Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the 2012 Delaware Governor's Conference on Housing

Sheraton Dover Hotel, Delaware
Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thank you, Senator Carper, for that great introduction. Let me also thank Governor Markell and the Delaware State Housing Authority for inviting me. It's great to be here in Dover -- and I want to thank our Regional Administrator, Jane Vincent, as well.

Most importantly, I'd like to thank all of you here today -- from counselors, nonprofits, and community developers, to lenders, realtors, and, tenant advocates. Thank you all for the work you've done throughout this crisis.

Today, I'd like to talk about the progress we've made in our housing market -- here in Delaware and across the country.

I want to discuss Delaware's focus not only on solving the challenges of today, but also the progress you've already made on the challenges lurking on the horizon.

And I want to talk about how we at the federal level are lifting up much of the remarkable work you are doing here in Delaware to create, healthy, sustainable, mixed-income communities with opportunity -- not just for some, but for all.

Looking Forward: Progress in Our Housing Market

Certainly, we've come a long way. I don't have to tell this audience where we were when the President first stepped into the Oval Office.

That month, America's economy shed more than 800,000 jobs. Housing prices had fallen off a cliff -- declining for thirty straight months. And every month, it seemed foreclosures were setting new records.

None of you have forgotten those days. That's because you have been on the front lines since day one, advocating for homeowners, tenants, and special needs populations that were thrown into upheaval by the crisis.

Well, today, because of the work we've done to pull together, we stand at a more encouraging moment.

Foreclosure notices are half what they were in early 2009.

Because we helped communities struggling with concentrated foreclosures, places with targeted neighborhood stabilization investments have seen vacancies fall -- and home prices rise.

Because we provided critical support to the FHA, we preserved a critical pathway to the middle class.

And our recently released scorecard shows the results of these efforts clearly, with the Case-Shiller home price index up for first time since September, 2010.

It shows that the number of underwater homeowners has dropped 11 percent since end of last year -- and home price improvements in the first half of this year alone have helped lift 1.3 million families above water.

None of this is to say the job is done. We still have a lot of work to ensure this progress reaches families who need it most.

But with housing construction nationally growing faster than any time since 2008, and the best year of home sales since the crisis began--with sales here in Delaware up and inventory down--our housing market has momentum we haven't seen in over five years.

And with the recent $25 billion settlement with the five largest servicers, struck earlier this year by the Administration and 49 bipartisan state attorneys general, we have critical tools to keep that momentum going.

Indeed, with a recent preliminary report from the settlement's Independent Monitor, we saw the first signs that homeowners are beginning to see results.

This snapshot, taken when the banks were ramping up their operations, indicates that roughly 165,000 homeowners have received almost $14 billion in relief -- $76,000 on average.

This includes homeowners currently in trial modifications -- who only because of the settlement can expect their bank to not simply reduce their monthly payments, but to actually write down more than $108,000 of mortgage debt on average.

Indeed, the vast majority of that relief to consumers has come in the form of debt forgiveness, including principal reductions of first and second liens.

It also includes refinancing for underwater homeowners and the write-downs required to facilitate short sales that allow families who have been unable to get out from under hundreds of thousands of dollars of mortgage debt to move to a new job or start anew.

That's good for families, communities and our economy.

Just as importantly, the settlement is focused on fixing the issues that led to so many of these problems in the first place.

Because of the settlement, all five banks have committed to providing a single point of contact when at-risk families ask for help -- part of more than 300 additional servicing standards that build upon the new protections introduced when the President announced the Homeowner Bill of Rights.

That means, no more dropped calls, no more lost paperwork, and no more runaround with no consequences.

Lastly, at a time when we had to scratch and claw for $45 million to restore housing counseling funding in Washington, the settlement forces banks to pay billions of dollars to states they can use for these purposes.

To date, states across the country, including Delaware, have committed nearly a quarter billion dollars to housing counseling -- and another $50 million to legal aid. And I want to thank the Governor and Attorney General here in Delaware for using these funds to help homeowners.

You all know housing important housing counselors are in even the best of times -- helping families make smart, informed choices that keep them safely on the path toward the middle class, whether it's buying or renting, improving financial literacy, protecting families' rights against discrimination, and even preventing homelessness.

Well, today, these resources are absolutely essential -- and you know as well as I that the ink was barely dry on the settlement before the scam artists were out in full force.

Just this week, Attorney General Holder and I announced a major effort by the Financial Fraud Task Force to put these guys out of business -- and believe me when I say that counseling resources from the settlement--which help consumers make smart choices--are critical to supporting these efforts.

But the job's not done. Millions of homeowners--who are doing the right thing, and making their mortgage payments every month--still can't refinance and take advantage of record-low interest rates because they're underwater.

That's why last fall, the President challenged us to step up our efforts. Within six weeks, we had identified barriers that were preventing people with loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from refinancing.

And as a result, more than a million homeowners have applied and stand to save on average $3,000 per year.

The effects of these changes have been most dramatic for families who are deeply underwater -- and who had previously been locked out of refinancing completely.

We also dramatically cut fees for FHA refinancing -- and in just the first three months, we saw a more than 200 percent increase in applications.

But even with refinancing at a 3-year high, we need to do more.

That's why President Obama is pushing Congress to act on a series of three legislative proposals that will help families refinance and rebuild what they've lost.

Two would provide homeowners current on their mortgage access to simple, low-cost refinancing, regardless of whether their loans are backed by the government.

A third would encourage underwater homeowners to rebuild equity -- the biggest source of how we send our kids to college, start a small business and save for retirement.

As we speak, Majority Leader Reid is fighting to get these bills to a vote in the Senate before they adjourn for the year.

And we need your help to make the case -- that tearing down barriers to refinancing is critical to not only protecting the communities you serve but also rebuilding their economies.

Looking Forward: Creating Strong, Inclusive Communities

But even as homeowners begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and emerge from this crisis, what makes Delaware unique is that you haven't just been focused on the crisis at hand -- but at the broader challenge of building the strong, inclusive communities we need in a 21st century global economy.

And nowhere is that clearer than how you've addressed the challenge of housing for people with disabilities -- seeing it not as a problem, but as an opportunity.

You all are familiar with HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which has invested more than $34 million in Delaware -- the success of which has led President Obama to push for Project Rebuild, which would build on the success of NSP and create 200,000 jobs.

Here in Delaware, we can see how leaders are using these dollars not only to help hard hit communities turn vacant, abandoned properties into assets -- but as a platform to build stronger communities that address the needs of all your residents.

You only need look about an hour north of here to New Castle, where partners like the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity have used NSP dollars to turn a blighted house dragging down neighborhood property values into a safe and wheelchair-accessible home -- reuniting a single mother with her five children--one of whom has special needs--all under one roof.

That kind of innovation is not only remarkable -- it's precisely the kind of smart government approach we need to tackle our toughest challenges.

It's also representative of this state's larger commitment to ensuring everyone--no matter who they are or challenges they face--has choices in their lives -- and a community that supports them.

Thirteen years ago, that was what our country affirmed with the landmark Olmstead decision, in which the Supreme Court held that institutionalizing people with disabilities without cause is a form of discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now, in the face of national crisis, you could imagine progress in this area might be slow -- even reversed in an era of tight budgets.

But here in Delaware--where nearly a third of seniors have a disability and those numbers are only expected to grow--it's been just the opposite.

Quite to the contrary, Delaware has been a national leader on these issues -- closing two state institutions and running well ahead of schedule in meeting its obligations under Olmstead by prioritizing community-based care, coordinating with service providers and setting aside homes for people with disabilities not segregated by those disabilities, but welcoming to them.

And I want to thank Governor Markell for his extraordinary partnership in this area. He knows what President Obama knows -- and what you all know:

That ensuring all Americans can live independently wherever they choose isn't only the right thing to do for people with disabilities -- it's also the smart thing to do for the taxpayer.

We've seen that in many communities, keeping someone in a nursing home can cost the taxpayer as much as 4 times the amount it costs to place that person in a community with the supportive services they need.

Working to control health care costs and improve all Americans' quality of life is always important. But at a time when every federal dollar is precious, it's absolutely essential.

That's why President Obama challenged HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services to find ways to use housing as a platform for improving the quality of life for those with disabilities.

In response, Secretary Sebelius and I formed a partnership that has brought a new sense of focus to our agencies' efforts to connect housing and services.

At the center of this partnership is HHS's "Money Follows the Person" demonstration, which over the last five years has helped men and women from across Delaware transition out of nursing homes and into their communities.

At HUD, I'm proud to say we're using MFP resources to partner with HHS on a significant capacity building effort in five states, including Delaware -- learning how to create a more seamless partnership between public housing authorities and state Medicaid agencies to help people with disabilities transition from institutional care to community living.

These efforts wouldn't be possible without the extraordinary work of local partners who know how to combine different resources in different ways to meet the specific needs of their communities. And, in fact, I'm proud to have stolen one of your own in Jane Vincent, to serve as one of our Regional Administrators.

Whether it's providing people with disabilities community-based care or using innovative tools like HUD-VASH to reduce homelessness among veterans by more than half within a few years' time -- Jane, like so many of you, is always looking for ways to give people better, more inclusive housing choices.

And so are we.

That's why President Obama signed historic reforms to the 811 program that allow local partners to begin integrating affordable housing for people with disabilities into new and existing mainstream affordable housing, funded by sources like Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and the HOME program.

With these reforms, states will be able to ensure private and local dollars to create far more units for people with disabilities than we otherwise would have -- up to 2,500 new affordable, accessible homes in integrated, community-based living environments in this year alone.

And we're not done. At your urging, we are looking at ways to bring the "Melville 811" model to the program more broadly. We think the idea has promise, but given that it would require a change in the law, we're looking for leeway in the existing statute to see what opportunities exist to move forward.

Your work in this respect has not only been a model for how the Federal government creates integrated community housing for people with disabilities -- but also how we create the kind of inclusive communities America needs to thrive in the 21st century more broadly.

That's the idea behind our Choice Neighborhoods program.

You all know the record of the HOPE VI program.

How it created over 90,000 public housing units in healthy, mixed-income communities.

How it leveraged twice the federal investment in additional capital.

And how it raised the average income of residents by 75 percent or more.

Well, with Choice Neighborhoods, we aren't just talking about revitalizing public housing anymore -- but all kinds of federally-supported housing in poor neighborhoods.

Nor are we just talking about housing -- but creating new schools, park space and transit options for the families who live there by making those who were at the table for HOPE VI full partners in these communities' transformations.

In the first two years alone, Choice Neighborhoods grants have leveraged $1.6 billion in additional capital--over 12 times the $130 million federal investment--by forging dozens of partnerships between not only housing authorities and owners of multifamily housing but also school districts, universities, police departments, and hospitals.

These partnerships have also laid the foundation for future investments, helping get private capital off the sidelines and back into the communities that need it most.

Now, as many of you know, each year demand for Choice Neighborhoods grants has far outstripped available funding. And even as we announce a third round of planning grants today, this year was no exception.

That's why I'm excited that with this year's grants we also announced an innovative online platform to spotlight current grantees and top-tier applicants.

Offering communities real insight into work happening around the country and best-practices, the website will provide information that funders and other local stakeholders can use to realize their community's vision for the future.

Looking Forward: Housing and Communities Built to Last

All of this work is based on a simple idea:

That every community should be able to benefit from the knowledge, shared experiences and innovations forged by partners across the country.

That every family deserves the chance to live near a good school, a good job and in a safe neighborhood.

That every child should grow up with access to opportunities limited only by their imaginations -- not by their zip codes.

Ultimately, whether it's leveraging federal dollars to rebuild our poorest neighborhoods, helping those with disabilities transition into their communities, or ensuring that the servicing settlement funds the single biggest private investment in our nation's housing counselors in history, we've demonstrated what's possible when government is in the business of supporting local solutions.

That's why I believe that the budget debate in Washington isn't about whether we create jobs faster or grow the economy.

It's how. It's whether we put 200,000 people back to work rebuilding vacant homes -- or allow abandonment in our hardest-hit neighborhoods to keep dragging down the property values of our neighbors and our home equity along with it.

It's whether we celebrate landmark civil rights advances like Olmsteadby lifting up local innovation at the federal level -- or let rigid, bureaucratic rules to from a half-century ago continue to shut folks out of opportunity.

But in many ways, the choices we face are even simpler:

It's whether we return to the same top-down policies that got us into this economic crisis -- or build an economy based on local decision-making and a strong and secure middle class.

It's whether we settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by -- or build a nation where everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same rules.

Those are the values I stand for, that you stand for, and that we all stand for as Americans -- and we need to reclaim them.

We need to fightfor them.

I know we can -- and with your partnership and commitment, we will. Thank you.


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