Remembering Uvalde & Hoping for Change

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Julián addresses the devastating news out of Uvalde, Texas, where a young man on Tuesday gunned down at least 19 elementary school students and two adults. He and Sawyer then talk about this week’s state primaries, the latest on Title 42, and President Biden’s most-recent approval numbers ahead of the midterms. They’re later joined by Director Gustavo Velasquez of the California Department of Housing and Community Development to talk about the innovative ways in which his agency is tackling the state’s housing crisis.

Follow Mr. Velasquez’s work at the California Department of Housing and Community Development online at @California_HCD.

Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

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Gustavo Velasquez, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:00

Just a brief program note before we begin our episode, just a couple of hours after we recorded our episode, news broke of another school shooting in our country, this time in Uvalde, Texas, only about 80 miles west of San Antonio where I am. At latest reports, a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at Robb elementary school there in Uvalde. The news is heartbreaking and terrifying and a parent’s worst nightmare. It’s also a very powerful reminder of how much our democracy has failed to keep children like those in Uvalde. Adults like those we saw last week in Buffalo, and so many others who have been felled by gun violence safe. It’s infuriating, because we know what we should do about this problem, a uniquely American problem, a problem associated with too many guns, too easily in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. We know what we should do. We know the common sense gun reforms that would make a difference in making our community safer. But politicians in Washington DC, particularly truth be told, in the Republican Party, have failed to act. Almost a decade ago, we lost 26 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. And after that, many of us believed that we would see change, that the death of 26 children would cause the politicians in Washington DC who had been standing in the way of common sense gun reform, who had been listening to the NRA lobby for too long that it would cause them to have a change of heart and do their jobs. And it didn’t. In the decades since not much has changed. It’s heartbreaking to think that this could be the same thing. If there’s hope that we’re going to make change this time. It rests in the power of all of us, to use our voices, to cast our ballots to make sure that our democracy works the way that it should. That instead of the powerful corporate interests of the gun lobby, having a louder voice that we the people have the loudest voice through our elected officials to take the steps we know are necessary to keep our children safe, our family safe. Sadly, we’ve seen mass shooting after mass shooting, after mass shooting. I’d like to say that this isn’t who we are as Americans, but it is. But it’s not who we have to be. Each of us can step up in our own small way and change that.

Julian Castro  03:21

Hey, there, I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week. We’re talking about the primaries taking place in Texas this week. The latest on Title 42. And President Biden’s latest approval numbers as we look ahead to the general election in November of 2022. We’ll also welcome Gustavo Velasquez, our former HUD colleague and now director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, to talk about the innovative ways in which his agency is tackling the state’s housing crisis. But first, let’s dig into this week’s primary election in Texas. Sawyer, what’s the latest on that front?

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, first up front, we should say that we’re recording this episode on Tuesday. So voters are heading to the polls right now as we speak to cast their ballots. But, you know, the podcast is going to come out on Wednesday. So we’ll get to see how are predictions fair.

Julian Castro  04:14

You don’t have a crystal ball that you can just tell us ahead of time so we don’t have to waste the night tonight.

Sawyer Hackett 

Exactly. But yeah, voters are heading to the polls in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas. Races that have a lot of you know, big implications for both Republicans and Democrats. In Texas. There’s a primary runoff for lieutenant governor that pits incumbent Ken Paxton against George P. Bush. And in Texas 28th district incumbent Henry Cuellar faces a runoff with progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar is a nine term incumbent who has taken a number of stances against the Democratic Party, most notably attacking Democrats on the issue of immigration and serving as the lone anti-choice Democrat left in the Democratic caucus. He was the only Democrat to vote against the women’s Health Protection Act which would have codified roe into law. Obviously that issue has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks after the Supreme Court leak showing that they would soon strike down roe acquire has the backing of Democratic leadership. But despite that, you know, position. Speaker Pelosi and Whip Clyburn have both been running ads for him in the district. He has also received millions in dark money contributions from AIPAC and from the billionaire founder of LinkedIn. Jessica Cisneros is a former immigration attorney who narrowly lost a quasar in 2020. She’s, you know, obviously a pro-choice candidate and has focused her campaign mostly on working families, you know, $15, minimum wage quality health care, a more humane immigration system. But this one is a big test for Texans, Julian, How are you feeling down there in Texas.

Julian Castro

But you know, I spoke to a couple of folks over the last few days who are down in the Laredo area. And they feel like right now, the race is Jessica’s to lose, that especially after the news about the Supreme Court’s likely decision on Roe, as well as the cloud that was over Henry Cuellar after the FBI announced its investigation. You know, it’s unclear now where that is at, whether he was a target or not, I think his lawyer said he’s not a target. But at any rate, even after that announcement, a couple of months back, he seemed to, you know, take a blow and then stabilize and the conventional wisdom had become that he may well survive. And then we had that news about Roe. And it wasn’t just, you know, the issue of abortion is a big part of this, but it’s almost like just energized that coalition behind Jessica. And what we’ll have to see is whether that translates into enough turnout, in what usually would be a pretty low turnout run off primary election for this 28th congressional district, but right now at least, seems like she has a momentum. And if I were a betting man, and you made me bet, I would say probably that she’s going to win, but I think it’s going to be close.

Sawyer Hackett  07:15

Yeah, and it feels like you know, all eyes are on Texas right now, Congress is out of session, President Biden is traveling abroad. You know, this is kind of the big race in the Democratic Party kind of pitting a progressive challenger against a very centrist, you know, corporate type incumbent. There’s been a lot of drama in this race, because there’s been a ton of outside spending. I mean, mostly on Cuellar’s behalf some of these dark money groups like APAC, which aren’t running ads, you know, in support of Israel or anything like that. But sort of smearing Jessica with these weird mailers that are saying that she’s a homewrecker.

Sawyer Hackett 

Well, not to mention, like, we don’t know who ran those ads. Like it’s still not clear who paid for them. And the campaign hasn’t disavowed them but they haven’t condoned them necessarily. But they it they put up this pamphlet, like they almost sent a newspaper to people’s houses looks like a real newspaper, it says like the border report or something like that. And in there, it says like choir was not the subject of this FBI investigation.

Julian Castro 

I think that’s gonna backfire on him just to give folks background they put up a billboard and then did think mailers and maybe other literature that labeled her a homewrecker, accusing her of breaking up a marriage by having an affair with somebody when she was much younger. Just this weird wild stuff and this personal attack that case from the folks that I talked to down there and also here in San Antonio, because part of the district includes the south side of San Antonio and part of the east side. That seems to be backfiring on Cuellar.

Julian Castro  08:54

The worst thing they ever come through these parts? And yeah, I mean, that’s an old trick. I mean, I remember that when I was coming up in local politics, like, they basically creating something that looks like a voter guide, or newspaper that’s just giving information. And really what it’s a smear campaign. And that’s what they’ve done against Jessica. And folks, we had Jessica on the program a couple of months back. I mean, she’s a good candidate, she’s intelligent, she’s accomplished, she’s of the district, she’s grown up, you know, with hard working parents in that Laredo area, made good for herself by getting an education, became the first in her family to become a professional as an attorney. She can relate to a lot of the folks who live in South Texas, and that’s why I think, in addition to the circumstances that Cuellar finds himself in, that’s why I think they’re running scared. The other thing I heard, for instance, when I talked to folks was that Cuellar’s campaign was giving the Cisneros campaign a hard time on, like, where they’re campaigning, at what spots they’re trying to campaign at. And anytime you get that in, like retail politics, what it is, it’s usually a campaign that is afraid. And so they’re trying to do every little thing they can to intimidate the other side and not getting the vote out, or it’s just sort of this. It’s this frenetic energy out of that comes out of insecurity. Right. And that’s what I’m hearing about the Cuellar campaign. Look, when we get the results tonight, it may be the case that somehow this guy has found a way to eke out a victory. I mean, he’s down in Webb County, down in Laredo, his family is very well known his brother was a sheriff, they have been in business down there, part of the community for a long time. We know, you and I know, and a lot of our listeners know that, you know, famous statistic that like 96%, or 98% of incumbents get re-elected in Congress. So it’s always hard to take down an incumbent. But I have to say that I believe that she can do it, and that she’s going to do that tonight.

Sawyer Hackett

Well, and it’s an interesting race, because I feel like Jessica, I don’t want to use the word lucky. But she’s had a couple big things that have changed the dynamic of that race. I mean, I think going into it, she was not favored to win this race. But she’s had, you know, Cuellar have his house and office is raided by the FBI, which, you know, threw a huge wrench into this race. And then this Roe decision which Henry Cuellar is the lone, anti-choice Democrat left in the caucus. And I want to talk a little bit about that part, because that part is just galling to me that right now, you know, we have Democratic leaders, I saw Nancy Pelosi on Morning Joe this morning, talking about how this, you know, decrying this decision, this attack on reproductive rights and all of these things at the same time. They’re lining up behind Henry Cuellar, you know, who has voted against Women’s Health Protection Act, you know, has taken oil, money and private prison money. And it’s just so galling to me that leadership would get behind somebody like this at a time when we know for a fact this may be our most potent issue heading into the midterms. They want to stand behind the lone, anti-choice Democrat, a guy who has consistently bucked the party, consistently stood in the way of passing the President’s agenda. It’s crazy to me that this is happening. But it also is a huge boon, I think to Jessica.

Julian Castro  12:29

Yeah, I mean, things have worked out her way. I mean, there is a certain amount of luck, of course, you got to put yourself in the position to be able to take advantage of the luck, right? And Cuellar is somebody that has breezed past any opposition that he had in the past. He’s running for a 10th consecutive term in Congress. So you know, I think she has a lot going for her the circumstances and then just what she brings to the table which is substantial. It was disappointing to see leadership line up behind Henry Cuellar. But I think, as I mentioned on MSNBC a couple of days ago to Mehdi Hassan when we were talking about, he asked about the reluctance of some Democrats, especially top Democrats to specifically call out by name, people like Elise Stefanik, and other Republicans who are embracing this great replacement or White replacement theory going down the road of white supremacy, I said that collegiality is a strong impulse. And a lot of times these folks won’t take on somebody in the same body, much less an incumbent of their own party. And Cuellar has raised a lot of money over the years for the D Triple C. He knows how to play the institutional politics very well. I mean, he’s, I think the second ranking member on the Appropriations Committee. If you gotta give him something, it’s that he knows how to play his game of politics with his brand. Now, that’s not my brand of politics. But he knows how to play his game and he’s been playing it for a long time. And you know, that’s reap some dividend.

Sawyer Hackett  14:16

Any reflections you have on the other big race in Texas, this attorney general race, between you know, the indicted Ken Paxton and the forgotten member of the Bush family?

Julian Castro

Oh, man, I mean, so George P. Bush was once the darling and the biggest rising star in Texas politics. He was going to be the next Governor of Texas and then from then it was just a hop skip and a jump, like his uncle George W. to become the president. And all of that was before Trump totally annihilated Jeb Bush and turned it into MAGA country in United States and here in Texas, and now. He finds himself several points behind a guy who for the last seven years has been facing an indictment or maybe a couple of them for potential criminal activity, it looks like he’s gonna lose. And to me, it’s just another example of how far off the rails these Republicans have gone. No longer are they trying to, you know, Harold, somebody like George P bush that is part Latino, that could be a bridge to the 40% of Texas that is Latino, and is younger and speaks to sort of the future. You know, I mean, compared to Ken Paxton, they’re like done with that. And they’re done with the dynasty or the Bush’s and a lot of people have just turned against that name. And him because of what they think he represents old establishment Republican non-MAGA what they would see probably as sellout elite politics. So you know, but given this, give George P. Bush this, like they’re trying to throw the kitchen sink at it, too, when he’s gotten millions of dollars from the Bush family network, including $100,000, from former President George W. Bush, personally, here at the end, they’re on TV all the time. The you know, he’s outright calling Paxton basically a criminal. John Cornyn, the other senator from Texas, along with Ted Cruz, I think Ted Cruz, I want to say has stayed out of it. But Cornyn made some disparaging comments the other day about Ken PACs. And so the establishment Republicans are all piling on at the end to try and save George P. Bush. And we’ll see whether they can do it or not tonight.

Sawyer Hackett  16:48

Well, it’ll be interesting. And folks should stay tuned to Julio Jones, Twitter and MSNBC where he’ll be covering some of these races. So the other major issue in this race in the Texas 28th district has been the issue of Title 42, which, you know, Henry Cuellar has been a proponent of for some reason, but on Friday, last Friday, a Trump appointed judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration from ending Title 42, which is this Trump era policy that use the pandemic essentially, to suspend the entire US asylum system, Title 42 has been in place ever since, you know, weaponized, essentially to block more than 1.7 million people from making an asylum claim despite zero evidence that it’s needed to protect public health in early April, the Biden administration finally announced that they would terminate the order, saying it’s no longer necessary. But now this judge has blocked it. The border has seen some increases in border crossings and arrests in recent weeks, despite the order not being lifted yet. But many expect those numbers to spike even higher when it is lifted. And you know, the issue has sort of seeped into politics in recent weeks as well, you know, a number of Democrats in these vulnerable races have joined Republicans to, you know, condemn the Biden administration for lifting Title 42, wary of the politics of immigration, I think, and Republicans have hammered the administration on the issue. And now they’re holding up a COVID Relief bill to try and force Democrats into codifying Title 42 into law. But Julian, you know, I feel like you and I spent, you know, half a year more, a year, you know, shouting into the void on this issue, you know, calling on the administration to end this policy, because we knew that there would be a surge when it was lifted. You know, now they’re dealing with the political ramifications of continuing its abuse. What do you make of the latest on this on the politics and just the process itself?

Julian Castro  18:35

I mean, there’s just like, disappointment and frustration all around. It’s ironic that you have a judge in Louisiana, who has handed down an opinion that puts a stop nationally across the board to the lifting of Title 42. Because these Republicans always rail on about activist judges. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here. It’s what we’re seeing with the overturning of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court level. These conservatives play politics in the judiciary, that’s what is going on here with title 42. It’s disappointing, because as you and I have talked about on the show before, the Biden administration never should have taken this long in the first place. Look, the political heat just got hotter and hotter and hotter. And that’s why it even spilled over into Democrats essentially calling for Title 42 to stay in place because we’re so close to the elections. Yeah. And people start playing their political games. The Republicans were always going to do it on this issue. But now, some Democrats and not a small number of Democrats are engaging in this theater also, basically trying to show their concern for the border and you know, quote unquote, border security by pretending like title 42 Do is an effective or even a lawful way to keep people out of the country and not have to deal with the natural processing of claims for asylum. I guess the only silver lining is that the Biden administration says that they’re going to appeal this. And perhaps they’ll get a different result at the Fifth Circuit or at the Supreme Court. But, you know, I doubt it. And this thing is probably going to be around at least until 2023. The other scary part of this is that the way these federal judges are interpreting different provisions of the law and different administrative or regulatory decisions, it means that it’s going to take years and years to unravel what a President and his administration or her administration does. And that can benefit Democrats sometimes, right, but with what Trump did on immigration, passing, like 1000 different types of executive administrative orders, to screw up the system, and frustrate the ability of a lot of his frankly, black and brown people to try and claim asylum. That’s going to be haunting us for years to come.

Sawyer Hackett  21:14

Well, and just so folks know, I mean, in a normal process, not under Title 42, when you are deported, it’s something that is stamped into your record. And it’s something that they know, and document, you have to go through the due process of sitting in a court proceeding and having that deportation order carried out. Under Title 42, there is no deportation order, there’s no record of it, there’s no due process, you don’t have you’re not able to make an asylum claim. So it essentially, it creates this incentivization for people to come back because there’s no reason like you wouldn’t be harmed under the law for seeking an asylum again. So it creates this kind of like, revolving door of people coming back into the country. And so of course, when you bottleneck the immigration system, from 1.7 million people from seeking asylum, of course, there’s going to be a huge surge when that’s lifted, because they’re all going to come back to try and get that asylum. And, you know, the disappointing part here is like, yeah, these judges, like you have a judge here protecting a pandemic public health order. At the same time, you have another judge on the other side, like striking down mask mandates, like these judges just get to sort of pick and choose whatever they want to do. And they’re just playing the politics of this to hurt Democrats. They’re not actually, they don’t care about public health. And the way that he ruled on this order was Title 42 didn’t require a comment and notice period in the rulemaking which is, you know, for folks who don’t know, like in DC, when you don’t pass a law, when you pass rules, it has to go through a public comment period, meaning the public can sort of play into the process of how these rules are made. And it takes time to implement them. But he said that they have to go through that period to rescind Title 42. Yeah, so it’s going to take months and months of this thing, and eventually, you’re going to have Title 42 codified into law in that we won’t have an asylum system anymore. I mean, that’s kind of the future that we’re headed towards.

Julian Castro  22:59

I think Sawyer like people lost sight of this Title 42, The way that Title 42 was used to shut down the ability of people to make their asylum claims basically, for a lot of not everybody. There are some exceptions. Ukrainians, for instance, yeah, and a couple of other exceptions, and, and they look, they should be able to make their claims. But so should everybody else that feels like they have an asylum claim. But this was never the norm. This was the crazy bullshit, racist stuff that Trump and Stephen Miller, you know, drempt up and did to try and stifle any kind of changing. You know, what they saw as like this, they saw that they believed in this great replacement theory and any kind of changing demographic, they wanted to stifle that. And it had never been used before like that. And a lot of times in the conversation, you would think that this was the default. And not only that, as I’ve pointed out before, even if you were concerned, of course, everybody concerned about public health, but there was never evidence of any kind of significant outbreak of COVID among these asylum seekers. And even if there had been or there were, there are better ways more effective ways to deal with it. testing, quarantining, vaccinating you can deal with that. You don’t need to take this sledgehammer of a solution, if you want to call it that. That was Title 42.

Sawyer Hackett  24:33

Yeah, it’s disappointing. And it feels like you know, we moved the Overton Window on immigration so far to the right that you know, now have mainstream Democrats championing a Stephen Miller policy that is suspends the entire sound system. It’s really it’s really sad. But, you know, before we go to break, the last thing we wanted to touch on was this latest bit of polling on President Biden’s approval. I think we should focus on the AP poll, because I think that’s probably the most notable poll out there, but they had a poll Late last week that showed Biden at a 39% approval rating, which is the lowest in that polls, history for Biden, 2 in 10 adults say that the US is heading in the right direction or that the economy is doing well. So that’s really, really drewery numbers. But I think the most shocking part of this poll to me was his approval among Democrats sitting at just 73%, which is a significant drop, it’s never gone below 82%. His approval with voters under 45, sitting at 30%, with millennials and Gen Z voters at 26%, and his approval with non-white voters at 43%. I mean, really just bad numbers. And these have been the same, seen the same sort of numbers out of news nation, this isn’t desk, CBS News, Harvard Harris poll just in the last couple of weeks. So, you know, the economy continues to be a drag on Biden, Russia continues to be a drag on Biden, inflation, all of these things, despite the strong job market, despite COVID You know, improving in many ways, like, what do you make of this polling? What do you think it portends for Democrats?

Julian Castro  26:03

I mean, has a lot of people quaking in their boots, folks who have their reelection campaigns fired up and running in districts that may be marginally democratic. Democrats concerned that if these numbers don’t improve for Biden, that that’s going to mean that we lose control of the House and the Senate and hey, look, if you’re just a neutral observer, and you’re observing this a few months before November, I mean, what other conclusion is there to draw except that this, this looks like a terrible cycle that we’re headed into, there’s still a lot of time. And the administration and the President himself are taking steps to try and turn things around, whether it’s on inflation, or this operation fly formula, and other measures to increase the supply of baby formula out there, or the measures that he’s taken to try and lower gas prices. I mean, they’re trying, it didn’t help that you had Joe Manchin, who was there as a roadblock for some of the bigger ticket investments that we could have made that I think would have made people feel like we’re making real progress on any number of issues. But yeah, I mean, it’s hard to watch. Because you see what’s on the other side of this, and you see all of the craziness and the embrace of white supremacy. And you wonder, like, how in the hell are these people even still competitive when you have Rick Scott, the senator from Florida going on Face The Nation, this past Sunday. And they asked him, you know, would you tell? Well, so would you tell your colleagues to disavow White supremacy? And he won’t even say, yeah, I would tell him that, can’t even give a damn straight answer to that. That’s how scary the place is that they’re going. Yeah. And we’re still in a situation where it looks like they may have Republicans may have, a strong night in November. I do want to bring up though that there was polling by NPR Marist, a few days ago, that looked at the generic ballot, which asked the question that, you know, would you plan on supporting Democrats or Republicans for Congress and Democratic support had moved up two points since the last time they polled a couple of months ago, or maybe a few weeks ago? And I think it was like 47-42 in favor of Democrats. And so they were winning by five points. That’s encouraging. And the conclusion that one of the conclusions that the folks that NPR and Maris Drew, was that perhaps the news of Roe and pending decision was having an effect to energize Democratic voters and bring them home. Yeah, that’s the case.

Sawyer Hackett  28:55

I think it showed something like 64% of Americans oppose overturning Roe, which is, which is the highest it’s been in the polls history. So I think, yeah, it’s showing that Democrats have huge opportunity on that issue to sort of rebound support. At the same time, the Biden administration has sort of rolled out their midterm message they’re calling it like, trying to label people as MAGA Republicans using like ultra MAGA. And, you know, there’s some data showing I think that that works. But I think the issue here is just a messaging problem, right? Like we have Republicans trying to ban books you have them trying to punish these private companies for speaking out against them. You have, you know, Republican Senator Mike Braun from Indiana saying that we should look at interracial marriage like as a statute of law, whether that should exist anymore. You know, you have these attacks on abortion rights, you have all of these things and we just wonder like, why are we losing this messaging war? And to me, it’s that we have this kind of older guard of Democratic leadership in the establishment, both in the White House and in Congress, who are in charge of our message who just don’t know How to reach people at this time, like it’s, it’s really concerning, I really hope that abortion, you know, they pull their messaging together on that. But, you know, we talked about it earlier, they’re out there stumping for Henry choir at a time when abortion seems to be our best issue for the messaging heading into the midterms.

Julian Castro  30:17

And take that as just a quick example. We’ve got to go to break in a second. But in the Henry Cloud race, Quaid has had to go on English and Spanish language media and state in no uncertain terms, that he does not support a full ban on abortion. Right, that he supports at least exceptions. You know, for the case of the life of the mother Ray princess now, I mean, you know, that’s small comfort in terms of policy. But even he down there in the heavily Catholic heavily Latino 28th congressional district has had to go and separate himself has had to go and disavow the position of what is now the mainstream Republican Party that tells you something about how powerful that issue can be if you do it. Well. You know, for Democrats, if you message it well, they need to think about that.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think this is a time to sort of reset the message, especially after these primaries. You know, we’re seeing progressives, you know, beat incumbents in these races. incumbents who stood in the way of President Biden’s agenda, stood in the way of progressive policy. It’s a time I think, for establishment Democrats to take a hard look in the mirror.

Julian Castro

Yeah, no, absolutely. And, you know, there’s still some time left to do that. After the break, we’re gonna have a conversation with Gustavo Velazquez, our former colleague at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who is now in Sacramento, as the director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, when you think of a state that faces and affordable housing crisis, and homelessness challenge, you know, I think of California first, unfortunately, we’re going to talk to Gustavo about ways they’re trying to solve that crisis.

Julian Castro  32:36

Welcome back to our America. This portion of the episode is in partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is committed to building a more inclusive just and healthy future for everyone. Gustavo Velasquez is has served as the director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development since 2020. Sawyer and I actually worked with Gustavo at HUD during the Obama administration, from 2014 until early 2017, where he was an assistant secretary in the Office of Fair Housing and equal opportunity, which is HUDs, primary Fair Housing watchdog. And so it’s great to have you on the podcast. Gustavo, obviously a big fan of the work that you did at HUD, particularly on programs like Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which I’m sure we’ll touch on. But I wanted to start off by just asking you give us a sense of the approach that y’all are taking to the housing crisis in California and the homelessness crisis in California. Because anybody who’s read, you know, even just a little bit about housing knows that you have one of the biggest challenges in the whole nation there in California. Like if you had to summarize the approach you’re taking, you know, in a sentence or two, what is it?

Gustavo Velasquez 

Just a couple of things to give you a better sense. Ian, thank you for the invitation. It’s great to be here of what we’re currently facing. California’s housing supply has been persistently well behind what we need, and housing and rental costs are out of control. Of course, that global pandemic has not helped matters. These are problems that Secretary as you know, established the livelihoods of ordinary Californians trying to find affordable housing and juggling to pay for a roof over their heads or meet other basic needs. And these are issues that are not unique to California. But like most other things, when California is the home of nearly 40 million people largest economy most populous state in the nation, fifth largest economy in the world problems like these become more amplified when you’re talking this at a very large scale. So in a nutshell, what we know is what we need to create 2.5 million new homes Between now, and year 2030, most of these homes have to be created to serve those with very low and low incomes, we need to also make sure that housing is created in a way that meets our climate goals that are always accelerating. And made in this housing with equity growth, we have a very uneven landscape when it comes to meeting the housing needs of people of color, minorities, tribal communities. And so it’s a number of things at a very large scale to meet the very disproportionately effect that housing costs. And because of that the crisis of homelessness represents here in the state, when

Julian Castro

you mentioned that y’all are about 2.5 million homes short in supply. And of course, that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s happened over decades. Why has California fallen so short over the years?

Gustavo Velasquez  36:03

This issue was largely ignored for many, many years. I think state leaders now recognize that the state should have acted with more urgency much earlier. And by me much earlier, it really 2530 years ago, when homelessness was increasing in California, when housing costs started rising. And, you know, if you ignore these issues, we’re going to see over many, many years a shortage in supply that is going to accelerate cause you know, housing is a basic needs a human rights, everyone needs a place to call home. And when there is little of it, cost is going to rise precipitously. And that’s what we’ve seen. And obviously, California has had enjoyed a very strong economy for the last 25 years, many people coming into California to, you know, serve in many, many industries, technology, services, hospitality. And, you know, just the increase in population, the increase in jobs caused this influx of people and just the state for many, many years, was not acting with the urgency to create the housing that was needed.

Sawyer Hackett 

So Gustavo, over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Americans who own their homes have gained more than $6 trillion in wealth. But you know, housing has grown at this incredible rate over the pandemic, but a lot of people are pointing to the fact that, that seems to be also an indicator of this shortfall in housing affordability, you know, more than 7 million rental homes were lacking at the moment, what do you see as the biggest barrier to more to building more affordable housing in California right now?

Gustavo Velasquez 

Well, the problem is only getting worse with the inflation that our country is experiencing. We have labor shortages, we have cost of materials and supply problems, increasing just lumber, just lumber, being such a key commodity to build housing has increased more than 25% in the last six months. So obviously, when you have labor and materials representing more than 70% of the cost of creating housing, that’s going to be a major, major issue. And of course, we have communities that continue to be anti-growth. You know, California is a very progressive state, we pride ourselves to be at the cutting edge of innovation on many things. There is that saying that where California goes, the country goes. So we certainly see a lot of policies that are spurred that are intended to spur the creation of housing, especially affordable housing, but we still have in spite of being very progressive, many, many communities, coastal areas are flowing communities that just do not want any more housing. They are very pro environmentalist. So they are also anti-growth in that sense. And housing is just something that they don’t want to see. I mean, there are many reasons why people are anti housing, right? It could be from, you know, just simply not wanting to have people of color coming into your communities when you’re building affordable housing, but there are also others that are just simply anti-growth. They don’t want any more congestion. We have a very big problem of car pollution in California. So for many reasons, but especially the cost of labor and materials, the issue becomes greater and greater. And that’s where we are right now.

Julian Castro 

I want to ask you about one particular program in a second, the Home key program that y’all have launched, because it sounds very innovative and sounds like it could help you make progress toward meeting that shortfall. But I wonder at first just delve into a little bit of your experience this before you served at HUD, you actually worked in the DC government. And so you’ve seen these issues from the federal level, the local level, and now the state level, when you think about this, this enormous task that California has in front of it, what do you think that each level needs to do better at to help solve the problem.

Gustavo Velasquez  40:33

I always say, you know, in order to achieve this goal of 2.5 million homes in roughly the next eight years, you need three key ingredients, you need capital, California, actually, the governor in the state legislature put in place, the largest investment in housing ever in the history of the state $22 billion last year, for investments in the next three years, especially in affordable housing, you’re also going to need the right policy climate. So when you’re talking about my work previously, in local government, you need to have local governments where housing approvals continue to, to, I mean, when you when you think of housing problems, those happens at the local level. So you need to have the local policy climate to create the housing that is needed. But in the state of California, we’ve done a lot of changes in the state law, to incentivize localities to create more housing through sort of streamlining measures, reducing fees that the state charges for creating housing, just a lot of you know, fair housing is part of that as well, just a lot of policies that are pro housing Biden administration has proposed something similar at the national scale of localities, and states have to work first. And third, accountability. Even if you provide all of these incentives to localities to create more housing, at the local levels, many of them refuse, because of their exclusionary behaviors and practices, I need to continue to be a problem. So you do need to hold them accountable for not creating their fair share. And that’s part of what we’re doing here in this day.

Julian Castro  42:14

And let’s zero in for a second on the Home key program. So as I understand it home key is this like innovative partnership between Los Angeles county in the state of California to purchase and rehabilitate hotels and motels and then convert them into permanent long term housing for people who are experiencing homelessness. Talk to me about that program and how it’s going.

Gustavo Velasquez 

When COVID is started. When you have a state that has a population, a homeless population of nearly 200,000 people, the majority of them spending every night sleeping on their bridges and near rail tracks. You have this, you know, incredible, unprecedented public health emergency, you had to ensure that you acted quickly to move those people to avoid the increasing infection rates in the homeless population to non-congregate settings. So we immediately create a project room key that was about moving more than 45,000 people to more than 16,000 Motel and hotel rooms that we leased with the help of the federal government. With that in mind, we thought well, why don’t we create a program thanks to the again the influence of federal financial assistance to actual purchase, acquire hotels motels, rehabilitate them quickly, AND house permanently. The incredible number of homeless persons that we have in that project honkey we spent nearly a billion dollars in record time record cost. In six months, we created 6000 new units of internet and permanent housing at a fraction of what it costs to create a new unit of housing in the state of California. The exorbitant cost. You create a new unit of housing, two bedroom apartment, $700,000 per unit, home key created every of those units for $130,000 Average cost across the state. And we’ve been able to have as of now more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness through home key now we’re not done. The legislature just appropriated and additional close to $3 billion to scale this program. Of course, we don’t have all the hotels and motels that we had when the pandemic you know those assets were obviously undercapitalized so, we had the opportunity to buy those assets now. We’re buying commercial facilities; we’re buying run down multifamily buildings. And we’re using, you know, different types of other assets that are beyond hotels and motels to scale Home key. So that’s what the program is it was just an innovation that came out of the worst public health emergency that we had. So it’s kind of like a silver bullet rail, I have this tremendous problem we have we just created a program that was innovative. And now it’s being replicated in other states across the country.

Sawyer Hackett 

Gustavo, you, you took over this role, right as the pandemic was starting, obviously, that had to be a unique situation for you. But can you tell us a little bit about how the pandemic changed your approach to housing in particular, you know, what you took from your days at HUD and how that informed your work, you know, responding to the pandemic and the housing crisis in California?

Gustavo Velasquez 

Well, you’re right Sawyer, I moved to California in May of 2020. Right as things were really accelerating, when I came to the state, everything was basically shut down, we had to act quickly, to address project room key the program that I just mentioned, to move, you know, as many people living on the streets to non-congregate settings. One of the things that became crystal clear is how disproportionate the pandemic was affecting people of color, you know, those experiencing homelessness, people with extremely low income, with the massive shortage that you have, in a state of California, if you lose your housing, if you’re very, very low income, very poor, working California, and it’s going to be very hard for you to find housing where you live. So we deployed the largest rental relief program in the country with more than $5 billion so that people that lost jobs or incomes as a result of COVID could pay the debt that they had on the on the rent that was on pages and effort to protect people from eviction and make sure that we would have Californians keeping their affordable home. And so just the approaches one with urgency, one, ensuring that all the programs that we deploy with again, I have to emphasize a lot of support from the federal government to make these programs viable, will be focused on those that were the most disproportionate by the pandemic, tribal communities, the working poor people in rural California, essential workers, farm workers, health workers, people of color, just an emphasis on meeting those disproportionate impacts of COVID as we were rolling out this programs.

Julian Castro 

Gustavo, you talked about the home key program. Let me ask you about another initiative that y’all have launched called the Home Accelerator initiative. How is that helping you to address the homelessness and housing crisis?

Gustavo Velasquez  48:01

We have to house people experiencing homelessness. But again, we have to also keep Californians that already have the ability to pay for an affordable place to call home to need to create more units for those that earned very low income. So the California Housing accelerator is sort of a complementary program, to programs like home key focused on extremely low income units. That thanks to, again, federal financial assistance and state donors combined, we’re just a taking shovel ready projects that have been in limbo for two or three years, because of lack of capital because of increasing cost. Because we don’t have enough support in terms of bonds and tax credits, but they are shovel ready, they’re ready to go with taking nearly $2 billion and replace the equity of those projects that otherwise would obtain tax credits and creating more than 3400 new units of housing. Again, record time, 180 days six months construction timeframe to start for, again, nearly 3500 units of affordable homes for very low income family. So another sort of quick responses all ties to my first answer of just the creation of millions, you know, 2.5 million units of housing that we need to create across the income spectrum with a focus on equitable outcomes between now and 2030.

Julian Castro 

You worked a lot over the years on fair housing. And California is the most diverse state that there is in our country. What is the state of fair housing in California? What do you see in terms of getting to the point where no matter what somebody looks like, what their background is that they’re able to experience the same kind of housing opera Hillary as anybody else.

Gustavo Velasquez  50:01

Secretary, we saw this similar answer to what we saw when you were secretary of HUD. I mean, farther in fair housing is something that is already codified in law. It’s codified in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, is codified here in this state law. We promulgated rules that incentivize better planning to dismantle patterns of segregation, create more inclusive housing across the country, and the same types of principles exist here in California, what is needed, because segregation persist, what is needed is the right enforcement, right? Then the ability for the state to go to localities say, okay, we’re gonna incentivize you, we’re providing you information, so that you plan to create housing in a way that is inclusive, that access people of all backgrounds, people with disabilities, and that you create a housing that promotes choice, not just in areas of high poverty, especially affordable housing that continues to be built in areas of disinvestment, and high poverty, but generally, across your jurisdiction, also in areas that where people typically, you know, reject the notion of creating more housing, you need to plan for that. And when you plan, and we see over the course of the year that we are not, you’re not building the housing, according to the notion or furthering fair and inclusive housing, then the state needs to just the same way that HUD needs to enforce those principles that are in in law, are not comply with and typically, that means taking away, you know, state and federal dollars, because of lack of compliance and maybe even, you know, going after them in a court of law. So it is enforcement what we need in order to ensure that more fair housing, more inclusive, fair and equitable housing is in place in our country.

Gustavo Velasquez 

So Gustavo, you mentioned a couple of times how helpful the federal government has been as a partner in responding to the pandemic, you know, with resources for housing, but housing legislation in Congress has been stalled, you know, for years. And so many of these important programs that you all rely on have been sort of left in the lurch as Congress has not adequately funded them. What do you see as the most important investment, or the most important funding stream to help facilitate your work that Congress could invest in right now?

Gustavo Velasquez  52:36

Many things, I mean, the list is long, but if you give me just one, one answer, that will be vouchers, vouchers, which are these really, really important instruments really, that facilitate that people that are low income can go and seek housing and pay a portion of the rent in housing, we don’t have enough of it we have, you know, this is, as you know, is notorious this statistic that we have only one out of five people that are in need of public assistance for housing actually obtain it in for the most part, that is just the inability of Congress to move forward with the investments that are needed in creating more voucher capacity, our home key program that we just talked about, you know, you create this 1000s and 1000s of units, the housing is there for the people, but they come in the housing needs to be affordable and sustainable for low working families for many years. But the voucher is going to facilitate, that is going to be able to maintain, and it’s not just one family, you know, the family goes in there with a voucher, they move out of this cycle of poverty, they move on, but you continue to have that kind of support that kind of assistance for low working families over many, many years. And so that’s what we need. We need also investments in infrastructure to create more housing, we need investments in in just you know, the capacity for housing has stopped. But we are taking care of that we just need the support of the federal government on the rental assistance in homeownership assistance purposes. Also, this is really about not just rental housing, but also affordable homeownership housing over many years. And so vouchers will be absolutely my first choice when it comes to the type of federal financial support that is most needed at the moment.

Julian Castro  54:39

Oh, Gustavo, it’s always a delight to get to chat with you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. And thank you for filling us in on California’s approach to ending the housing and homelessness crisis. We hope that other states are listening.

Gustavo Velasquez 

Appreciate the invitation. Thank you.

Julian Castro 

And thanks again to our sponsor for this episode, the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative which remains focused on housing affordability.

Julian Castro

Welcome back to OUR AMERICA. Well, this episode is the last episode of OUR AMERICA Season 2. And I can’t believe that we’re already at something like 30 episodes this season. And we had a great lineup of guests. I hope that all of our listeners enjoyed them from our first guests and our special episode with Cecile Richards to talk about what was happening at that time, and the speculation about what the Supreme Court might do on the issue of abortion, and wow, look how that has played itself out to great conversation with Senator Warren and Representative Ayanna Presley, my brother revisited us during this Season 2 in, you know, throughout all of this Sawyer and I have really aimed to dig into those issues that people are hearing about every single day, but oftentimes in 30 second sound bites or two minute clips on cable news, and to give them some context, and to hear from the voices of people who are helping to shape the politics and policy behind them. And we also wanted to keep the heart of this show that we established in season one, which was to focus on the challenges, really the plight of the most vulnerable people in our nation. And I think we achieved a lot of that, really, that decision is up to you and the listener, I hope that you think we achieved that. When we started in Season 1, we had a different format was more sort of long form interview, but a different way of approaching it. I really enjoyed this season. And a lot of that was because of my co-host, Sawyer Hackett, y’all probably saw, you know how well prepared Sawyer was. And he brought a lot of the facts and also the context to this. And so Sawyer, thanks a lot for joining me on this season, I think you really liven it up, and help educate all of us, and put some perspective on it, too.

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun joining you as a co-host. And I think, you know, you and I have conversations daily just about politics, and are just rants and raves about what’s going on. So it’s been good just to put a microphone in front of us and just record and talk about the news. And, you know, like you said, just keep that focus on vulnerable communities. And, you know, the issues of the day while also talking to some, you know, fantastic guests like Elizabeth Warren and Cecile Richards, and Michael McFaul, you know, Beto, O’Rourke, Mark Elias, just so many fantastic guests. So it’s been really great, a great season, I think, I will say, you know, just an improvement on the first season, you know, it just gotten better and better as we’ve gone on. So, I’ve had a lot of fun, and thanks for having me.

Julian Castro  58:14

No, thank you. And, you know, when we kick this podcast off, in September of 2020, we had just been through the most intense few months, about six months of the COVID pandemic. And I thought then, and I really believe now that this was a time when all of us should have seen and I think have seen that we’re all in it together as a country, that folks are more interconnected to each other than we even realized before this pandemic, that what happens to that farm worker in the field. What happens to the nurse on the night shift? What happens to that person working in a meatpacking plant? What happens to that firefighter, or EMS, paramedic that it affects all of us, and that as a country, we have to find a way to make sure that the concerns of all of those folks, of people of every background and every walk of life, make it into our national conversation and more importantly, make it into our national policy and the policies that happen at every level, not just in Washington, but in state legislatures and also in city halls and in school boards across the country. That’s what I hope that we’ve gotten out of this and you know, the small role that I hope that our podcast has played is to help inform and in some ways hopefully help galvanize and motivate people to be more involved or to get involved if you haven’t been as involved. I mentioned earlier in the show a clip from two days ago where Rick Scott the senator of Florida, been asked the direct question about whether he would advise his colleagues to disavow white supremacy refused to answer that question did not do the easy thing. And the thing that got us in years past, it wouldn’t even have been a question about disavowing this. There are people of every background, whether they’re white, or black, or Latino, or Asian American, Native American, anybody that recognize how crazy that is, that we’re in a very scary place in our country right now. And that we can afford to go further down this path, without serious damage to our democracy, to our collective experiment of the United States of America that in so many ways, has been beautiful and great sign of human progress. And so I hope that as we end this season, that you are more motivated than ever before, to get out there and to participate in our democracy, to vote, to make your voice heard, to have an impact on the future of your life, your children’s lives and the lives of others. So that not only do we turn away from this scary place that one party in our country is in, but that we help to unify it, if we can do that in the years to come. All of us have a role to play in doing it. That’s my hope for our listeners that we each find our way of doing it. Thank you so much for listening for being a part of season two. And I just want to close by thanking all of our staff, our producers, our team who helped put this together, they do a fantastic job day in and day out. I mean like 90% of the work is because of them and you know the podcast is what it is with the quality that it has because of their work. And I want to say thank you to each and every one of them. Take care.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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