Good morning Mr. Chairman, and distinguished Members of the Committee, my name is Roy Bernardi, Mayor of the City of Syracuse and President Bush’s nominee for the position of Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.
I wish to thank the Committee for inviting me and for expediting the confirmation process for myself and the other nominees present today. With President Bush’s guidance, Secretary Martinez has assembled a supremely qualified team with the experience and vision to act on his and your concerns for urban America. If confirmed, it will be a great honor to serve with these individuals.
Before proceeding further Mr. Chairman, please allow me to introduce my wife Alice. Without her support and love I would not be here today. Unfortunately, our two young children Dante and Bianca could not be here, but it is because of them that I understand the true importance and seriousness of the task before me, before this Administration, and before this Committee.
To paraphrase Senator Gramm’s famous saying, "A parent’s dream dies hard in America." Alice and I dream that Dante and Bianca can grow up, work, and find happiness in the City where we were raised – where neighbors were family, where jobs were plentiful, and where you always felt secure.
Unfortunately, for many decades the tides of history seemed to flow the other way. In Syracuse, typical of many Cities across the Northeast and the nation, we have seen our population decrease – while the needs of our citizens increase.
For 20 years as City Auditor and now nearly eight years as Mayor I have fought to reverse those tides and ensure that the mothers and fathers of Syracuse can still dream. And as the past-President of the New York Conference of Mayors and the past-Vice Chairman of the northeastern division of the US Conference of Mayors’ I have worked with other local leaders to make sure that the public trust is kept with all families.
Throughout my three decades of public service the issue of housing and community development has remained at the forefront of my agenda. With the knowledge that can only come from hands-on experience, I understand the role of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the lives of Americans. Because I’ve seen inefficient initiatives waste valuable resources I approach this new challenge with a sense of realism.
I also approach it with a sense of hope. Hope, because I’ve seen how good programs, ones that are well-conceived and well-managed, can change lives and change communities.
As an administrator, I will also draw on my first hand knowledge of the CDBG process, the HOME program, and brownfield re-mediation efforts.
I know the importance of CDBG dollars, and I also know the importance of keen oversight. These block grants fund valuable programs, but too often foster dependence, rather than development. My office will focus on using these resources for civic improvement, not civic welfare.
Vital to civic improvement is greater homeownership. Owner occupied housing makes for cleaner, safer, and more livable neighborhoods. The Homeownership Downpayment Program authorizing legislation will be proposed that would require each participating jurisdiction to use, on a cumulative basis, 12 percent of each annual allotment for downpayment assistance towards the purchase of single family housing by low income families that are first time homebuyers. I spoke earlier of a parent’s dream, well homeownership has been a uniquely American dream for hundreds of years. It is a dream that the HOME program has made real for hundreds of people in Syracuse. And the efforts of the Bush Administration will make it real for thousands of other families across the nation.
As the Mayor of a City with a long industrial history I also know that housing is an issue linked with economic development and redevelopment. Over the years I have addressed many audiences on the subject of suburban sprawl and the importance of brownfield re-mediation. I’m proud to say that today in Syracuse our most sought after downtown residential addresses are in remodeled factories and several parcels of land – victims of decades of environmental abuse – are now prized pieces of commercial real estate. Similar scenarios across the country show the flexibility of our urban centers to respond to the changing needs of industry and individuals.
This faith in cities as centers of commerce, and culture, and community, fuels my interest in aggressively reclaiming our industrial wastelands.
It also fuels a desire to reclaiming our neighborhoods. In Syracuse we did that by literally attacking problems block by block. From my office to the dog control office we enter troubled neighborhoods as a team to tow abandoned cars, mow lawns, cite code violators, haul debris, and talk with residents.
We’ve also attacked neighborhood issues by publicly identifying absentee landlords that take advantage of low-income renters. Meanwhile, to help responsible property owners we’ve set up classes to teach them how to be better landlords.
That’s the practical experience I bring before you today. And with it I bring a commitment to urban America that transcends that facts and figures of public record. As a child of immigrants – raised in an Italian enclave on Syracuse’s Northside – I know that when my parents sought opportunity in America they found it in the city. I want my children to find it there too.
So that’s where my heart has remained – with the immigrant, and with the young family struggling to make ends meet, with the renter saving for her first home, with the man who sees the city as his best chance, and with the man who sees it as his last chance.
For all of these reasons I am deeply thankful for the confidence President Bush and Secretary Martinez have placed in me and for the chance to address this distinguished body.
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