Thank you, Chairman D'Amato. I also wish to thank Senator Gramm from my home state of Texas for his support and friendship over the past years.
I am deeply honored to have been nominated by President Clinton to be HUD's Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development. It is a great challenge and honor to be nominated to a position previously held by Secretary Cuomo. It is my hope that I can equal the level of energy and commitment that he brought to the office and this position as the Department moves forward into the 21st century.
I am indebted to my fellow Texan, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, who laid a strong foundation for the course the Department is now following as a community-first, customer-friendly agency. I am also appreciative of the residents of Laredo for giving me their support in this new chapter in my life, and allowing me the opportunity to apply my local experience at the federal level. Although my wife Aggie and my three children Saul, Joaquin, and Alexis could not join me today in Washington, I would like to acknowledge the support and strength they bring to me as I appear before this committee.
My home of Laredo, Texas is one of the fastest growing communities in this nation, second only to Las Vegas. As a lifelong resident of this border community and as its Mayor for the past seven years, I have experienced the problems and triumphs of rebuilding our poorest neighborhoods, while at the same time addressing the tremendous population growth and expansion which drain existing capital resources and increases the level of demand on city services.
As a CDBG entitlement community, our city has utilized CDBG monies to fund a variety of initiatives in our poorer neighborhoods, such as building affordable housing and leveraging CDBG monies to pave 1200 unpaved streets to include curb and gutter, and water and sanitary sewer improvements. We forged public and private partnerships to create affordable housing for low and moderate-income families, utilizing the HOME program for interim financing and local banking institutions for permanent financing.
As a Board member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I have seen how the linkages between the national economy and national policies impact upon local communities. I have seen which government programs work, as well as those which do not.
By many accounts, cities across the nation are experiencing an extraordinary renaissance. Unemployment is coming down at a faster rate in many older cities than in the nation as a whole. Crime rates are plummeting in most major cities. The fiscal health of our urban areas is improving. Homeownership rates are rising.
As a result, there is now evidence of a more positive attitude about cities -- among citizens and elected officials alike -- than we have seen in a generation. For a long time, Mr. Chairman, many people were ready to write off our urban areas. There was a sense that the problems were too big, that the cities' time had come and gone. That is no longer the case. There is a now a renewed sense of optimism. As downtowns and city neighborhoods are being rebuilt, people are moving back, and we again value the enormous contributions that our cities bring to the life of our nation: the arts, culture, industry, innovation.
Our nation's urban communities are at a pivotal moment. We must find ways to ensure that the current trend leads to a sustained, long-term comeback for our urban and metropolitan areas. Our nation cannot afford to see, at the first sign of an economic downturn, the return to the previous era of rising joblessness, decay, and disinvestment. Now is the time for us to build on the gains that have been made over the past few years.
As was documented in the President's recent Report on the State of the Cities, the long downward trends of the 1970s and 1980s will take some time to reverse. As you know, these trends include: the shortage of good, well-paying jobs; the loss of manufacturing jobs; the continuing shift of jobs and people to the suburbs; and the continuing concentration of poverty in central cities. Add to the need to reverse these downward trends, the new challenges of the coming millennium -- making welfare reform work, competing in the new high-tech, information-based global economy, managing the growing diversity of our cities, and encouraging cooperation between cities and suburbs -- and it is clear that we have work to do.
Mr. Chairman, as Laredo's Mayor, I have learned that partnerships between government, business, and the community are the key to urban revitalization. Simply put, partnerships work if they are based on trust and mutual cooperation. Although I will truly miss the day-to-day challenges of being a city Mayor, I am excited about being part of the new era at HUD and helping implement the priorities that the President and Secretary Cuomo have set for the Department: restoring the public trust and empowering people and communities. I can think of no more sacred a mission for our cities and our nation. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to carry out this mission.
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