Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the HUD Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Event

Brooke-Mondale Auditorium
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Thank you so much, Ron -- for that generous introduction. Let me also thank Francey Youngberg for the energy that she's put into making this year's Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month a success.

Only a few months after coming to HUD, your dedication to ensuring that each of us at HUD better understands the different cultures and needs of the families we serve has already made a difference -- and reminds us all that our work isn't just about programs and policies. It's about the people and places we serve -- and about the lives we touch day-in and day-out in communities across the country.

Let me also welcome and recognize a special guest, Chris Lu--Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary--and our keynote speaker today, Congressman Mike Honda.

This is a special day. While HUD serves a diverse group of minority communities across the country, the truth is that the scope of our work with the Asian American Pacific Islander community is often overlooked -- which is why this Heritage Month is particularly important for us here at HUD.

At this moment, HUD's public and assisted housing programs serve over 300,000 Asian American Pacific Islanders. And from Hmong Americans to Vietnamese, Chinese, and Filipino Americans, the Asian American Pacific Islander families that reside in our neighborhoods and communities face unique challenges when it comes to meeting their housing needs -- and I want to talk about some of those challenges for a moment, and to describe what we're doing at HUD to overcome them.

The first is language. Nearly 60 percent of Asian American Pacific Islanders speak native languages at home -- and over a third have limited English proficiency.

At the same time, our nation's Asian population is growing faster than any other. To give you an idea of how fast, in Deputy Secretary Sims' home state of Washington, the population of Asian American Pacific Islanders in King County grew by an incredible 90 percent in just a single decade -- from 1990 to 2000.

That's why at HUD, with Assistant Secretary Trasviña's leadership, we've translated over 100 vital housing documents into 16 languages -- including Khmer, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. And that's why FHEO has set up a language assistance line -- to ensure that when it comes to housing discrimination, no one's voice can be silenced.

As part of HUD's Open Government Plan, we will also continue to expand our capacity to provide services to non-English speakers, particularly online and in our field offices.

A second housing challenge that Asian American Pacific Islanders face is overcrowding. While we see a lower poverty rate and less homelessness than the national average, this population's housing challenges are often masked -- with extended families doubling and tripling up in modest housing, rather than leaving family members to fend for themselves.

Indeed, in Harris County, Texas, more than one out of five Asian American Pacific Islander households are overcrowded, nearly twice the rate of the country overall. And for the Native population on the Hawaiian Islands, more than 36 percent of households are overcrowded. These figures are unacceptable.

That's why President Obama and I are committed to putting the Federal government back in the business of affordable housing -- offering a budget for FY 2011 that serves a record number of people in the Section 8 voucher program, and includes a billion dollars to capitalize the National Housing Trust Fund. And with our Choice Neighborhoods and Transforming Rental Assistance initiatives, we are committed to ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their ethnicity, have access to neighborhoods of choice, opportunity, and hope.

A third, and equally important, challenge facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is foreclosure.

While minority communities across the board have been decimated by the housing and economic crisis, Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been particularly hard hit. Indeed, homeownership rates for Asians have fallen three times as fast as they have for Caucasians.

Look at Las Vegas -- Ground Zero for the foreclosure crisis and located in the state with the fastest growing Asian American population in the country. There, the majority of Cambodians and over a third of Laotian and Vietnamese adults lack a high school degree. At the same time, Pacific Islanders have the second lowest homeownership rate in Clark County.

In California, Congressman Honda has seen similar challenges -- and that's why he's been a leader on making sure that we specifically target Asian American Pacific Islander families facing foreclosure.

Toward that end, I'm proud that we've recently approved the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development as a HUD-approved housing counseling intermediary -- opening the door for increased collaboration and focus on reaching this group of vulnerable families.

These are, of course, only a few of the challenges this community faces. But underlying all of them is a lack of good data and research on the Asian American Pacific Islander population -- both as a whole as well as data on the many distinct ethnic groups that comprise the larger community.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who I will be meeting with later this month, have asked HUD to increase its research on AAPI communities through its research in major metropolitan areas -- and we look forward to exploring various ways we can start to address this.

That's why the Strategic Plan HUD unveiled this week makes a bedrock commitment to measuring the performance of our programs and the results they produce for the people we serve. And that's why I'm proud to join Chris, Kiran Ahuja and President Obama in the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Indeed, whether it is homelessness, connecting housing to opportunity, or providing health care services to seniors--a particular concern given the higher rate of poverty among Asian American seniors--one of the most important ways we can impact the lives of the communities we serve is by forging interagency partnerships that capitalize on housing's unique ability to serve as a platform for improving quality of life.

That's what this Initiative is all about -- that is why HUD is participating in its Federal Interagency Working Group. And I know Deputy Secretary Ron Sims looks forward to hosting a community briefing on May 26th in partnership with the Initiative.

So, thank you all for coming -- for joining us in this celebration, and for making a difference in this community -- and all our communities--each and every day. That is what this celebration is about. And for that, I thank you.


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