Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition 2013 Annual Conference

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thank you, John -- for that introduction and for your remarkable leadership of NCRC. It's great to see so many representatives from community development organizations, the lending community, fair housing organizations, advocates, and housing counselors.  

Over the last four years, we've watched NCRC grow from eight affiliates to 80. In the last year alone, you have counseled 50,000 households and been certified by HUD to train housing counselors in all areas of housing. 

We are looking forward to the coming year as you fulfill your commitment to training 1,400 additional counselors. I know we will be able to work together to accomplish even more over the next four years.

In all of our efforts--from Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, to supporting community development, and especially in housing counseling--you have proven to be exemplary partners. 

Now more than ever, we need to continue our partnership to better serve the most vulnerable populations in our communities.

Today, I'd like to speak about how we can expand not just our housing counseling efforts, but also efforts increase regional economic competitiveness. I also want to talk a little about the senseless, destructive cuts we face as a result of sequestration. 

Improving Partnership: Counseling

I know that many of you are here today to participate in NCRC's housing counseling trainings -- and I can't thank you enough for your commitment.

Whether it's buying or renting, improving financial literacy, protecting families' rights against discrimination, or even preventing homelessness, housing counselors play a critical role in helping families make smart, informed choices.

That's why HUD's vast network of housing counselors is one of our greatest strengths. 

A recent NeighborWorks study on pre-purchase counseling showed that borrowers who received counseling were 33 percent less likely to become 90 days delinquent, even when controlling for selection bias and the effects of the financial crisis. 

And a HUD study showed that 7-in-10 at-risk homeowners who worked with a housing counselor got the help they needed to keep their home.

Indeed, over the last four years, HUD-approved housing counselors have assisted more than nine million families -helping us cut foreclosure notices in half.

That's why it is so important that we continue to work together to increase access to counseling.

As you know, we launched a new Office of Housing Counseling -- elevating the visibility and importance of this crucial service and helping to integrate housing counseling across HUD's various programs.

For instance, the OHC is working with FHA to develop a pilot program to embed Housing Counseling in FHA lending to ensure that borrowers are better prepared for homeownership.

And, by cutting red tape, streamlining the application process and reducing unnecessary administrative burdens, we significantly improved our Housing Counseling NOFA in order to be a better partner to our counseling agencies.

Over the past year HUD has reach out to many housing counseling industry stakeholders, like NCRC and its affiliates, for feedback on priorities and needs. You've provided helpful responses to OHC on issues including improving the grant process, monitoring and oversight efforts, and better implementation of Dodd-Frank requirements.

But our joint focus on counseling won't be enough for many of our hardest hit neighborhoods. We need to find more ways to partner on efforts that will increase communities' ability to respond to change -- to become more competitive, resilient, and sustainable. 

Partnering on Regional Competitiveness

It's our job at HUD to ensure you have the tools you need to help your community realize this kind of locally driven vision for success.

It's no coincidence that the places that suffered most during the economic crisis often had the most distressed housing, poorest performing schools, least access to transportation, limited economic opportunity, and a history of disinvestment.

Today we can predict a child's life outcomes not by their education or ability -- but by their zip code. And 1-in-5 kids live in poverty.

And we all know that fixing America's poorest neighborhoods isn't just a moral necessity. With the effects of living in poverty costing us $500 billion a year, it's an economic necessity as well.

What this demonstrates is that in order to create opportunities for everyone we need rebuild whole communities and economies.

That is why the Ladders of Opportunity plan the President outlined in his State of the Union Address--which builds on some of the progress we've made during the last four years--is so promising.

It strengthens the middle class by growing jobs and manufacturing, equipping every American with the skills they need to do those jobs, emphasizing the importance of universal pre-school, and ensuring that hard work leads to a decent quality of life. And it focuses on the importance of a community to the families that live there.

The Promise Zones proposed by the President expand the work we have done to integrate and align existing programs in 20 communities that were hardest hit by the recession -- targeting resources not just at housing, but job creation, public safety, and education.

This is the approach we need if we're going to lift up low and moderate income communities and families.

Through NSP, non-profits and local housing and community development agencies have acquired thousands of abandoned and foreclosed homes in targeted neighborhoods and provided homeownership opportunities for first time homebuyers.

We've seen rising home prices, lower vacancy rates, and more private investment in 75 percent of the communities where NSP is at work.

With over $7 billion strategically invested, NSP is on track to impact almost 98,000 properties and create almost 90,000 jobs.  

But we all know that transformation of our neighborhoods and communities doesn't happen due to federal intervention alone. It happens when stakeholders--who may never have worked with each other before--start coming together to build consensus about the future.

It happens when partners work to secure and target funding from different sources--and when they bring innovative, evidence-based solutions to complex problems.

Our most successful partners are those that advance a similar approach -- by focusing on ways to leverage private capital and create partnerships that bring additional resources to the table. 

With the announcement of your GROWTH initiative it is clear that you understand just how important and productive this method can be. 

To support Promise Zones, GROWTH, and other initiatives like it we are still pushing for Project Rebuild. Project Rebuild reflects one of this Administration's and your core beliefs -- that rebuilding neighborhoods is essential to rebuilding our housing market and economy.  

It would rehabilitate or demolish more than one hundred thousand damaged or vacant properties in hundreds of communities, creating tens of thousands of jobs for the hard hit construction industry.

But we need to do more.  We must address these issues regionally, because local economies are becoming more interdependent and regional.

Indeed, the success of a region is increasingly tied not just to the success of individual cities within that region, but to how that region manages its resources and addresses challenges as a whole. 

A big part of what will allow our communities to succeed is collaboration on a shared economic future through coordination of transportation, building and land use planning efforts.

Sustainability Grants have been critical to the nation's economic recovery. Over the last two years, HUD has awarded 152 grants, totaling $240 million that have in turn secured almost $253 million in private investment and commitments from local partners -- while helping to develop economically and environmentally sustainable development plans for communities.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities helps us to coordinate our efforts across HUD, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, combining our resources to make the largest possible impact and promoting conversation about what makes individual communities sustainable -- whether that's green roofs and clean energy or transit oriented development that includes affordable housing.

But we won't be able to do that unless we put sequestration's misguided cuts behind us.

Fighting Sequestration

As you all know, sequestration went into effect March 1st. These cuts are deeply destructive--not just to HUD programs and the people who rely on them--but to entire communities.

Not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away -- but it is coming.

It is important to understand just what is at stake if these misguided cuts are not reversed.  

Under sequestration about 125,000 individuals and families nationwide--more than half of whom are elderly and disabled--would lose assistance provided by the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Another 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people--the majority of whom are families, disabled adults or veterans--will be removed from their current housing or emergency shelter programs.

If that weren't bad enough, sequestration will also likely to cause significant damage to our nation's housing market at the precise time it is helping to lead our economic recovery -- jeopardizing FHA's ability to process loans at a time when FHA represents a substantial portion of loan originations for both the single and multifamily markets.

Cuts to housing counseling grants would mean 75,000 fewer households receiving vital foreclosure prevention, pre-purchase, rental or other counseling. If fewer families are making responsible, informed housing choices we risk rolling back all the progress we've made together.

What we need is a balanced plan where everyone pays their fair share, loopholes are closed, and we strengthen our entitlement programs, not indiscriminate cuts that will damage our hard won recovery.

Compromise from both sides is exactly what the American people deserve. Because we need to fix this--and not just for a month or two. 

We have a lot of important work to do together and we can't keep lurching from crisis to crisis.

We need let Congress know that these cuts must be reversed because they threaten the recovery that we have invested so much in -- the future of our communities depends on it.

I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together -- and I look forward to seeing what we will achieve over the next year.

So, thank you -- for this opportunity, and for all that you do to make our communities strong. And now, I'd love to take some questions.


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