Second National Latino Credit Union Conference
Remarks as prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez
San Diego, California
Friday, April 12, 2002
Good morning. I appreciate your warm welcome, and
Clifford's very generous introduction. Thank you, Clifford, and
thank you for your leadership of the Federation. I am honored by
the invitation to join all of you here at this important conference.
I also want to acknowledge Dennis Dollar. After several
years of tireless service on its Board, Chairman Dollar was appointed
by President Bush last September to head up the National Credit
Union Administration. Thank you very much for being here.
By bringing together credit unions united behind the
goal of service to the Latino community, the National Federation
of Community Development Credit Unions has created a unique forum.
The strategies that you develop and exchange here have the potential
to benefit communities across the country. Thank you to the Federation
for sponsoring this conference. As HUD Secretary, I appreciate your
focus on Latino housing initiatives and financial literacy.
I understand that I am the first Cabinet Secretary
to address such a gathering. Your invitation - and my acceptance
- says something powerful about the growing importance of the Latino
As our population grows, so does our influence on
American culture and our impact on the economy. President Bush recognizes
this. Every department in his Administration is focused on giving
Latinos new opportunities to achieve success for themselves and
I will make a bet that while I may be the first member
of the Cabinet to visit with you, I will not be the last.
This is a remarkable and challenging time in our country.
We find ourselves in the middle of a war that we did
not ask for, but a war that we are committed to winning. And through
the firm and principled leadership of President Bush, we will. The
turmoil in the Middle East only complicates an already difficult
situation, and we hope Secretary Powell will succeed in his mission.
Above all, the President is doing everything he can
to keep Americans safe at home. The new Office of Homeland Security
is coordinating the efforts of federal, state, and local governments
in defending against attacks. Our work together at all levels of
government and volunteers will make our country safer every day.
The President recently traveled to Mexico, Peru, and
El Salvador to discuss the war with our allies in the anti-terror
coalition. Because our nations have so much in common, the discussions
went beyond the warfront and touched on many of the interests and
concerns we share.
In Mexico, President Bush and President Fox talked
specifically about the importance of modernizing our border. We
need to make sure that the legal commerce that passes between our
two nations continues. And we need to make it easier for families
to cross the border when they go to visit one another.
President Bush considers our neighbor to the south
to be a good friend, and the relationship between our two countries
is built on the idea that prosperity on one side of the border encourages
prosperity on the other. The warm, personal relationship between
President Bush and President Fox will pay dividends for both countries.
The discussions in Peru centered on illegal drugs
- how to choke off the supply in Peru and how to curb the demand
in the U.S.
In El Salvador, the leaders talked about promoting
free and fair trade between our countries. They also discussed El
Salvador's recovery from the damage caused by a pair of severe earthquakes
last year. President Bush sent me last June to see the damage and
report back on the relief effort.
The United States has already contributed millions
of dollars to El Salvador's reconstruction effort. And we will spend
even more this year.
While the President's work here at home touches every
American, many of the accomplishments of the past 15 months have
special significance to Latino families.
The President's education legislation will help our
children get better grades by boosting funds for disadvantaged students.
The President's tax cut is keeping more dollars in the family bank
account. His plan to explore a free trade agreement with the countries
of Central America will encourage additional trade and investment
in the Western Hemisphere.
I am proud to serve a President who has such a great
appreciation for the Latino culture and the contributions we make
to American society. This is reflected in the diversity of his Administration,
which features many Latinos in high-ranking, policymaking positions,
like U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and Hector Barreto, who heads
the Small Business Administration - both Californians and both great
The President has set some clear priorities, and two
of the most important ones have passed the House but are blocked
in the Senate.
The first is an important provision in the border
security bill that would extend the window during which qualified
immigrants can obtain legal residence in the U.S. - without first
being forced to leave the country and their families. This is the
The Mexican government considers this legislation
a top priority, and the Administration believes government policies
should help to strengthen families, which this provision would clearly
do. You should encourage the leadership of the Senate to move this
We are also disappointed that the Senate is holding
one of the President's judicial nominees hostage, and is refusing
to even grant him a hearing.
Miguel Estrada is an immigrant from Honduras who taught
himself English and worked his way up to become a lawyer serving
in the first Bush Administration and Clinton Administration as assistant
to the U.S. solicitor general.
President Bush announced a year ago that this very
distinguished and qualified lawyer would be his nominee to the U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Even though
Mr. Estrada would become the first Hispanic ever to serve on the
Circuit Court for the District of Columbia - and be well positioned
to become the first Hispanic ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme
Court - Senate Democrats are blocking his groundbreaking nomination
from moving forward, and I think that is wrong!
Mr. Estrada deserves a hearing and a vote, and we
need to deliver that message to the Senate.
Another of the President's priorities - and a top
priority for me at HUD - is to help more Latino families achieve
the American Dream of homeownership.
The idea of homeownership as a key to strong communities
and a strong nation is not new. The lure of a plot of land and home
of one's own has drawn immigrants to America for hundreds of years.
The Latino population in the U.S. has grown to 35
million; this is a remarkable 58 percent increase over the past
decade. Even so, not enough Latinos own their own homes. In 2000,
just over 47 percent of Latinos were homeowners, and while that
is a record, it is still more than 20 percentage points below the
U.S. average. We obviously have a long way to go. But because the
President and I believe so firmly in the transforming power of homeownership,
we are committed to closing the gap.
Having a roof overhead is important, but the benefits
of homeownership go much deeper than that:
- Homeownership gives families the freedom to make their own decisions
about their living situations. It provides financial security
in the form of an asset that can be passed from one generation
to the next.
- Homeownership promotes civil responsibility. A homeowner has
a vested interest in keeping up the neighborhood, and because
they care about their community, they vote and volunteer more
- Homeownership helps to keep the nuclear family intact. The children
of homeowners are more likely to have the stability to help them
stay in school and out of trouble.
- And a nation focused on homeownership enjoys the many economic
benefits created by a strong housing market.
The Administration plan for increasing the number
of homeowners and encouraging more Americans to enjoy its many benefits
has five basic steps.
We are working to open the doors of homeownership
to more minorities by helping them overcome one of the biggest hurdles:
the down payment. Each year under the President's budget, the American
Dream Downpayment Fund will help 40,000 first-time, low-income homebuyers
achieve a home of their own.
The HUD program that supports organizations
like Habitat for Humanity has made homeownership a reality for thousands
of families. We are tripling funding next year to $65 million. These
dollars will support the construction of some 3,800 homes for low-income
Another initiative that we are excited
about helps low-income families make the move from Section 8 housing
to homeownership by allowing them to put up to a year's worth of
their rental vouchers toward a home down payment.
The key to successful homebuying is full
disclosure of all settlement costs, up front, before homebuyers
have to pay anything to a broker or lender. I have undertaken comprehensive
reform of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. My goal is
to improve the mortgage process so that consumers get simpler, clearer,
and earlier disclosure - and have the opportunity to shop for the
best mortgage to meet their needs, at a lower cost.
I have been pleased by the lending industry's response.
Some mortgage bankers voluntarily began offering full disclosure
as soon as we announced our plans, without waiting for us to finalize
the new requirements.
The increase in sub-prime loans -
and the corresponding rise in cases of predatory lending - have
made financial literacy more important than ever.
Armed with the facts, an educated consumer is far
less likely to be victimized by the predatory lending practices
that involve only a small percentage of lenders, but are so harmful
to the dreams of poor families. This is especially important for
Latino house hunters; studies show that Latinos who do not understand
the process, or have difficulty with the language, are more likely
to have problems in becoming a homeowner.
We think housing counseling is an invaluable tool
for prospective homebuyers. We plan to make it a separate program
and boost its funding to $35 million, a $15 million increase over
Through these five steps and other ongoing projects,
I am certain that we will make it easier, and less expensive, for
Latino families to move into homes of their own.
I want to talk about the role of credit unions, because
the Administration's success in raising the homeownership rate among
Latinos depends on a family's access to credit.
Today, more than 10,000 credit unions serve 81 million
people in this country. In the Latino community, where so many people
do not have access to traditional means of credit, credit unions
are critically important. Through you, people have the opportunity
to build wealth, create savings, and take advantage of services
they might otherwise miss out on.
You may have read the recent Wall Street Journal article
about Fernando Rosales. He is the Huntington Park, California, businessman
who makes his money dispensing legal and financial advice to immigrants,
even though he is not a lawyer or a financial professional. While
his customers might be better served by going to a lawyer or their
credit union instead, Mr. Rosales and other similar one-stop-shops
in Latino neighborhoods do brisk business because they are trusted
in a way that the professionals are not.
When my father first came to this country, I remember
that he refused to open a bank account. He simply did not trust
the banks. His distrust became my burden, since every month, I was
the one who had to drive to each of the utility offices, one after
the other, and pay our bills - in cash. This went on until I realized
that all of this time spent driving was cutting into my social life,
and I finally told my father, "No mas."
Many Latinos who do not feel comfortable doing business
with a bank are more at ease with a credit union, however. The rise
in the number of credit unions specifically seeking out Latino customers
The work of community development credit unions is
especially important. By reaching into minority areas and helping
the underserved find affordable credit, you serve a critical function
in supporting minority homeownership. Your work is helping to make
low-income and minority communities better places to live and raise
a family. And I want to commend you for all of your efforts to help
a vulnerable population avoid predatory lending.
I am proud to announce that we are taking action today
to expand the partnership between HUD and the credit unions that
support this nation's low-income and minority communities.
HUD is signing an agreement with the National Federation
of Community Development Credit Unions that says we believe strongly
in your mission, and that by working closely together, we can encourage,
inspire, and bring new opportunities to America's underserved communities.
As partners, we will boost minority homeownership.
We will encourage and extend the reach of faith-based social service
providers who do so much good in our communities. We will combat
predatory lending. And we will work to bring new financial services
to residents of the colonias.
One specific area this agreement will address is the
cost for workers in the U.S. to send funds - remittances - back
to Mexico. President Bush and President Fox have discussed this
issue and agree that it is important to reduce the transaction costs
that are significantly lowering the value of remittances to Mexico.
We greatly appreciate the assistance of the Federation in helping
to address this important issue.
The agreement we sign today represents a wonderful
opportunity for HUD to help America's community development credit
unions serve more people. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish
I mentioned the colonias. I would like to describe
some of what HUD is doing to improve the lives of the millions who
make their homes along the U.S./Mexico border.
In HUD's budget for the next fiscal year, I have proposed
dedicating $16 million to establish a Colonias Gateway Initiative.
Through this new Gateway, we will fund a regional non-profit organization
to meet locally identified needs and help colonias residents access
affordable housing, develop the job skills needed to attract high-skills
employment, and create micro-lending and other economic development
projects. Because many residents are immigrants and unaware of their
rights under the Fair Housing Act, we will also target funds to
agencies that work to combat housing discrimination.
The Gateway will complement the Colonias Task Force
I created last year to make HUD programs work better in the border
region. I want to stress that the Gateway will make HUD a partner
with the local folks who really know what is happening in the border
My Deputy Assistant Secretary, Anna Maria Farias,
will be participating in a panel discussion later. She is anxious
to share with you more details about our work in the colonias.
From the growing number of Latino-run businesses,
to the popularity of Latino-themed newspapers, magazines, and television
shows, to the increased involvement by Latinos in the political
process, we have a profound influence today in American society.
And this has given us new opportunities to make our families and
communities stronger than ever before.
By supporting and encouraging economic development
that produces good homes and good jobs, you - the credit unions
that serve the Latino community - play a key role in turning these
opportunities into success stories.
And HUD has a critical role in revitalizing troubled neighborhoods,
by supporting the development of affordable homes and pursuing public-private
partnerships that create economic opportunities for more Americans.
Together, we can help to inspire a new era of prosperity
for Latinos in this nation.
As men and women whose mission is to provide credit
to America's fastest growing, often underserved communities, you
make a difference for Latino families. Continue your good work.
HUD is pleased to work in partnership with you.
Muchas gracias por su invitación para reunirme
con ustedes el día de hoy. Les agradezco mucho, el servicio
que brindan a la comunidad Latina y espero tener la oportunidad
de que nos podamos reunir nuevamente.
Content Archived: March 16, 2010