitting member of the U.S. Cabinet has addressed the organization, said College Republicans Chairman Gary Livacari.

“It’s a rare occasion to host someone who makes decisions on the executive level that affect the lives of millions of Americans every day,” said Livacari, a senior. “We’ve hosted other important speakers like John Ashcroft and Anne Coulter, but Secretary Jackson is more than a thinker or a commentator, he’s a doer.”

The HUD aims to “increase homeownership, support community development and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination,” according to the department’s Web site.

A theme of Jackson’s 20-minute speech was how the administration of President George W. Bush has spurred economic development.

“President Bush is building a future of dreams and opportunities for not just a select few but for everyone to enjoy the American Dream,” Jackson said.

The federal government’s general approach to tackling issues facing America, Jackson said, is the Bush Administration’s three E’s policy – economy, education and energy.

“The future begins with economic growth and as you enter the job market you will benefit from the Bush administration’s policies,” Jackson told the crowd of students.

He cited a statistic that a half million jobs have been created in the last three months and that the average American income has grown by $7,800 in the last three years. He called housing “the backbone of the economy” and shared a goal of Bush’s to have 5.5 million new homeowners by 2010, particularly in the black and Hispanic populations.

“Some people say (Bush) is stubborn, he’s realistic,” Jackson said.

Jackson has a close relationship with Bush as the two were neighbors in Texas before the President was the governor of Texas. Jackson told stories of their daughters playing together as children.

“Back then I didn’t have to call him Mr. President,” Jackson joked.

Another focus of Jackson’s speech was on embracing a person’s individual merits rather than prejudging that person.

“I embody the American Dream,” Jackson said. “I am the last of 12 children; my father had a fifth grade education and my mother had an 11th grade education, but they educated all 12 of us and encouraged us to rise on our individual merits.”

GW Professor Gregory Squires is an expert in urban development and worked in the HUD department as a special assistant in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the mid 1990s. He said while HUD has made strides in making housing available without discrimination, more has to be done.

“Racial segregation undercuts so much of what is being done in housing development,” Squires said. He cited a statistic that one out of every five black or Hispanic people looking for housing is discriminated against.

“HUD is getting less money than it has in previous years and (all U.S. departments) plead for more funds,” Squires said. “But (HUD administrators) could be doing secretary initiated complaints instead of relying on individual complaints to the department, and they could do more visible enforcement against large insurance agencies and other who support the segregation.”

Jackson said that Bush and the HUD Department believe in giving every citizen a fair and equal opportunity at housing.

“There is a homeownership gap in America but we are working on having every American being given the same opportunity to own a home,” he said.

In response to a question about homelessness throughout the country, Jackson emphasized the need for local involvement to combat the problem.

“If we haven’t seen results by giving money to states than go local,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are living in poverty and they really need help, but there are people who don’t have any money or opportunities and those are (really) the ones we need to help.”

Jackson closed with advice to the young crowd. “The only limitation to success is in your mind and any set back is simply a set up for a comeback.”

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