Five Things We Learned From Julián Castro

This year’s theme of the Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was “A City of Homes,” which acknowledges that the city was once known as a place for homeowners,…

This year’s theme of the Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was “A City of Homes,” which acknowledges that the city was once known as a place for homeowners, according to President Benjamin Harrison and Meredith Nicholson, among others. As part of the annual event at UIndy, we were thrilled to welcome former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and UIndy Trustee and Executive Director of the League of California Cities Carolyn Coleman to the stage for an INconversation that covered affordable housing, homelessness, public/private partnerships, and even a possible presidential bid!

After this thought-provoking conversation, we wanted to share five things we learned, and we hope you’ll share them, too: 

  1. Connect the dots. Affordable housing is a difficult issue to solve, and as Secretary Castro commented, there isn’t a city out there that is really getting an “A.” The ones that are doing it best, though—and he counts Indianapolis as one of them—are the ones that are connecting the dots. It’s not just about housing; it’s about housing, transportation, education, jobs, and more. And, it’s a collective effort that includes a dedication of resources, banks that understand the importance of access to credit, and lowering regulations. 
  2. We need to overcome NIMBYism. People resist affordable housing projects for a variety of reasons, but Secretary Castro proposed combatting the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon with an education effort that would “de-mystify the other.” He wants to help people better understand who will move in and the low risks associated with the developments. Thanks to an audience member’s question, he even pondered how using the term “workforce housing” could be a benefit or a detriment. 
  3. There has been a shift from urban to rural—but there’s room for both. In the mid-20th century, cities dominated policy and housing conversations. More recently, though, small towns and rural areas have been the center of the national conversation. We need to talk about both, Secretary Castro said, and it starts by recognizing our common needs. How can we work together to ensure economic opportunities and transit help everyone? He also pointed out the need for less competition among urban and suburban areas, and a shift towards thinking and cooperating regionally. 
  4. How can we engage the creative community? Artists and storytellers can engage audiences and encourage action in a way that statistics and policies never will. Secretary Castro mentioned Matthew Desmond’s fantastic book Evicted, but wondered what might happen if we could capture something on film that shows compelling perspectives of the housing challenge. How could artists and storytellers shine a light on the difficult choices and burdens, as well as the consequences of success? 
  5. Make it a priority. The only way to address the affordable housing challenge head on is to talk about it more, with neighbors, with policy makers, and with people who are running for office. Secretary Castro urged the audience to make housing a priority in our conversations and our actions.

If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, consider attending a March 6 talk at IUPUI by historian Richard Rothstein. The author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America will be talking about the legal and housing policy history behind today’s urban segregation.

The Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership provides a number of local and national housing resources, here are a few to check out:

A special thank you to Secretary Castro and Carolyn Coleman for inviting us into a candid and important conversation, as well as to our partners at the Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives at the University of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership. This symposium was generously funded by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.