Housing is Center of Economic Stability and Prosperity

Floor Speech

Date: Oct. 21, 2021
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CLEAVER. Mr. Speaker, I thank Madam Chair for yielding. Let me begin my comments by thanking the gentlewoman, as I have done in front of you and away from you, because I think you have placed housing on the front burner in this country right now, and it could not have come sooner.

Let me just say that--because I was disoriented because of the earlier speakers and then got a really bad headache, but I am going to still be able to share these comments--I probably did not grow up like many of the people in a contemporary United States. I grew up in Texas just outside of downtown Dallas, and I had no idea that we were poor.

Never mind the fact that we had an outhouse about 30 or 40 yards down a hill by a little creek. Never mind the fact that we didn't have windows in our house. Actually, we did have windows, but my father or somebody had put tin over the windows to keep the winter cold out. The good blessing there was, in Texas, the weather is quite mild in the winter.

But I lived in a shack, and there were six people in it. There were two rooms. My three sisters slept on one side of the room, and I slept on the other side of the room. The kitchen was not really a kitchen. We had what was called an icebox, and the iceman would bring a big block of ice every 2 or 3 days for 50 cents.

So I guess somebody could say, well, his parents weren't working and that is what happens in this country when people don't work. It may be interesting, at least for some, to know that my father attended Prairie View, did not graduate from Prairie View, came back home and started his own business, Cleaver's Cleaners. And in a town where there was rigid segregation, he could only do the people in the neighborhood, and that didn't provide enough income.

But he kept us in this house as comfortably as possible. In fact, one night, I asked my mother if I could share something that is called hoe cakes, big biscuits. She would make syrup, and I loved it. It was like heaven. I asked her if I could share those with the people who lived on the big street. We lived in an ally, and there were big mansions that are still there today, and I wanted to take some over and give it to the rich kids, because my mother said they didn't have any hoe cakes.

But we lived in a house. And my father, who turned 100 on July 16, paid $20 a month on a shack, probably was worth maybe $250. So I grew up in that house.

We then moved to public housing. My father worked--and, in fact, I don't know how he made it, and I don't know how he lived to be 100, because my father worked three jobs. He worked at the First Baptist Church, a huge church, still is a huge church that is known all over the country. And then, on Saturday mornings, he cleaned up the T. A. Litteken's Construction Company office building. Then on Saturdays, he would serve parties. He did that for years and years and years and years.

I hope he is watching this tonight, because I want to say thank you to him, because I don't know how he did all of that. Because my mother did not go to school, college, he felt like it was his responsibility to send her to college.

So we moved to public housing. And as I have said publicly, my father lied to the officials at the public housing, the Rosewood projects. He would not tell them that he had another job, because to do so meant that he would have to increase his rent.

So he saved every dime he could get, every dime, and bought a house in the White neighborhood and had it moved on a Saturday night to the east side of town where African Americans lived.

This was his dream. My father had the house fixed up. We moved into the house. I had my own bedroom. I thought we were rich. I mean, we actually had an indoor bathroom. I remember, I spent one night just flushing the toilet, just playing with it. It was like heaven. Then my mother started college when I was in the seventh grade. My father insisted.

My father was willing to do whatever he had to do to build his family. But the key to all of it was housing. That separated us from a lot of others. Housing, it is the most significant thing a human being can have. It makes them a part of the American Dream.

My daddy is somebody--and this rose so high--that his lawn was put on display in the local newspaper. The lawn of the summer, that is what he wanted to do.

Madam Chair, I appreciate everything you have done and said to bring us to this point.

I want to say to anybody watching, if you live in the United States, the most powerful, the richest Nation on this planet, you have no business sleeping outside with 700,000 people who do it every single night in this country. You have no business being unable to afford a house in the United States, because the average price now is almost $400,000.