Thursday, October 1, 2015

HUD Secretary Castro in Baltimore County

Julian Castro is leadership material. Thus he delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention when he was still mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and thus he was the keynote speaker at a Baltimore County "unity event" of the Democratic Party  on Wednesday. A large crowd came together at the dreadfully drab Doubletree-Hilton in Pikesville. But the dreary surroundings of this beltway exit hotel were soon forgotten when Congressman Elijah Cummings introduced Castro in his trademark high octane way, commenting on many current affairs in the process.

Castro knows cities like few other HUD secretaries having risen into the position from councilman to mayor of San Antonio. But there was little he said about cities last night and nothing about the right to decent housing or the national affordable housing crisis.

Those topics  I could only briefly address with him at a reception before the main event. He did not dispute that we have an  affordable housing crisis, and that the lack of affordable housing was also acute in Baltimore County. I pointed to the problem of selling public housing stock in major American cities as one of the reasons for the scarcity of affordable housing and mentioned Vienna's approach where social housing became famous and still plentiful and of a high quality. "Ideas are always welcome", he said.
It would have been interesting to hear Castro speak about suburban and urban housing policies in the Baltimore metro area and Baltimore County specifically. Shortage and waiting lists here are combined with interesting innovative approaches to achieve mobility and access to low income residents. (see Next City article).

But Castro remained broad and almost presidential in his speech. He had clearly been impressed by the Pope's appearance in Congress and his being discussed as a possible VP for Hillary Clinton may have something to do with it as well.
He spoke of the "blueprint of opportunity" that sets America apart and that has drawn immigrants here through the centuries. He mentioned the Affordable Care Act in line with Medicaid and Medicare. He remembered how he and his twin brother Joaquin were accepted in 1992 by Stanford and how he would not ever have been able to go there without Pell Grants and other opportunities extended to him and his brother. "We have no person to waste in this country". What does the blueprint of opportunity mean in thev21st century? He listed a raised minimum wage, affordable education and health care and immigration reform.

Castro speaking at the Double Tree Hilton  in Pikesville on Wednesday 

"We believe in investing in people".  Castro, considered a potential Democratic vice presidential candidate, criticized GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump for "demonizing immigrants," and took several swipes at the Republican party in his speech to the Democratic Party faithful. 

Maybe the Democrats could have a roundtable about a regional approach to affordable housing. The Opportunity Collaborative's report provided a great blueprint for action to create mobility, access and opportunity, all elements Castro noted in his speech. 

In his talk at the event Kamenetz called on Democrats to make Hogan a one-term Governor. For a plausible alternative to privatization and vouchers as the only housing strategies, Democrats must develop a regional housing concept. Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz could link his transit initiative with such a housing discussion. They go well together. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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