Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 2009 Public Policy Conference

Plenary Session: Latinos Leading on the Economy and Workforce
Washington, DC
Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute - which for 31 years has made creating opportunity a reality for millions in this country.

I want to thank your chair, a good friend from New York City, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez for her remarkable leadership and partnership - as well as all the staff and others who have made this event possible and who create change in our communities day in and day out.

Today, your work-and our work together-is more important than ever.

Indeed, we meet at a remarkable time - for our country, and for the Latino community in particular. Already, we recognize that Latinos account for more than half of all our population growth in the last decade. By the middle of the century, 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will be Latino.

At the same time, Latino participation in every aspect of society is surging - in 2008, Latino voter registration grew over 25 percent.

In every way-economically, socially, politically, culturally- Latinos have become a force to be reckoned with in America.

And so, the question today isn't how Latinos can impact our economy and workforce - as those numbers show, you already are. The question, as you so rightly put it in this year's theme, is how you can lead.

Because with increased numbers comes an increasing number of challenges. Every year, a third of Latinos go without health care.

Latino children continue to lag behind-in math and reading skills-and for all our progress, still only little more than half of Latinos graduate from high school.

And of course, housing. No challenge will impact Latinos' ability to lead on the economy more than the foreclosure crisis at the root of our economic crisis.

So, today, I wanted to say a few words about what we are doing to push back on the foreclosure crisis, the role home plays in opportunity, and how we can work together to build the strong, vibrant, inclusive communities America's Latino community needs to succeed in the 21st century.

A Moment for Urgency

Indeed, I'd like to begin my remarks by making a bit of news before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute - as HUD awards nearly $6 million to 10 Hispanic colleges and universities across the country to help revitalize neighborhoods, promote affordable housing and stimulate economic development in their communities.

These funds will help schools with significant Hispanic student populations rehabilitate homes, clean up lead-based paint hazards, provide downpayment and closing cost assistance prospective homebuyers, and a range of other services, from job training and child care to fair housing and housing counseling.

This effort reinforces two beliefs I know we share. First, that home is the very foundation of opportunity in America - upon which we build our lives, raise our children and plan for our futures.

In a lot of ways, home is family - the source of our 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.

And second, it reminds us that everything we achieve, we achieve through partnership - through engaging the broad range of stakeholders we need to tackle our toughest challenges.

And no challenge is tougher than our ongoing housing crisis. Millions of Americans have already lost their homes. Others are in foreclosure. Still others have fallen into homelessness, devastating families and communities alike. While the crisis is national in scope, four states with significant and growing Latino populations are among the hardest hit -including Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and California, which Congresswoman Sanchez knows all too well.

With the housing crisis at the root of our economic crisis, HUD has been quite literally at the center of the Administration's response. In February, HUD began investing nearly $14 billion Congress provided us under the Recovery Act in our communities - three quarters of which we allocated in the first week. That legislation included $4 billion to make improvements to public housing, $2 billion for project-based rental housing, and $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness. For places like the southwest border, urban pockets of poverty, and Puerto Rico, these dollars are critical for economic recovery.

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.

At the same time, we're encouraging state and local governments to develop new and innovative ways to improve public housing and rebuild communities. As we green our public and assisted housing stock, we're partnering with my colleague, Secretary Solis - connecting our workforce investment system to Public Housing Authorities and Assisted Housing owners and providing job training opportunities to the low-income residents who need them most.

Collectively, we are committed to making green building an engine of economic growth, jobs and opportunity in cities across the country, creating a new generation of professionals - from mechanics and plumbers, to architects and energy auditors.

All of which is to say that, at the same time we put the brakes on this recession, we are beginning to lay the foundation for the kind of long-term economic growth we all need.

Making Home Affordable

Central to making any of this possible is the President's Making Home Affordable plan.

To date, nearly 1.8 million homeowners have received information about the plan. Forty-nine participating servicers have extended offers on over 570,000 trial modifications so far.

We are starting to see signs of progress - home prices increasing, the sale of existing and new homes increasing for five consecutive months, homebuyer confidence on the rise, and close to 360,000 loan modifications underway.

But we need to keep the pressure on. 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.

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

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

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

Borrowers need to take the first step towards relief.

And counselors must be ready to provide answers.

As HUD mobilizes its vast network of counselors and other nonprofits to provide critical assistance to the record number of homeowners at-risk of foreclosure, I know many of you here have done outstanding work of your own.

The truth is, 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. And so does HUD.

We need you to be a part of the solution when it comes to helping people keep their homes - to reach out to those in need, particularly those for whom language is a barrier to help.

But I know you can't do it alone. We've heard your concerns - how servicers are beginning the foreclosure process even as they are working with borrowers to modify their loans. We've also heard about homeowners being denied a loan modification who should have qualified.

That's not right. That is why we are pressing servicers to commit more resources to this process.

We've now begun publicly reporting results under the program. We're measuring how long it takes for borrowers to get a response, the accuracy of information they're being provided, and how long it takes for applications to be completed. In all, we have told participating servicers that we expect them to modify at least a half a million loans by the first of November

Collectively, these efforts should signal to every American that the Obama Administration is absolutely committed to the success of the Making Home Affordable program and to helping as many families as possible during this difficult time.

A New Era of Accountability

This crisis offers an opportunity to reshape our communities to be more integrated, accessible and inclusive - foundations of equal opportunity in all aspects of our daily lives and our families' futures. At the White House, Adolfo Carrion is leading the President's urban policy. And at HUD, our Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development is Mercedes Marquez - both are champions for the change that is so vitally needed.

All of us recognize that the Hispanic community was one of the primary victims of the subprime mortgage crisis. 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.

And so, just as important as stopping foreclosures is building a long-term platform for economic success that ensures this crisis never happens again - and that's one reason why we're trying to do something about one of the leading causes of foreclosure in the country: out of control health care costs.

That's also 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.

You may know my new Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasvina. Having worked side by side with many of you over the years as president and general counsel of MALDEF, he brings to HUD an ability to build relationships and vigorously enforce the law when it comes to housing discrimination - and as our recent Westchester settlement shows, the ability to get results.

The right to own or rent a home without discrimination should never depend on how well one speaks English.

It's time we say clearly to prey those upon seniors or people who face cultural or language barriers what you have been saying for years:

No mas! You can't get away with it anymore - and you will be held accountable for your actions.

The time has come to ensure that the kind of behavior on Wall Street that put our families and neighborhoods at risk is put to an end.

This summer, 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 were 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. [PAUSE]

A Sustainable Future

I believe that no one has more riding on our ability to seize this moment to build stronger, more inclusive, and more sustainable communities than Latinos - not just environmentally sustainable, but socially and economically sustainable.

It's not a coincidence that the neighborhoods with the least access to transportation, good schools and jobs are the ones hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

It's not a coincidence that we can determine a child's life expectancy by the zip code they grow up in.

What it is, is a tragedy, reminding us that if there isn't equal access to safe, affordable housing in this country - there isn't equal opportunity.

Whether it's our Choice Neighborhood proposal to link housing interventions with early childhood education innovations or our efforts to connect housing and transportation investments, the motivation is the same:

When you choose a home, you don't just choose a home - you also choose schools for your children and transportation to work.

You choose a community - and the opportunities available in that community.

Whether it's pushing back against foreclosures, making affordable rental housing a priority again in this country, or planning our communities in a more integrated and inclusive way, how we develop our national housing policy in this moment of national crisis is a defining challenge - and it is absolutely essential to the success of the Latino community in the 21st century.

Indeed, working together and in common purpose, I believe it can-and will-be one of our most lasting achievements.

Thank you for this opportunity.


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