Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Fair Housing Month 2009 Opening Event

Washington, DC
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

It's great to be here in the Brooke-Mondale Auditorium to kick off Fair Housing Month 2009. I think it's fitting that we gather in this space that commemorates the groundbreaking work of Senators Edward Brooke and Walter Mondale. These two men played pivotal roles in ushering the Fair Housing Act legislation through Congress as co-sponsors, and thanks to their work, we can stand here today celebrating the 41st anniversary of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Photo: Shaun Donovan
Shaun Donovan at the Fair Housing Month 2009 Opening Event

I'd also like to take a moment to thank the HUD employees that made today possible. Thanks to the Fair Housing Month Opening Event Committee for your work in planning and executing today's program. I also want to thank the Fair Housing Month coordinators representing FHEO's ten regional offices. I look forward to visiting many of your offices as I participate in Fair Housing events across the country. Special thanks to Faith Cooper, the Executive Director of the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center located in Montgomery, for joining us here today.

I especially want to recognize General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Bryan Green and Pam Walsh, the Director of the Office of Policy, Legislative Initiatives, and Outreach for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for their long-standing dedication and commitment to the fair housing work that HUD does.

The theme of today's opening event really underscores why we're all here at HUD: we are "Building the American Dream for All." The Fair Housing Act helps do just that, guaranteeing that under law, all people can live where they want, regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Forty one years ago when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, we took a major step toward fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of a united society. Today our commitment to this dream and to fair housing for all Americans is just as strong as ever, and together with our staff at HUD and in partnership with fair housing agencies across the nation, we will continue this critically important fight.

The watershed of change that our country has seen since the passage of the Fair Housing Act is unprecedented. While the historic election of President Barack Obama is the most visible sign of change, minorities across the nation have experienced expanded economic and educational opportunities and achievements since 1968. Concrete evidence of this watershed of change can be seen in all sectors. For example, over the past two decades, African American families became homeowners in record numbers thanks to fair lending and fair housing advances made nationwide. These families, who previously thought they were locked out of the housing market, found themselves living the American Dream.

But for some that dream became a nightmare. As we know all too well, our current economic and housing crises have disproportionately impacted minority populations across the country. We have had far too many unscrupulous financial institutions, brokers, and others that led folks down the wrong paths when it comes to lending and taken away the American Dream for many families.

For example in Jamaica, Queens, 28% of homes have been in some phase of foreclosure since 2004. In 2005, 69% of homes purchased were bought with subprime mortgages.

In California, 37% of African Americans and 35% of Latinos were higher rate borrowers. By contrast, only 14% of white, non-Latino borrowers had higher-rate loans.

I will renew our commitment at HUD to fair housing enforcement, particularly enforcement around lending violations that disproportionately targeted minority communities. The Fair Lending Division of FHEO, whose creation in 2007 has enabled HUD to use its authority under the Fair Housing Act to initiate fair lending investigations, will be a partner in this effort.

Our nation is without a doubt embracing progress and diversity in a way that we have never before experienced in our history. In fact, for many young people today, progress and diversity are values that are assumed and sometimes taken for granted. But we at HUD know that our fight for equal housing opportunity is not over and that housing discrimination still persists, even in the face of such monumental societal change.

In fiscal year 2008, HUD and Fair Housing Assistance Programs agencies received a record-breaking combined total of 10,552 housing discrimination complaints. In FY 2008, disability complaints accounted for 4,675 complaints, or 44 %. Race was the second most common basis of complaints. In FY 2008, race complaints accounted for 3,669 complaints, or 35%.

Faith Cooper has already shared with us one very powerful story of housing discrimination, but I'd like to share with you another about the Sanchez family- a mother and father and their autistic child- who reside in Portland, Oregon. The Sanchezes alleged that their property management company refused to grant their request to move to a vacant first-floor apartment to mitigate noise complaints about their autistic son. The family also alleged that the property managers refused to renew the family's lease, which they had in several previous years, and issued a 30-Day Termination of Tenancy notice. The Sanchez family was forced to vacate on the same day the mother gave birth to a second child. HUD reached a $40,000 settlement in this case.

While we often think of housing discrimination as being mostly racially driven, this case and our housing complaint statistics from last year indicate that disabled Americans also face significant fair housing challenges.

It's numbers like this and stories like these that demonstrate just how much work we have to do as an agency, and as partners with state and local fair housing agencies, to stop housing discrimination from persisting. While such numbers and stories are without a doubt disheartening, I believe that challenges like this present us with a unique opportunity to re-examine our current programs, innovate and collaborate in ways we've never done before, and re-affirm our commitment to building the American dream for all Americans.

HUD could not enforce the Fair Housing Act in all of our programs without the dedication and support of our Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) partners. The work of these agencies do on the ground across the country plays a key role in helping HUD ensure that every resident of this nation has the opportunity to obtain housing of their choice, free from discrimination. In the months and years to come, I look forward to strengthening these partnerships and ensuring that these agencies have the tools and support they need to successfully enforce the Fair Housing Act.

I'd also like to mention that President Obama just announced last week that he is nominating John Trasviña for Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity here at HUD. John has devoted his legal career to public service in civil rights and immigration policy and he will be a huge asset to HUD as we work to advance fair housing across the country.

Lastly, I'd like to touch on our education efforts as they relate to fair housing. All of the work that everyone here and across the country is doing for Fair Housing Month is critical to disseminating information about housing discrimination to American families. From outreach happening to school kids during Fair Housing Education Day to training sessions happening in local communities to an aggressive public relations campaign and lots of interviews with local papers, the work we are doing at HUD to educate the public about their rights under the Fair Housing Act is very important and I want to thank you all for your dedication to making this outreach effort a success. It is my hope that this month, and all year, we can substantially expand our outreach and education efforts.

Under the new Administration, we will work to reinvigorate the fair housing function that HUD serves, and I call on all of you, and our partners across the country, to stand with me in this effort.

Our successes in ensuring equal housing opportunity for all Americans demands an unprecedented level of collaboration, cooperation, and communication between HUD, other federal agencies, state and local government, and community agencies.

Already, we have forged a partnership with the Department of Transportation to create a geography of opportunity for all Americans. The average working family spends nearly 60% of its budget on housing and transportation costs, and our partnership with DOT will work to lower these costs and expand every family's choices for affordable housing and transportation by better coordinating our investments at the federal level. This partnership furthers fair housing by taking steps to remedy the problems imposed by concentrations of poverty across the country, and give all Americans equal housing choice. This is just one example of the kind of collaboration you'll see on fair housing here at HUD in the months and years to come.

As we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, I ask each of you to join me in creating a new culture of collaboration, innovation, and action on fair housing at HUD.

Thanks again to everyone who has made today's kick off a success. Together, I know that we can tackle housing discrimination and help build the American dream for all Americans. I look forward to working with you.


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