Public Papers

Remarks to Cochran Gardens Community Members in St. Louis, Missouri


Thank you, Governor, and thank all of you. Bertha was telling me you've been out there in the rain for 2 hours. That's beyond the call of duty, as we say over there -- as General Schwarzkopf would say. But let me just say how pleased I am to be here. Bertha asked about Barbara Bush, and I wish she was with me today; she wishes she were here, too. But she's doing an awful lot to help kids learn to read. And I hope all of you kids here today will take a lesson on that and do your level-best in reading and in studying.

Bertha was telling me about the wonderful spirit here. And I wish I'd heard the drum and bugle corps in action. Maybe we'll get to hear them when we finish here. But we congratulate all of you over there.

Let me salute our two Senators, Senator Bond and Senator Danforth. And of course, I'm delighted to have with me here today a man who has been here before, who lives this ideal of home ownership, tenant management, and that's Jack Kemp, our Secretary of HUD. What a job he's doing.

On the way over here, we passed an extraordinary place, that new children's playground. And where once was called Little Nam, a war zone of drugs and decay, you've created a field of dreams. And where dope dealers once roamed, children now can be children. And they can learn, and they can laugh, and they can play. And you deserve great credit for giving these kids hope.

You know, people who have never seen housing development don't understand how significant a small playground can be. But this playground is just one of your many achievements. You've shown an entire nation what great things people accomplish when they get an opportunity to take control of their own communities, when men and women seize their homes and streets from drug dealers, when we empower people and not the bureaucracy.

What a contrast to the dismal legacy of projects like Pruitt-Igoe. Think of how Pruitt-Igoe suffocated this community, attracted crime and sheltered drugs and shattered hope. To me -- to many of us here -- that vacant tract symbolizes the failure of the past.

And today, more and more Americans know that the solutions of the 1960's can't meet the challenges of the nineties, that a system that puts government bureaucracy in charge of everything leaves no room for individual dignity -- the dignity that Bertha's fighting for, that all of you believe in -- a system that warehouses people, strips them of their humanity. I'm here to say, if the system's not helping build a better life, then we must change the system.

Last November I signed the National Affordable Housing Act, the most radical departure in Federal housing policy in two decades. And I want to thank Kit Bond, Senator Bond, who serves on the Senate Banking Committee, who worked hard with Secretary Kemp to get that act through the Congress. Its core is HOPE -- you see the sign right there: Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere. HOPE moves policy in a new direction. It lets public housing residents like you manage your property and eventually own your property.

Although I'm proud that under our administration the number of residents groups training to become resident managers has leaped from 13 to 100, we've got to do more. Today -- now, listen to these numbers -- three million people live in public housing. Yet barely 9,000 units -- barely 9,000 -- are managed by their residents. I call on Congress to give us full funding -- 5 million in fiscal '92. We don't just want a piece of the program; we want the whole darn thing: one million new low- and moderate-income homeowners by the end of 1992.

I also would like to announce two new initiatives today, initiatives that honor people's dignity and ability. The first is the Enterprise Zone and Jobs-Creation Act of 1991, which I'm proud to say will be introduced in Congress next week by our own Senator John Danforth and by Senator Joe Lieberman. This act would plant the seeds for a real urban revival. It designates up to 50 enterprise zones over a 4-year period, one of which could very well end up right here in St. Louis.

Now, you all understand the concept beside enterprise zones: They convert poor neighborhoods into centers of work, centers of opportunity, and they ensure that the most successful entrepreneur in a neighborhood -- ensure that that entrepreneur will not be a crack dealer. It will be that a man or woman who starts a business, demonstrates the value of hard work, offers jobs to local residents.

You also know that you can't start up a business without money. This bill also eliminates capital gains taxes on the development in the zone. It tells potential investors: Put your money right here; put the jobs right here. And that's where I need your help.

It also gives these enterprise zones priority as a free-trade area status. That would let businesses in the zone import materials duty-free if the products are sold abroad. Our Tax Code ought to promote growth. It ought to promote investment and entrepreneurship and opportunity throughout the land. And that's why I have tried repeatedly to get the Congress to cut the capital gains tax. That tax is a tax on the American dream. It is a tax on growth. And we ought to get rid of it so you can have more jobs and opportunity right here in this very area.

You know, the Enterprise and Jobs-Creation Act of '91 makes it possible to turn communities that were once riddled with despair and isolation into neighborhoods that are greenlined for growth and jobs and opportunity. And in that spirit, I'm proud to announce a second initiative: the Community Opportunity Act of 1991, which we will transmit to Congress today. This legislation rejects the idea that Washington knows best. It challenges localities like yours to develop ``community opportunity systems.'' And these would enable poor citizens to tailor Federal programs to meet their actual needs. The bill also lets Federal officials set aside regulations that might otherwise prevent citizens from devising programs that work.

This act shifts power from the heavy hand of the state to the dedicated hands of the people. I have enough confidence in the American people to believe that they will create new hope and opportunity, that they will devise new and effective solutions if they are just given a chance. You don't want a crutch. You want a ladder, a ladder of opportunity to a better future. And that is what we are determined to provide.

Most Members of Congress, you know, say they want to revive our cities. And now we can test them. We can put them to the test. I call on the Congress to support our HOPE program fully. I call on the Congress to pass the Enterprise Zone and Jobs-Creation Act of 1991. And I call on the Congress to enact the Community Opportunity Act of 1991 right now.

Bertha, Bertha Gilkey -- I've got this quote of hers: ``We don't want to be taken care of; we want to take care of ourselves.'' That is, to be treated like human beings, not numbers in a housing project.

And people all across this country said: Yes, we want dignity, we want independence, we want responsibility, and we want to own our own homes, and we want to control our destinies. And I would say to the Congress: Congress, you ought to start thinking anew. Give the people a chance now, and pass this new legislation, and don't go back to the old answers that have failed the people of St. Louis year in and year out. It's time to think anew. So, I am convinced that together we can build upon your success. We can offer new opportunity, new optimism, new hope to people condemned to daily bleakness and hardship.

So, please join me. You do have some power in your hands. Get ahold of your Congressman; convince him to think anew and give these new ideas a chance. Because Bertha is right: homeownership builds dignity. Homeownership offers people a real bite of the apple, a chance for the great American dream to come to everybody.

Thank you all, and God bless you, and may God bless our great country, the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:40 p.m. in the Cochran Gardens Community Center. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. John D. Ashcroft of Missouri; Bertha Gilkey, president of the National Tenant Union and chairperson of the Cochran Gardens Tenant Management Corp.; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; Senators Christopher S. Bond, John C. Danforth, and Joseph I. Lieberman; and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp.