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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Dominican Republic Reconstruction Aid Announcement

Friday, October 7, 2000,
New York City

Thank you all very much. On behalf of the President of the United States it's my pleasure to welcome President Mejia here today for this very exciting announcement. I would also like to acknowledge several elected officials who are with us today. State Senate Minority Leader Marty Connors is here.

City Councilman Stanley Michaels is with us today. We have the mayor for Santo Domingo, Johnny Ventora is with us. I want you to know I told the President before we came in, when I was in the Dominican Republic we were talking about putting this project together.

I said it was a very, very difficult project to put together, and Mayor Ventora told me that if we got this project together he was going to teach me how to sign and dance in exchange for what we're doing, and I'm going to hold him to that. Senator Efran Gonzalez is with us who is the Chairman of the National Hispanic Legislators. We have Assemblyman Adriano Espiat who is with us today.

Councilman Guillermo Leonardis is with us. I would also like to note that it is a special honor to have Councilman Leonardis with us today. He lost his father just this past Monday so we're very grateful that he is with us today, and his father is in our thoughts and prayers. I'd also like to point out and thank Dr. Rafael Antigua who really helped us organize today and has been a great inspiration to make this happen.

We have two basic announcements that we're going to be speaking about at lunch later on. The first is in response to the damage after Hurricane Georges. I had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic twice in the aftermath of the hurricane. I do much of the reconstruction efforts for the United States when we're working with international countries on the reconstruction after natural disasters. I went as part of a delegation to assess the damage and develop reconstruction plans.

The numbers don't really do the story justice. If you look at the numbers, they'll say 5,000 homes were lost or damage, they'll say 600,000 Dominicans were affected. But I can't tell you the sense of trauma that occurred at that time. Adriano and Councilman Leonardis were there also with me at that time, and it was just palpable the sense of loss and death and damage. In some ways you really didn't know if reconstruction was possible, but the people of the Dominican Republic really came together. The people from New York I'm proud to say really came together, and everybody pitched in.

To make a long story short, in many ways the cloud did have a silver lining, and the efforts at reconstruction that we've been pursuing I think is actually going to make the situation better than it was before. We announce today in that regard $2.86 million to do long?term community development housing and home ownership opportunities. This will in many cases replace what were previously squatter camps essentially with sound quality housing, home ownership whenever possible, in a comprehensive community?development context with an economic? development component.

The $2.86 million breaks down as follows. It's $1 million for mortgages and home improvement, and these mortgages will go not just for higher? income people, but we're designing a special mortgage product that will also serve lower?income and middle?income individuals. About $400,000 will go to train people on how to access a mortgage and design their finances so they qualify for a mortgage. $850,000 will be for municipal development, community development, economic development, putting the infrastructure in place to support the community. $220,000 to do design changes in the housing construction that will make them weather resistant, that will make them disaster resistant in the future. $100,000 for technical training of local groups and local people to do site planning, environmental planning. And about $200,000 for overall project management. That is the first part of the announcement, the $2.86 million.

As President Clinton asked us to do at that time, don't just build back, but literally build back better, and this will literally replace the conditions that existed with better conditions, better housing, better, more substantial communities, and that is the silver lining on the cloud.

The second announcement is beyond the specific disaster?related efforts, we are announcing the formation of an ongoing collaborative between the United States and the Dominican Republic where we share information and assistance in these regards. It's a reciprocal relationship. I believe we have much to learn from the Dominican Republic, and I believe we have lessons that we can share with the Dominican Republic.

We will be sending a delegation down, I said as soon as possible to the President. He said he defines that as Monday. We have a slightly different definition at HUD on the federal side. We consider as soon as possible about 30 days by and large. Normally it's longer I'll have you know, Mister President.

But we're going to be sending down a delegation fa the best housing, mortgage, mortgage finance minds in the United States to form a collaborative with the Dominican Republic, how can we create the strongest mortgage market, and what we call the secondary mortgage market. This gets very technical very quickly, and I don't want to bore you as the housing secretary, but what has worked in this country is something called the secondary mortgage market where we sell mortgages and we have a circulation of capital. That's what's brought us to our highest home ownership rate in history in the United States, 67 percent, and that is something that we do especially well, and that is something we would like to share with the Dominican Republic, setting up a secondary market. So we hope to have a delegation down within about 30 days to start that collaborative. I'm very excited about it.

I told the President when I was in the Dominican Republic even though the last trip was under difficult circumstances I really felt like I was home because as a New Yorker there are so many Dominicans who literally I met in the Dominican Republic who I knew from New York and vice versa. I felt like I was home. I felt like I was with family. I felt like I was in my community. I was my honor truly as the housing secretary to be of service to the Dominican Republic.

One of the special memories I'll have from my term serving President Clinton is when I was in the Dominican Republic and I was there in a position where I could help my friends, my family, my neighbors. I'm especially blessed that we can now continue this relationship and do good things for both countries.

With that let me now turn it over to a man who we are honored to be in his presence. We're excited by his vision and his agenda for his country. Please give a warm welcome to President Mejia. Thank you.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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