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Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro discussed post-pandemic living conditions of American urban areas at a Harvard Law School lecture on Wednesday, affirming that “cities can come back even stronger” after Covid-19.
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and a Harvard Law School alum, lectured at the culmination of his stint as the Klinsky Professor of Practice for Leadership and Progress, a position endowed in 2013 and designed to bring leaders outside conventional legal fields to the school. Past occupants of the professorship have hailed from Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.
“The pandemic exposed the deep inequality in our society,” Castro said in an interview with The Crimson. “Perhaps the best place to start addressing that is in local communities, where we can still innovate and get great policy changes made.”
Delaney P. King, a third-year HLS student in Castro’s course, said she appreciated “the way Secretary Castro talked about the tenets of law and that connection to making good policy.”
“What resonated for me is the link between public policy leadership and law, because I think law school is a pretty traditional field,” King said.
For years, the National Low Income Housing Coalition had published that workers earning minimum wage full-time could not afford two bedroom apartments in any US county, according to Castro.
“If we define affordability by spending up to one-third of their income on rent, recently, that same group found that only in seven percent of counties could they afford the rent on a one-bedroom apartment,” Castro said during the event.
Beyond affordability, Castro also drew attention to gaps in life quality and education during his lecture.
“Countless analyses have documented gaps in education outcomes, health outcomes, economic outcomes based on where people live, and also based on their background,” Castro said. “Just today, it was reported that in New York City, 104,000 students are homeless.”
Castro drew direct attention to the financial burden created by the pandemic.
“On top of those challenges, we saw challenges related to tax revenue that dried up. Probably the hardest hit industry was the hospitality industry,” Castro said.
As a solution to “not-in-my-backyard-ism” — a term used for resident opposition to the development of local affordable housing — Castro encouraged city council members and local representatives to “buck customs that have developed in politics that harm our ability to create opportunity for lower-income Americans.”
Castro also advised city governments to stop the “encroachment on authority” of state legislatures and “bolster their relationships with state governments.”
Still, Castro expressed hope for the future.
“These are the challenges of today — they are long-standing ones,” Castro said. “They’re exacerbated by Covid, as I said, but cities also have in this moment, I believe, a unique and powerful opportunity to achieve greater equity for their residents.”
In a final address to the audience, Castro called on current students to fight against the deterioration of urban areas.
“My hope for you, the students, is that you will get to apply all of that and your own personal talents to helping American cities to become stronger and more equitable and places of wonderful opportunity,“ Castro said.
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