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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Lending Discrmination Press Conference

Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Thank you very much, and good afternoon. First let me thank Mr. Steve Kest from Acorn for the report that they released today and for those comments, and Professor John Yinger and his associates from the Urban Institute for an exceptional piece of work. I'd also like to take the personal privilege of thanking the team here at HUD that has done a great job on this. Bill Apgar, the FHA Commissioner, and Susan Wachter and her entire team over at PD&R.

And I want to thank our brothers and sisters from the Congress who are here, who made time in a very busy week, because this is a busy week on the Hill. Substantively it's a busy week for the caucuses and they made time to be with us today, and I want to thank them.

A couple of quick points and then I'll introduce the Members of Congress. This is in many ways shocking to me. We know experientially that discrimination is still alive and well in America. You know it when you walk down the street, you know it when you get on a bus, you know it when you walk into a restaurant. But to see academics with charts and paper and reports is even more glaring, in some ways it's even more damning.

When it's just the experiential you say, well maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm just misperceiving the situation. When you see it in numbers, literally in black and white, it takes away that thin patina of an excuse that we sometimes use as a justification.

The numbers are inarguable. When the academics talk about testing, what they mean is this -- they had to explain it in simple language for me as a simple HUD Secretary. They have an African American person, a Latino person, and a white person. They all have the same financials. Every number is the same, the same credit history. And they send those three people in to get a mortgage and they get three different results. Nothing else can explain it, all the numbers are the same, all the facts are the same, the only difference is the color of the skin.

That's what testing means. And this is not 1960 that we're talking about. This is not some film on the bad old days when the nation was developing. This is today. This is 1999, 1998 -- America in all its glory and all its success, with our great economy and our great Dow Jones, patting each other on the back. Discrimination is getting worse -- not just alive and well, but flourishing. Worse from 1995 to 1998. That is the sorry truth today.

What do we do about it? We enforce the law. We enforce the law. We pride ourselves as a nation of laws. We're very good at pounding our chests and saying the law should be enforced, that this or that was a violation of the law. Well this is a violation of the law. We have a law, the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Martin Luther King died so that we would have the Fair Housing Act. His death inspired the Fair Housing Act.

And it says very clearly, you shall not discriminate. It's not a question of interpretation of the law, we're confused, we didn't know that's what the law said. The law says, "It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin." It is not a question of interpretation. That is the law.

Enforce the law -- that's what this Department is charged to do. And we are doing it with a vehemence we haven't done before. One of the proudest things that I think I have done as HUD Secretary is brought teeth to the Fair Housing law. We are now doing twice as many enforcement actions as we were two years ago. We're now doing 60 enforcement actions per month compared to 30 actions per month.

And that is saying something, when the Federal Government says, it's not just a law that is on the books, it is an American reality. And if you break that law we're going to be just as tough and just as tenacious if you were a 14-year-old we found with drugs, or an immigrant we found crossing the border. We're going to enforce that Fair Housing law.

We are doing it, but we can't do it alone. We have Fair Housing programs that fund groups that help us do this. And it is ironic that at the time these numbers are going up, the United States Congress in its wisdom is bringing the Fair Housing funding down. The House would cut the Fair Housing programs by about three million dollars. The Senate rejects the President's request, which would increase them by about seven million. The House cuts three million, the Senate rejects the President's increase of seven million. How do you explain that? How do you rationalize that? It is unconscionable.

My last point is this: this is not a housing issue per se. Yes, this is a housing study, a mortgage finance study, a banking study, but this issue is bigger than a housing issue, it is bigger than a HUD issue, it is bigger than whether or not somebody gets a mortgage.

What this issue is saying is, have we come together as a people? Are we yet a society or are we still seeing black and white and brown and yellow? Because if that is what we are doing that will defeat us. This issue of race is not going to get any easier, it's going to get worse. By 2050 we are going to be a majority minority. We're not going to become more homogenous, we're going to become more heterogeneous. We're going to become more diverse. And if we're having trouble today we are doomed tomorrow.

Martin Luther King said it, all the great philosophers said it. They said the American experiment is about coming together. It's about saying we can welcome different people from different places and we will forge one society from all of them. E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. That's what we were founded on. It was the founding premise of the nation, and it is the enduring promise of the nation. Today's findings say we have a way to go before it will become a reality.

Let me now please turn to our brothers and sisters in the Congress who are champions on this issue and warriors on it every day, and it's our distinct pleasure to have them with us. We'll first hear from Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and then Congressman Xavier Becerra, and then Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and then Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton. Thank you.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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