Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition on the Housing Crisis

Chicago, IL
Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Thank you, Reverend Jackson - for that very generous introduction, for inviting me, and most of all, for your four decades of leadership, advocating for civil rights, equality, and economic and social justice.

Those aren't just causes - they're the pillars of strong, sustainable communities. And I want to thank you, Reverend Jackson, for not just waging that fight for so many years - but leading it with such passion and conviction.

Thank you all for coming. There are several attendees I want to recognize - Bishops Paul Morton and Henry Williamson. Also, Doctors Cynthia Hale and Frederick Haynes III and Reverend Charles Jenkins, as well as Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., Dr. Stephen Thurston, Dr. Jeanette Wilson, and Reverend David Bullock.

Others I would like to thank this afternoon are Dr. Chris Bullock, Dr. Grainger Browning and Dr. Clyde Anderson, as well as Bishop David Maxwell, Dr. Jasper Williams and Rev. Willie T. Barrow.

And lastly, Dr. Kevin Adams, Rev. Slim Coleman, Dr. Frank Reed, and Dr. Tommy Lewis.

And I want to say a special word of thanks to my good friend Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood who I had the pleasure of working with closely in New York City.

Thank you, Rainbow PUSH, for this conference - and for this opportunity.

Indeed, for nearly forty years, opportunity is precisely what you've fought for in neighborhoods, workplaces and boardrooms - here in Chicago and across America. You are a force. And with your Wall Street Project, you have become a force for consumers and entrepreneurship in financial services as well.

You understand the vital connection between Wall Street and Main Street. And so I'm pleased to be here today to discuss what President Obama is doing to protect families in danger of losing their homes, and the critical role our faith community can and must play in helping us create affordable housing and equal opportunity in our communities.

A Moment for Urgency

On January 22nd, two days after President Obama was sworn in, Rainbow PUSH rallied out in front of the HUD building in Washington to say the time had come to get serious about helping families save their homes.

And I appreciate you giving us 48 hours to get our act together.

I believe it was that same night that I was confirmed as Secretary. But the point is this:

You don't just fight - you don't just push.

You hold those of us in power accountable for our actions.

And you ought to.

Because you understand that keeping hope alive starts with keeping the American Dream alive.

Millions of Americans have already lost their homes. Others are in foreclosure. Still others have fallen into homelessness, devastating families and communities alike.

This crisis has hit home for Chicago, where we saw over 17,000 foreclosure filings in the first three months of the year.

Like so many urban centers, layoffs are soaring - in the last two years unemployment here in Chicago has almost doubled.

Bankruptcies in the auto industry have sent shockwaves across the country. Not far from here are the auto plants that were among the first desegregated workplaces in America, creating good jobs for tens of thousands of African Americans.

For many, getting your first job at the Big Three was "getting baptized" - that first step up the economic ladder toward the American Dream.

But today, that powerful engine that helped create the black middle class is in doubt, leaving countless businesses here in Chicago reeling - businesses that have been the source of economic security for families for decades.

Churches themselves haven't been immune to this crisis. At the same time they've been serving more people than ever, some churches themselves are receiving foreclosure notices - some, anchors of communities for decades.

Others are on the brink of foreclosure - we've heard about parishioners wearing winter coats during Sunday service because the heat was turned down to save money.

These are difficult times for all of us.

So, this morning, just over five months after Rainbow PUSH let HUD know the time had come to act, I'm proud to stand before you and to say we heard you loud and clear - and it didn't take us five months to do something about it.

It didn't even take us five weeks. We got to work right away.

In February, HUD started investing nearly $14 billion under the Economic Recovery Act in our communities. That legislation will create or save nearly 150,000 Illinois jobs over the next two years, and to help families struggling in this economy, it included $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 an additional $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 would add that no city in America has received more neighborhood stabilization funds to date than Chicago.

Within the first week of receiving Recovery Act funds, HUD allocated nearly 75 percent of that money - more than $10 billion.

Then, a day after the President signed the Recovery Act into law, he unveiled the Making Home Affordable plan to help millions of homeowners across the country keep their homes and target those who have made every possible effort to stay current on their mortgage payments.

HUD is 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.

To date, we have made more than 220,000 modification offers to borrowers. And though the program was launched just over three months ago, we are starting to see some signs of progress - home prices are stabilizing, construction starts are up and tens of thousands of loan modifications are already underway.

But we need to keep the pressure on. Here in Chicago and around the country, we're working with local officials, counselors, the lending industry and community leaders to provide everyone with the resources and information they need to help homeowners access these programs.

Everyone has a role to play in making this program work - reaching out to struggling communities and spreading the word about this program.

Local officials need to encourage their constituents to ask for help.

Servicers need to step up, work hard and process applications.

Counselors must be ready to provide answers.

And borrowers need to take the first step towards relief.

And that's where you come in.

Here in Chicago, churches and faith-based organizations have already been taking matters into their own hands, playing a central role in helping push back against the foreclosure crisis.

At your "Monday Night Drop-Ins," Rainbow PUSH is helping families on the verge of losing their homes find the counseling and legal help they need.

Others are helping families find safe, temporary places for children whose parents have lost their homes.

Many of you are working directly with banks - and having spent time in the private sector leading Prudential Mortgage's FHA lending and affordable housing investments, I know that the role private industry must play is absolutely essential.

You do as well, having partnered with Citi to bring loan officers directly into communities to facilitate loan modifications with struggling homeowners.

Others are purchasing vacant homes and affordably renting them back to the original homeowners so that families have a place to call home until this crisis subsides.

In all of these efforts, you live out that mandate from Scripture that calls on us to be our brothers' and our sisters' keeper.

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.

You must be a part of the solution when it comes to helping people keep their homes.

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

That's why HUD is continuing to build on its longstanding partnerships with faith-based and neighborhood organizations.

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. 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 not only put a stop to foreclosures - but put an end to the abusive, deceptive and predatory practices that got us into this mess.

A New Era of Accountability

And that's long overdue. We all know that African Americans were one of the primary victims of the subprime mortgage crisis - and we know how it happened. In December of 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported that 61 percent of homeowners in subprime mortgages who could have qualified for prime mortgages were pushed into riskier mortgages by lenders and brokers.

As a result, subprimes have had widespread, devastating effects across the economic spectrum. Indeed, half of all subprimes in Chicago are now delinquent.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that this crisis could lead to $352 billion in lost wealth, with the African American community being hit the hardest because of a greater share of wealth concentrated in home equity.

We are looking at a net loss in homeownership rates for African Americans.

For me, that is just completely unacceptable. I refuse to stand by and watch a generation of wealth and gains for minorities in this country get wiped out - and I know President Obama feels the same way.

And so for me, just as important as stopping foreclosures is ensuring that this crisis never happens again. That's why HUD is proposing to put $37 million into an agency-wide initiative to Combat Mortgage Fraud and Predatory Practices - a third of which will go to curbing discrimination through increases in our fair lending activities.

This month, 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 - and 85 percent of race-based complaints were on behalf of African Americans.

That is why we are asking for the biggest increase in funding for fair housing enforcement in history.

And I'm proud to have our new Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasvina, to oversee that effort. John previously served as president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund and before that was the highest ranking Latino attorney at the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration. He brings to HUD the expertise and energy to build relationships and vigorously enforce the law when it comes to housing discrimination.

I'm also pleased to tell you that we have Ron Sims as our Deputy Secretary. Ron was the county executive of the 13th largest county in this country, King County, which includes Seattle. As the first African American to serve on the King County Council and the first black King County Executive, he brings a commitment to these issues as well.

With our new team 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:

Discrimination is not acceptable.

It's time to hold those who prey upon seniors, minorities or families in dire straits accountable for their actions.

And we will.

Earlier this month, I joined 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.

I'm particularly proud that the President's plan voiced our strong commitment to enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act and fair lending laws to ensure that underserved consumers and communities have access to financial services, lending and investment.

The Community Reinvestment Act encourages banks to meet the needs of borrowers and invest in neighborhoods that were traditionally redlined. Some have argued that it's somehow responsible for the housing crisis.

Let's be clear: CRA has brought billions of dollars to neighborhoods across the country.

There are many causes for the housing crisis - but investing in our neighborhoods was not one of them.

CRA wasn't part of the problem - but it will be part of the solution. It must be.

The Test We Face

The President has called this is "a defining moment in our history." As so many of you know, it certainly isn't the first.

You know, 18 years ago this month, I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Washington, DC with John Lewis. You all know Congressman Lewis.

Thirty years earlier, he and a group of others had eaten dinner at a Chinatown restaurant the night before they set off for the Freedom Rides.

The next day, about a dozen of us departed - African Americans, whites, Latinos, Asian Americans who had heard about the civil rights movement and knew of its history, but had never experienced it firsthand.

Together, we went and sat at the lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina where our presence would have caused a riot 30 years earlier.

That day, we went completely unnoticed.

I went to Birmingham, Alabama with James Farmer, the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and the initiator of the Freedom Rides.

Reverend, of course you knew Dr. Farmer.

He was in Birmingham for the first time since he'd been beaten in the streets of that city thirty years earlier. He was blind when he came to Birmingham and we had gathered in a church to hear him speak.

We walked up to the pulpit and I turned to him and said "Dr. Farmer, we'd like to introduce you to the crowd."

The applause was enormous.

He couldn't see the folks out in the audience - he only heard them by their roar of appreciation.

And he turned to me and said, "I can't believe it. I'm being cheered in a church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama."

A few days later, we crossed the Pettus Bridge in Selma together.

Together, we walked the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965 - and together, we walked to the other side.

A gentleman walked up to me and said, "I heard you all were coming, I just wanted to come and meet you. I'm the first African American police officer in the history of Selma, Alabama."

Dr. King famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long - but it bends toward justice.

Well, that month 18 years ago and so many times since, I've seen that for myself.

Like so many of us, I may not have witnessed the battles that Reverend Jackson, John Lewis, James Farmer and millions of others waged for civil rights and social justice in this country.

But I've seen the results.

I've seen the progress. I've seen it with my own eyes.

I saw it on January 20th at President Obama's Inauguration, looking out at the mass of people gathered hopefully on the National Mall, you couldn't help but think how far we'd come since the March on Washington.

I saw it when I bumped into Congressman Lewis on the steps of the Capitol that day, tears streaming down his face - "like water, and righteousness, like a mighty stream," as Dr. King put it.

And I've seen the battles being waged every day in the streets of America today to ensure we keep making that progress, because we still have so far to go.

Each generation faces a test - whether it's World War Two or civil rights.

Facing down this economic crisis to build strong, inclusive communities across America is our challenge - our test.

For the Obama Administration, Making Home Affordable, the Recovery Act and keeping the American Dream alive is our test.

I have every intention of passing it. I'll do whatever it takes to ensure we do. And I know I can count on you to do the same.

To let us know where we're making progress worthy of those who came before us.

To let us know where we're failing to live up to that high bar they set.

And above all, to help us get the word out that help isn't just "on the way" - it's right here, ready to start making a difference in our neighborhoods today.

Together, working in partnership and in common purpose, I'm confident we can keep the American Dream alive.

With a new sense of urgency, I know we will. Thank you for this opportunity.


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