HUD Secretary Ben Carson marks public housing milestone in Austin

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson shares a laugh with Ofelia Zapata, 58, while attending a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at Pathways at Goodrich Place, an Austin public housing redevelopment. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson shares a laugh with Ofelia Zapata, 58, while attending a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at Pathways at Goodrich Place, an Austin public housing redevelopment. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced Wednesday that his department has preserved 100,000 public housing units nationwide, thanks to a federal rental assistance program.

Carson made the announcement during a stop in Austin for a ground-breaking ceremony for the latest public housing development, Pathways at Goodrich Place, a 40-unit property serving low-income families that was razed to make way for 120 new apartments.

The development, located in the Zilker neighborhood, will be the 12th Housing Authority of the City of Austin property to benefit from the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. Local, state and federal officials and business leaders joined Carson, who also toured another South Austin public housing property Wednesday afternoon.

More than 1,800 affordable housing units in Austin have been preserved and renovated under the federal program, and the housing authority plans to use the program to improve its six other properties.

The program uses public and private money to improve public housing properties and tackle a $26 billion “backlog of deferred maintenance,” according to the department. Since the program began five years ago, more than 200,000 people have been housed, nearly $6 billion have been spent on improvements to properties and more than 100,000 jobs have been created, according to the department.

“Austin is the place that has taken us over that mark,” Carson said. “It’s a spectacular accomplishment, and it comes at a time in our history and in your city’s history, when affordable housing has never been more important.”

Jerry Dawson, president of the Goodrich Resident Council, said he and fellow residents hope redevelopment of the Pathways at Goodrich Place “will be the beginning of many more affordable housing projects in Austin, so that more people and their families will have access to modern amenities at an affordable price.”

“We look forward to coming home to the new Pathways at Goodrich Place,” he said.

Many more families nationally need public housing than the department currently serves, Federal Housing Commissioner Brian Montgomery said.

“We’re not meeting that need, but programs like RAD, and others, I think, are going to get us even closer to closing that gap,” he told the American-Statesman. “Programs like these can go a long way.”

Carson said the country has the resources to make sure people don’t live in squalor and that Americans are compassionate people who want to help their neighbors.

“America, as I have traveled around, is not that place that you see on the 6:30 news with a bunch of hateful people trying to destroy each other,” he said. “That’s not who most of us are. We need to recognize that the strength of this nation lies in our unity. The destruction of this nation will lie in disunity. We cannot allow that to happen. There is too much good here for us to pass on to our children.”