HUD Assistant Secretary, Neal Rackleff, Delivers Message: Local Governments Should Provide More Solutions to Homelessness in OC

By: Tim Houchen
November 17, 2018 —


On Thursday night November 15th, United to End Homelessness brought its latest roadshow, Homelessness 101, To the EV Free Evangelical Church of Fullerton. There was a great crowd on hand to hear inspiration from the likes of Rev. Karen Stoyanoff from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Anaheim, Brad Fieldhouse from CityNet and Becks Heyhoe gave her now famous spiel, Homelessness 101.

After attending half a dozen or more of these events over the past year, my expectations mainly were to maybe get a little more film on Becks Heyhoe’s “Homelessness 101” presentation. The presentation is a good tool for informing and educating a public who simply can not understand homelessness, but don’t mind listening to an hour-and-a-half long lecture from Becks. She really does a terrific job with this presentation ordinarily, but tonight she was better than ever and I’m real happy to have come out and filmed more of her presentation.

The other reason for me to attend on this night was to hear Neal Rackleff speak. Neal is an Assistant Secretary at HUD, but that’s about as much as anything that I knew about him beforehand. After several months of following the  intense state legislation surrounding homelessness and affordable housing I figured to perhaps nap through the guest speakers spot on this evening. I was all set to hear a bureaucrat from way over in Washington, tell everyone in attendance that we are doing it all wrong here in California, but that isn’t necessarily what I got.

I found that I was all wrong about Neal Rackleff and when he had finished speaking, I felt a little better about our chances of ending homelessness here in Orange County. It’s not because of what he said, because many homeless advocates have been saying these same things for a long time, but it in this case it was who was saying it. Had somebody finally found the right person to make our pitch to the people that need to hear it most? Will they listen to him? Will they listen to anyone?

First of all, Neal is much higher on the list of bureaucrats than I thought. After all, he administers to more than $40 billion a year in federal funding for homelessness and affordable housing and remember, this is under a conservative administration. In fact, the same administration that backed down from massive budget cuts that were proposed in the first year that would have been catastrophic to our local ability to provide much needed homeless services that we are still able to provide today.

Neal Rackleff is a native of Orange County as it turns out. He was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital and graduated from San Clemente High School during a time when his father worked in the aerospace industry, without college education, but was still able to provide a “solid middle-class” lifestyle for he and his family. Neal admits that those days are gone.

Neal also serves as Chairman of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). Prior to assuming his current role, he was a partner at law firm Locke Lord, where he focused on economic development, affordable housing, and inner-city revitalization. Rackleff previously served as director of the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department, where he oversaw the city’s community development projects, strategic planning for affordable housing, and neighborhood revitalizations.

According to Rackleff, homelessness is on the rise. Between 1990 and 2016, median rent rose 20% faster than overall inflation. Today, 40% of Americans can’t afford basic necessities. 38% of renters spend more than one third of their income on housing. These national numbers are much better elsewhere than they are locally, so who cares, right?

Then he began to drill down into “Worst Case Housing Needs” statistics that define populations of severely burdened renters who earn at or below 50% of their area median income (AMI), do not get any housing assistance and pay more than 50% of their income towards rent. This is serious talk.

“There is a real disparity out there, and honestly we’re seeing nationally some of the most acute crises in affordable housing in California… in Los Angeles, Orange County and in the Bay Area…”, said Rackleff.

Neal was right on the money in making this statement. If you go to my Homeless Documents Library under the heading Federal Legislation and National Reports, scroll down to the fifth entry and find “Worst Case Housing Needs: 2017 Report to Congress”. You can open the document in PDF then go to page 12 (Exhibit 2-3) to see statistics from 15 regions nationally that rank Los Angeles- Long Beach- Anaheim as the region in second-place in America with the second most worst case needs households at over 567,000. 54.5%, more than half of renters living in this region with worst case needs have no housing assistance.

According to Rackleff, the housing crisis has hit California particularly hard compared to other parts of the nation due to the disparity between wages and housing affordability and notes that production of affordable housing has not kept up with the demand and the increase in population. He also cites California land-use policies that essentially don’t allow anyone to build anything anywhere, especially if you wanted to build something for people of low or moderate income.

Rackleff calls himself a “Republican conservative dude” and a “free-market guy,” but he adds that there are market failures that prevent the development of affordable housing and says that, “Sometimes the markets just don’t do what we need them to do.”

About half of his career in the private sector has been spent in real estate development, so Rackleff understands real estate markets and recognizes the need for subsidized housing in order to make it more affordable to lower income households.

“It is not possible to develop quality, new, multi-family housing, and rent those units at rents that people at low or moderate income can afford. The numbers just absolutely don’t work. So. there has to be subsidies,” says Rackleff.

He also says that his Republican friends don’t often agree with government subsidizing of rent, calling it a socialist idea. Rackleff went on to tell the audience that the largest housing subsidy in the U.S. by far was the mortgage interest deduction, which allows the owners of homes of less than a million dollars in value to deduct the interest from their taxes and his Republican friends don’t seem to mind that, he said.

The Assistant Secretary revealed that during his visit to Orange County he had visited with Federal Judge David Carter, the federal judge that is currently presiding on a case regarding the homeless crisis in Orange County. He called the judge a “cool dude” and a “hard-working man.” Rackleff also met with BOS Chairman Andrew Do and the mayors from several cities across the county. In fact, he said that he had met and spoke to many mayors from California.

During one specific conversation that Rackleff had with Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, who complained that people with good jobs were now homeless in Oakland and asked what more could be done. He told the mayor that the federal government had invested $33 million the previous year and that perhaps Oakland should consider a similar commitment of its own resources.

Hearing this makes me wonder if the answer would be the same if Chairman Do had asked him the same question.

Earlier this year, Rackleff told an audience at the American Bar Associations 27th Annual Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law Meeting, that “Local governments must pull more of the financial weight in solving the homeless crisis across the country.”

As far as his consensus of the homeless crisis in Orange County and how it is currently being addressed, he said this. “There are a lot of great people, from what I have seen so far, who are doing the best they can to do the right thing. Now, what the right thing is, is for all of you to answer. Your communities are going to have to determine how we are going to help the poor among us.”

Other recommendations from the Assistant Secretary were to stay the course using a housing first philosophy because it is proven that it works and lowers the overall cost of homelessness in cities that have fully embraced the housing first model prescribed by the federal government. He also encouraged greater and more effective collaboration among the cities and county and made reference to other cities and county’s that had been successful in lowering the numbers of homeless people in their streets.

One of my favorite quotes from his speech was short and simple.

“To end homelessness, we need to find homes for people.

See Neal Rackless’s Entire Address to Orange County
click on the link to the video below


Please visit the United to End Homelessness website and join the campaign to support the end of homelessness in Orange County for good!


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About the Author

Tim Houchen
Tim Houchen was homeless and living at the Santa Ana Civic Center between 2011 and 2015. He began advocating for the homeless community there while he was still homeless as a founding member of the infamous Civic Center Roundtable. The “grass roots” organization was composed of homeless individuals living at the civic center and Houchen was elected to serve as the groups first official spokesman in 2014. Tim is now in permanent supportive housing and lives in the City of Anaheim where he serves as a Commissioner of Housing and Community Development. Tim is also a member of the Orange County Continuum of Care and serves as Co-Chairman of the Homeless Providers Forum. He founded the nonprofit, Hope 4 Restoration, in 2017 and serves as Executive Director of the organization. Houchen created this site as a vehicle to share his knowledge, information and most of all, his experience which allows him to view the current homeless crisis in Orange County from a different and very unique perspective, a “Homeless Perspective.”

1 Comment on "HUD Assistant Secretary, Neal Rackleff, Delivers Message: Local Governments Should Provide More Solutions to Homelessness in OC"

  1. Tim, that was a very well-written article. Nice job!

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