Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Esperanza State of Hispanic Housing Dinner

Washington, DC
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thank you Reverend Cortés - for that generous introduction, for your leadership and for your commitment to ensuring affordable housing is available to every family. It was your inspiration that brings us together every year for this National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference.

Reverend Cortés reminds us the difference that one person can make when it comes to making home affordable. And I want to thank the board of Esperanza for their commitment to that mission as well.

It's an honor to be here with all of you - so many pastors, partners and representatives from financial institutions committed to working together to find community-based solutions.

Over 20 years ago, a small organization named Nueva Esperanza had a vision - and it was founded on a simple principle:

That every family, regardless of their background or circumstance deserved a chance to live the American Dream.

What began at the grassroots has now blossomed into a force for change at the national level.

Today, whether it is mortgage counseling, foreclosure mitigation, home building, or economic development, Esperanza is making a difference.

Today, two-thousand families in the North Philadelphia community alone have you to thank for obtaining their first mortgage. You've rehabilitated more than 200 single family homes and counseled thousands more.

And I am proud you are making your voices heard here in Washington this week, because the critical role you play in ensuring economic opportunity for countless members of the Hispanic community has never been more important than it is today.

This evening, I want to say a few words about home - what it is, why it's so important and the role I believe it must play in building the strong, vibrant, inclusive communities our country needs to succeed in the 21st century.

For me-for all of us, I suspect-a home is the foundation upon which we build our lives, raise our children and plan for their future.

Home is family.

It is the source of a family's stability and the building block with which we forge neighborhoods, put down roots and build the communities that are the engines of our economic growth.

With homes so central to our success as individuals and as communities, ensuring that every American family has access to decent, safe and affordable housing is not just part of HUD's mission - it is the core of our mission.

Unfortunately, that foundation-upon which so much that we universally value rests-has been seriously eroded by our ongoing housing and economic crisis. Millions of Americans have already lost their homes or are in foreclosure. Some have fallen into homelessness, devastating families and communities alike.

And you see families every day who have worked so hard to climb that economic ladder toward their first home knocked back down a few rungs by a crisis not of their making - deferring a dream that should not have to wait.

That's why the President's Making Home Affordable initiative is so important. It will help 7 to 9 million homeowners keep their homes and target those who have made every possible effort to stay current on their mortgage payments.

We are working to assist 4 to 5 million homeowners who couldn't otherwise refinance because declining values have put them underwater.

And we have committed up to $75 billion to help an additional 3 to 4 million homeowners at risk of foreclosure modify their loans.

Last week alone, 40,000 additional modification offers were made to borrowers, bringing the total number to nearly 200,000.

But we have a lot more to do. The truth is, the Hispanic population was one of the primary victims of the subprime mortgage crisis.

The study you've just released found that Hispanics are far more likely to get higher-priced loans. And The Wall Street Journal reported in December of 2007 that 61 percent of those in subprime mortgages could have qualified for prime mortgages but were pushed into riskier mortgages by lenders and brokers.

For me, those kinds of figures are totally unacceptable. That's why we've requested $37 million for an agency wide initiative to Combat Mortgage Fraud and Predatory Practices - a third of which will go to curbing discrimination through increases in HUD's fair housing activities.

Last week, HUD released its annual Fair Housing Report detailing the number of housing discrimination complaints throughout the country. We are reporting a record number of housing discrimination complaints in 2008 - but less than 8 percent of these complaints are national origin cases on behalf of Latinos. You and I both know that the scourge of discrimination is far greater.

That is one reason why my new Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is John Trasviña. He has worked side by side with many of you over the years as president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund. He brings to HUD the expertise and energy to build relationships and vigorously enforce the law when it comes to housing discrimination.

The right to own or rent a home without discrimination should never depend on how well one speaks English. Not in America.

HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity now has fair housing brochures, vital documents and other information in English, Spanish and eleven other languages.

We are currently assessing the language capabilities of each of our regional and district fair housing offices.

And with bias crimes against Hispanics as documented by the FBI higher than they have been in years, it comes not a moment too soon.

We will work closely with the Department of Justice to enforce the federal protections against hate crimes and defend people's right to live where they choose without fear of intimidation or violence.

With these efforts and strong new protections HUD is using in the Safe Mortgage Licensing Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, we say clearly and unequivocally what you have been saying in board rooms and town halls, from the pulpit and from anywhere you can:

It's time to hold those who discriminate or prey upon seniors, families in dire straits, and people who face cultural or language barriers accountable for their actions.

We are also working to ensure that the kind of behavior on Wall Street that put our families and neighborhoods at risk is put to an end.

Earlier today, I stood with President Obama as he unveiled the Administration's plan to rebuild trust in our markets by creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that focuses exclusively on protecting consumers - and nowhere is the need clearer than mortgage lending where so many were taken advantage of.

Homeownership is incredibly important. But 54 percent of Hispanics rent according to the National Apartment Association.

This reminds us yet again that the need for a balanced, comprehensive national housing policy is long overdue - one that supports homeownership, but also provides affordable rental opportunities, and ensures nobody falls through the cracks. And this is the focus of the budget we've offered.

Some say your budget expresses not only your priorities, but also your values. So let me tell you a little about what we value at HUD.

HUD's budget would help secure the American Dream for nearly 2.25 million families with mortgage insurance through the Federal Housing Administration.

It would provide rental assistance for over four-and-a-half million households, and expand the supply of housing affordable to low-income families by more than 300,000 units.

And it would provide housing counseling to 571,000 households.

And that's where you come in. Esperanza represents over 12,000 partners who live out that mandate from Scripture that calls on us to be our brothers' keeper and our sisters' keeper.

You're helping young families purchase their first home.

You're putting clothes on people's backs and food on their plates.

You're ensuring our seniors can live with dignity in their retirement years.

And you're committed to fulfilling that great American promise that each of us will work and sacrifice to create a brighter future for the next generation.

You have unique relationships with so many of the communities that we need to lift up during this crisis.

They know you. They trust you. They respect you.

At the same time, we are keenly aware that in these difficult economic times, when demand for assistance is up, many organizations are struggling to do more with less, to weather this storm even as they continue to support families in need. That's why we are especially grateful for the work that groups like Esperanza are doing day in and day out.

I want you to know that we are committed to working with you to ensure that families who need help, get help. You must be a part of the solution.

We're employing an array of tools to make that possible. HUD invested nearly $14 billion under the Economic Recovery Act in our communities, including $4 billion to make improvements to public housing, $2 billion for project-based rental housing, and $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness.

We're investing $2 billion in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to help communities purchase and convert foreclosed and abandoned properties into new affordable housing, land banks, or other options that preserve neighborhoods.

And I'm proud to say that within the first week of receiving Recovery Act funds, HUD allocated nearly 75 percent of that money.

But as President Obama often reminds us, government alone can't solve our problems.

That's why HUD must continue to build on its longstanding partnerships with faith-based and neighborhood organizations like Esperanza.

In launching his White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, President Obama called for "all hands on deck." And here at HUD, I'm pleased to say we have our own faith-based office headed up by our new director, Mark Linton, who previously served the President in his Senate office. And before that, he worked in the faith-based non-profit sector.

This office will play a critical role in helping us connect with organizations like yours to build communities that are strong, vibrant and, above all, inclusive.

That's why we are also investing $150 million in a new Sustainable Communities Initiative that integrates transportation and housing planning at the local level to reduce costs and increase opportunities for working families. And we'll be partnering with the EPA and Department of Transportation in that effort.

Now, some of you may be asking how economic opportunity relates to something like "smart growth."

But when you choose a home, you also choose the schools your child attends, you choose transportation to work and you choose a community.

Today, working families spend nearly 60 percent of their budgets on housing and transportation costs - which leaves far too little to pay for necessities like groceries, child care, doctor's visits, or saving for college.

Today, less than a quarter of metropolitan jobs are located within 3 miles of a central business district. That means less time spent with family and more time stuck in traffic.

And today, the kinds of health disparities that exist between low-income families and persons of color, and the rest of the population are often less pronounced in areas that are more walkable and accessible.

All that tells us what Esperanza has known for nearly a quarter century:

If there isn't equal access to safe, affordable housing, there isn't equal opportunity.

Planning communities in a more integrated and inclusive way isn't separate from advancing social justice - it's essential to it.

Esperanza, you understand the connection between sustainable growth, social justice and economic opportunity.

You understand that in America, we should never be able to predict a child's life expectancy by the zip code they grow up in.

You understand that how we develop our national housing policy is one of the great civil rights debates of the 21st century.

Cesar Chavez once said, "God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity."

May we seize that opportunity as we work in partnership to lift up families across the country in the months and years ahead.

Thank you - and may God bless the work each of you do every day.


Content Archived: February 23, 2017