Julian Castro came to St. Petersburg Friday, where he took a tour of the flagship offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC).
During his visit, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary praised the work of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in helping give ex-felons opportunities for a second chance, as well as (politely) take issue with proposed federal cuts to city programs that have proposed by Donald Trump‘s administration.
From 2009-2014, Castro served as San Antonio Mayor before Barack Obama named him to serve as his HUD Secretary in the final two years of his administration. Castro was glad to appear on behalf of Kriseman, highlighting the mayor’s work on the city’s Southside.
“I’m happy to see this kind of great work that is going to provide greater opportunity for folks who have paid their debt to society, folks who are willing to work hard for a second chance in life,” Castro said Friday morning.
PERC is the lead agency of the CRA Workforce Development Council, working to increase employment within the South St. Pete CRA.
As an ex-offender outreach program, PERC provides a variety of re-entry services to those released from prison or with criminal backgrounds. Services include resume writing assistance, anger management and life-skill classes, an outpatient substance abuse group and job placement assistance.
Castro and Kriseman took a tour of the David T. Welch Center for Progress and Community Development building on 16th Street South, hosted by Michael Jalazo, PERC’s CEO and executive director.
Taking questions from reporters after the tour, Castro was circumspect about his successor, Dr. Ben Carson, whose appointment by Trump was criticized because he came without previous government and never managed anything close to the size of HUD, an agency with a $47 billion budget to help 5 million low-income families.
Castro hopes Carson would “pushback” on Trump’s proposed 2018 budget that seeks to cut $6 billion in HUD spending.
Programs eliminated in Trump’s budget plan would include HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and the National Housing Trust.
Jalazo wasn’t so shy in criticizing the cuts, saying those who dismiss that news doesn’t realize that those cuts directly affect cities.
“You’re talking about some of the community development block grants, you’re talking about the different kind of financial institutions that go into communities like this,” he said. “We’re really concerned on the local level.”
“It’s easy in Washington D.C. to talk about ‘slashing a budget,’ but we feel the effects at the local level and amongst the most vulnerable communities,” Castro added.
During a candidate forum earlier this month, former two-term Mayor Rick Baker said he would absolutely fight CDBG cuts impacting St. Petersburg.
Kriseman thanked Castro for helping to intervene in the Commerce Park-area of South St. Pete. In 2014, Kriseman realized the city was facing the loss of several million dollars from HUD, money used to generate jobs “that hadn’t been created under the last two administrations.”
“The secretary was kind enough to give us time to do things differently,” Kriseman said, adding the city used those funds — that it did not have to pay back — to purchase the Tangerine Plaza site in the Southside. Currently, the site sits empty after War-Mart departed earlier this year.
(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).