Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Fair Housing Alliance 20th National Conference

Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill
Monday, June 6, 2011

Thank you, Shanna, for that introduction -- and for your remarkable leadership with the Alliance.

And I want to thank HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasviña, for his leadership and the thoughtfulness he brings to our work at HUD.

There is no greater or more tenacious champion for fair housing at HUD or across the Federal government than John.

He's a tremendous partner.

It's great to see so many friends. For nearly a quarter century, the Alliance has brought together advocates from around the nation with one goal in mind:

To end housing discrimination in America.

And I'm proud to represent an agency and an Administration that considers itself a full partner in that fight.

In the fight to provide decent and fair housing in inclusive, sustainable communities for all.

That isn't just "part" of HUD's mission -- but its very core.

Let's not forget that HUD was founded at a moment when our country's cities were not just dealing with social unrest -- they were literally burning.

It was Martin Luther King's assassination that led President Johnson and Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act, which declared that no person in America shall be denied access to housing on the basis of race.

But as Assistant Secretary Trasvina reminds me, that's not all it represented.

Dr. King's assassination catalyzed a recognition on the part of our government that discrimination and segregation were not simply contributors to social unrest -- but, in many cases and in many places, the cause.

And we affirmed that government has a role to play in creating integrated, diverse communities with access to opportunity for all.

That is fair housing.

That is equal opportunity.

And that is what we are fighting for every day at HUD.

How Far We've Come

When President Obama took office, we were in the middle of a recession that in many ways was caused by kinds of practices you have spent your lifetimes trying to put to an end.


Predatory lending.


Housing was ground zero for these practices.

And we know that in some neighborhoods they helped turned back the clock on decades of progress.

Ensuring a crisis like this never happens again has motivated so much of our work these last two years.

That is why the Obama Administration created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law -- the sole purpose of which is to protect average Americans from fraud, abuse and abusive practices.

And I'm thrilled that the President picked one of this community's own, Patrice Alexander Ficklin, to serve as the Bureau's Assistant Director for Fair Lending.

That is why we are working with a task force of Attorneys General from all 50 states to hold banks accountable when it comes to foreclosures and foreclosure processing.

A New Era of Partnership

And it is why we continue to partner with all of you.

In fact, I'm proud to share with you some data hot off the presses about how effective our partnerships have been -- and the kinds of results many of you have produced for the American people.

According to a new report HUD released today, cases brought by HUD-funded fair housing groups--the "FHIPs"--are 7 times more likely to result in findings of discrimination.

Because of the high quality of evidence you provide to us, this study finds that many of the cases you refer to us might otherwise be too complex for victims to pursue.

And it finds that FHIP-referred cases where evidence supports a finding of discrimination are more likely to be processed quickly -- ensuring that families receive the benefits they deserve and saving the taxpayer money at the same time.

The work we do together reminds us once again why the debate going on right now isn't whether government is big or small -- but whether it's smart.

Data like this is why the President has requested $72 million in our Fiscal Year 2012 budget to continue building and sustaining our fair housing partnerships -- not only with FHIPs, but also with the FHAPs who do such incredible work at the state and local level.

This funding will return the investment in our nation's fair housing organizations to its highest level in history -- and allow the remarkable work so many of you do to continue.

A Very Tough Choice

Of course, we also know that this is a very different budget environment than the one we've been in these last two years.

I know some of you are HUD-approved housing counselors -- who have helped 6 million distressed homeowners navigate this foreclosure crisis over the last two years.

According to NeighborWorks America, distressed homeowners working with a housing counselor are nearly twice as likely to receive a modification on their mortgage.

I've seen for myself the difference counselors can make -- in Oakland with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, in Atlanta with Congressman John Lewis.

I've seen people with tears in their eyes who have done everything they can--who have all but given up--burst into tears of joy when a housing counselor sits them down with their servicer to get a modification.

That is fair housing in action.

And that is why, as concerned as you are about housing counseling funding being eliminated for the fiscal year 2011 in the recent budget agreement, I am just as concerned.

Now, to be clear, the $73 million for housing counseling grants to more than 500 national, regional and local organizations from our 2010 budget that we announced in December is still on the streets.

But the elimination of housing counseling funds for FY 2011 will be particularly painful. The President made clear he disagrees with a number of cuts in the budget agreement, and this is one of them.

Indeed, President Obama's proposed FY 2012 budget requests $88 million for housing counseling. And I ask you to share the important work partners like you are doing to keep families in their homes, so we can make the case to Congress to restore housing counseling funding.

The work that so many of you do is too important.

Disaster Recovery

Last month, I was reminded of that again as I toured communities devastated by tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia.

I'm proud what HUD is doing to assist these communities in their recovery -- making CDBG and HOME finds available immediately to help them respond to their own needs as they see fit, whether it's rebuilding affordable housing stock damaged by the storms, pumping resources into community facilities that can serve as anchors for revitalization, or identifying REO properties for families to use as temporary housing.

But we also know that in the days after storms like these, many families not only face the tragedy of their own homes being destroyed -- many are also prohibited from finding shelter nearby.

By ordinances that tell property owners where apartments could be located, how many homes they could rent -- and who can live there.

Storms and tornadoes may be natural disasters -- but the disasters I'm talking about are very much man-made, depriving countless families of housing choices that I believe, President Obama believes, and the law recognizes are the right of every American.

Four decades ago, passage of the Fair Housing Act affirmed that, as Americans, if we don't have the freedom to choose where we live, we don't have freedom.

And we need only to look around us to see why that law remains so important today -- where over a period of many years St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana has taken measures that have effectively excluded minority families from renting homes in that Parish.

We can look to Mississippi and Texas, where we have seen clear disparities in the way families uprooted by disaster are assisted as they try to put their lives back together again.

Or to Westchester County, New York, where we've seen isolation and segregation on a different scale but in so many ways every bit as entrenched as what Americans saw in New Orleans nearly six years ago.

Or to Elizabeth Budde ("Buddy"), a 34-year old oncologist who was denied a home loan for the simple reason that she welcomed her first child into the world and decided to take maternity leave.

I'm proud to work for an Administration that believes housing discrimination is wrong in whatever form it takes -- and is actively working to end it once and for all.

That's what we're doing in places like St. Bernard Parish where we have successfully worked to ensure two discriminatory ordinances were rescinded.

In Westchester, where we are working hard to make sure they follow through on their commitment to use federal and local resources to provide housing choices.

And for the dozens of women who were inspired to come forward by Dr. Budde, whose case Assistant Secretary Trasviña's team recently settled and serves as the basis of relief for many other victims.

Now, despite these injustices--and despite the fact that they are in clear violation of the law and what we have always stood for as Americans--some suggest that righting these wrongs represents a form of "social engineering."

But let's be clear:

The folks fighting segregation and housing discrimination aren't social engineering.

The problems they are fighting were largely created by social engineering.

By zoning codes that shut low- and moderate-income families out of certain markets.

By funding decisions that steer the development of affordable housing away from neighborhoods of high opportunity.

By federal dollars being directed away from the families who need them to rebuild in the wake of disaster.

Far more often than not, housing discrimination, segregation, isolation, and poverty don't occur in spite of government.

They happen because of government -- by government dollars and government decisions made with government authority.

Housing Choices in the 21st Century

But as each of you has shown us, America can change.

As President Obama put it as a candidate, your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams. Or mine yours.

In fact, it is when we make an investment in our shared dreams that we all prosper as a nation.

This isn't simply a matter of rhetoric.

Diverse, inclusive communities offer the most education, economic, and employment opportunities to their residents.

They cultivate the kind of social networks our communities and our country need to compete in today's increasingly diverse and competitive global economy.

Students are better prepared for the workforce and engage in more complex and creative thinking when they learn in a diverse environment.

Right now, we can predict a child's life expectancy by the zip code he or she grows up in.

We can't win the race to educate our kids if we are leaving 20 percent of our children behind in the poorest neighborhoods.

We need all hands on deck.

Still, making that possible won't be decided in our courtrooms alone -- but rather in the neighborhoods each of us helps communities build.

Don't get me wrong. When it comes to enforcing the law, the Obama Administration will always stand tall and never back down.

But the measure of our success won't be the number of lawsuits we bring or even win -- but whether we are changing the lives of the people and communities we serve.

It will be measured by whether we increase the number of low-poverty, racially diverse communities in America.

By whether those we touch have access to opportunity –good schools, safe streets, decent jobs.

And whether families live in opportunity-rich neighborhoods or have the choices they need to move to one.

This is the work all of us at HUD and across the Administration have been doing -- and is the basis of our work to bring affirmatively furthering fair housing into the 21st century and equip communities with the information and guidance they need to make fair housing not simply a paper exercise but central to the way they plan their communities.

This commitment is represented in the Obama Administration's Choice Neighborhoods initiative, which recognizes, as the New York Times recently noted, that "sound urban planning, aggressive social policy and an awareness of history are inseparably intertwined."

And with the $170 million in planning grants we provided with the Department of Transportation to communities like New Orleans and Detroit, we are not only more closely connecting housing to jobs -- but providing the tools necessary to begin repairing some of the wounds that still endure today.

Winning the Future Begins at Home

All this work is important. But it will only be possible with partners like you -- holding America to a high standard.

We need you--your experiences and your perspective--not just to do this important work -- but to do it right.

With each of us doing our part to ensure that tax dollars are invested in diverse, inclusive communities--to make clear what is expected of local governments and to work together to increase access to opportunity for all--we can ensure that our children's futures--and the choices available to them--are never again determined by the zip code they grow up in.

That is what this conference is about.

That's what our partnership is about.

And that's why I'm honored to join you all today.

Thank you.


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