Ron Sims, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, told state and local housing officials Wednesday the Obama administration will coordinate housing, transportation, environmental and health programs to improve the sustainability of U.S. communities, and that they will have the authority to make decisions that achieve that end.
In a passionate speech that frequently touched on his Spokane upbringing, Sims said ZIP codes will no longer dictate an American’s environment, health or educational attainment.
“Nobody will tell anyone based on color, language or poverty, they can’t live in their neighborhood,” said Sims, drawing loud applause from an audience of around 500 gathered for the 2009 Housing Washington conference.
Sims was King County executive before he was nominated for the HUD post by President Obama, whom he met at the president’s Chicago home. Sims said he thought he had been summoned only to talk policy but accepted the Washington, D.C., position because of Obama’s commitment to address comprehensively the housing, transportation and health needs of those living in depressed communities.
“Their lives are going to be of consequence to the federal government,” he said. “We’re going to erase the word ‘homelessness’ from the English language the way we eliminated polio.”
Sims said HUD wants to bring more people closer to downtowns, where more services are available and shorter commutes will help save energy and improve the environment. But the department will also work to strengthen rural communities, he said.
How that happens will depend on regional decision-making, he said.
“We’re not going to be your famous, friendly regulator,” Sims said, challenging audience members to embrace the authority they will have to help their neighbors.
Although he noted that non-whites in the U.S. have lost more wealth in the last 18 months than ever in history, Sims said the United States has reached military and political supremacy because of its ethnic and racial diversity.
The 21st century will be “merciless,” he said. Americans have to believe better times will return if they work hard.
“It all comes back to you,” Sims said.