Julian Castro at UT: ‘We Face a Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor’

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Where you are born within the U.S. can profoundly shape your future. In July, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that a child born in the poor neighborhood of North St. Louis will live an average of 18 years less than a child born just 10 miles away in the affluent suburb of Clayton.

This was one of many sobering statistics that Julian Castro, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), cited in a Wednesday speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. The speech marked the 50th anniversary of HUD, which LBJ signed into creation on Sept. 9, 1965.

Before a crowded LBJ Auditorium, Castro struck a tone that was equal parts grave and inspirational. At one point in his 25-minute address, he speculated on what LBJ might think of Austin’s gentrification today.

“He would look outside these doors across I-35 to East Austin,” Castro said, “and on one hand, he’d be amazed to see the change in landscape. New apartments next to new restaurants and growing businesses. But what are we doing for the East Austinites who have lived there for generations? Will they be there to experience the rebirth and revitalization of their own neighborhood?”

Castro revisited the story of Marquette Fry, a 21-year-old Los Angeles man who was arrested on drunk driving charges in 1965. In a painfully familiar series of events, Fry, who was black, was accused of resisting arrest, while community members suspected a white police officer of assaulting him. The arrest ignited the Watts riots, a week of unrest that left 34 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

“The issues we saw in Watts 50 years ago are still very much relevant today,” Castro said. “Today we also face a growing gap between rich and poor, those who have opportunity and those who don’t.”

Like any savvy political speaker, Castro struck an uplifting tone near the end of his speech. He praised HUD’s successes in expanding affordable housing, helping working-class families buy homes, and securing a new fair housing rule meant to block housing discrimination.

Castro also said that HUD’s 8,000 employees are working to get better at measuring results, an area of weakness for the department in the past. “How much of a difference do our efforts make to increase high school graduation rates? How many residents go back and get their GED or go to college or get a better job?” he asked. “Being able to demonstrate success with strong evidence just makes sense.”

Photo by Lauren Gerson via Wikimedia Commons


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