U.S.-Spain Forum on
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Housing and Transportation Finance
by Secretary Mel Martinez
Monday, November 18, 2002
Good afternoon and welcome.
I am honored for the opportunity to co-host the inaugural U.S.-Spain
Forum on Housing and Transportation Finance and to be joined here
today by my good friend and colleague Norman Mineta, our nation's
Secretary of Transportation.
I would also like to welcome Deputy Minister Blanco Rodriguez of
Spain to the United States and thank him and Minister Alvarez Cascos
for their leadership in making this forum a reality.
This conference reflects the long-time friendship between the United
States and Spain and the close partnership that exists between our
Before I jump into the issue at hand, I would like to take a moment
to point out that the Government of Spain under the leadership of
President Aznar has been a solid partner in the global war against
terrorism and has consistently supported the U.S. position that
Iraq must disarm and comply thoroughly with all existing United
Spain also has worked in close partnership with our country to
promote prosperity, economic freedom, democracy and security throughout
Latin America and the Caribbean - a region where we share common
historical, cultural and economic ties. And for that we are most
As our two countries join together to pursue stability in the global
arena, we too can now work together to create stability and hope
within our own borders. To that end, creating affordable housing
opportunities for all Americans and Spanish are mutual goals.
President Bush has laid out his priorities for strengthening the
U.S. economy and today we are here to discuss two critical components
of that plan.
As you will hear this afternoon, housing and transportation are
top priorities for both of our governments and Secretary Mineta
and I strongly believe that good housing and transportation solutions
are fundamental building blocs for a strong, vibrant economy.
The idea for this meeting was first conceived during a visit that
I made last March to Madrid, Spain.
At the time, Minister Alvarez-Cascos and I agreed to hold a series
of bilateral forums to discuss issues of common concern and to strengthen
technical cooperation between our two governments. Therefore, I
am pleased to say that today's event is just the first in a series
of bilateral forums we will hold.
As Spain's Ministry of Development holds responsibilities for both
housing and transportation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development has joined with our colleagues at the U.S. Department
of Transportation to co-sponsor this session.
We are delighted to have with us some of the leading public and
private sector experts on the issues impacting housing and transportation
finance in both the United States and Spain.
I look forward to working with all of you and to reviewing the
ideas and recommendations that emerge from today's discussions -
especially as they relate to the development of new and innovative
public-private solutions to housing and transportation questions
on both sides of the Atlantic.
There is much that we can learn from Spain - a country that has
a strong track record in developing and implementing innovative
housing and transportation programs.
Our two countries face many of the same challenges in expanding
affordable homeownership and in closing the homeownership gaps that
exist between different segments of our populations. However, I
was particularly impressed by the fact that the vast majority of
families in Spain own their own homes.
With one of the highest homeownership rates in the world, at roughly
81 percent, Spain exceeds Canada, Japan and even the United States
in the percentage of families that own their own homes. Like all
other nations, however, Spain too has its challenges.
The Spanish have seen housing prices increase by an estimated 124
percent over the past two decades, making housing affordability
a major policy focus for our counterparts in Madrid.
Home ownership and providing affordable housing also are the fundamental
issues that we fight for every day at HUD. As President Bush stated
in a recent radio address to the American people: "Owning a
home lies at the heart of the American dream.
A home is a foundation for families and a source of stability for
communities. It serves as the foundation of many Americans' financial
The same can be said for the people of Spain. The citizens of our
two great nations deserve access to housing, equal opportunities
in choosing a place to live, and the right to own property and pass
it on to their heirs.
As nations united through the pursuit of liberty, justice and well
being for our citizens, the United States and Spain share the dream
of individuals leading full and productive lives, through access
to adequate housing, land, credit, and basic services.
My government applauds the efforts undertaken by President Aznar
and our counterparts at Fomento in the fight for expanded homeownership.
We are proud to work in close partnership with Spain in an effort
to find new solutions to our common problems.
One of President Bush's top priorities is to expand homeownership
among all Americans, especially minorities. In fact, the President
has set a goal of increasing the number of minority homeowners by
5.5 million before the end of this decade.
As he has repeatedly stated, homeownership is a family's single
most important source of stability and financial security.
Last month, the President hosted the first-ever White House Conference
on Increasing Minority Homeownership, where we brought together
representatives of the entire housing industry to give us their
specific commitments on how they will work with our Administration
to empower more families through homeownership.
As President Bush said in his remarks to the conference, "We
can put light where there is darkness, and hope where there is despondency
in this country. And part of it is working together as a nation
to encourage folks to own their own home."
While much work remains to be done, I am proud to say that we have
made significant strides here in the United States to boost home
ownership for all Americans.
Expanding the number of homeowners remains a national priority,
because we understand that homeownership is at the root of good
That is why America places such a high value on the benefits of
homeownership, and for good reason. Homeownership creates community
stakeholders who tend to be active in charities and churches. Homeownership
inspires civic responsibility, and owners vote and get involved
in the life of their communities.
Equally striking is homeownership's potential to create and spread
wealth. It is an engine of social mobility and the path to prosperity
for the vast majority of families. By a large margin, Americans
see a home as a safe investment, and they are right.
Last year, Americans took $80 billion out of the wealth they had
accumulated in their homes to make investments in education, consumer
goods, and new businesses. Eventually, they can pass on their wealth
from one generation to the next.
Most new homeowners in our county, however, had to seek financing
mechanisms to make their dream a reality. Therefore, access to credit
is critical, and is the first of what we call the four cornerstones
of the U.S. housing system.
Over the past 35 years, we have enacted a powerful set of laws
to ensure that no American who can afford to own a home is denied
a mortgage. For this reason, the secondary markets are key - perhaps
the key - to the success of the U.S. housing system.
By stabilizing the mortgage markets in our country, the secondary
markets provide low- and moderate-income Americans with lower housing
costs and better access to home financing. They help break down
the barriers to homeownership and affordable rental housing.
The U.S. government serves as housing's second cornerstone, although
its role is specific and appropriately limited. The great majority
of governmental decisions are made closest to the homeowner, on
the local level.
The federal government, operating openly and transparently, does
offer a supportive framework within which the housing market operates.
It fills in any gaps in the system by addressing issues of unequal
access to credit, discrimination, and the inability of low-income
families to afford housing. It provides programs and tax incentives
aimed directly at bringing everyone into the mainstream housing
Every citizen has the opportunity to help make the rules at the
local level. This is the third cornerstone of the American housing
system. Through local elections, public hearings, their involvement
in non-profit groups, and public-private partnerships, individuals
can help determine the decisions that affect housing in their own
As the fourth and final cornerstone, homeowners and renters have
a strong legal system to support them; one that ensures their rights
cannot be unjustly stripped away. The civil rights protections extended
by our Fair Lending and Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination
in the sale and rental of housing based on race, national origin,
disability, sex, and family status.
President Bush is committed to working with community-based and
non-governmental organizations - especially faith-based groups -
to lift up the neediest among our citizens. This is an approach
that is long overdue here in the United States and one that we think
can be emulated in other parts of the world.
Within the next three decades, more than 60 percent of the world's
citizens will live in urban settings, most of them in developing
countries ill-equipped to handle the housing needs of so many people.
Our urban centers in the United States and Spain have faced the
problems of inadequate and unaffordable housing, and in both countries,
we have decades of shared experience in creating solutions - not
federal government solutions, but solutions developed in partnership
by local authorities, private enterprise, and community organizations.
I think that is safe to say that both of our countries are ready
and willing to share what we have learned, and we continue to reach
beyond our borders to form strong partnerships with our global neighbors.
Today's forum and the partnership that we have developed with Spain
is a case in point. And we recognize that there is much that we
can learn from each other.
The expertise we gained in the United States in establishing our
secondary markets and promoting and supporting community reinvestment
is now helping other countries create their own housing finance
programs and ultimately expand homeownership opportunities.
For 30 years, the United States worked with the government of Chile
and its private sector to develop a successful housing finance system.
Now, through U.S.-sponsored conferences, workshops, and technical
assistance, other Latin American nations are learning how to modernize
their finance systems based on the Chilean model.
The lessons we learned as we breathed new life into struggling
American neighborhoods are helping to create jobs and revitalize
urban communities elsewhere in the world.
These arrangements, however, are hardly one-sided.
Over and over again, we have been the beneficiaries when other
countries developed improvements in urban management, new ways to
preserve historically significant property, more energy efficient
technologies, and other breakthroughs.
Through this forum and others that will soon follow, we in the
United States will hope to learn much from Spain -- for Spain has
been a true success story in the way it has handled its housing
and infrastructure challenges.
This expertise is invaluable, because for all of our progress,
challenges remain for this Nation. We are redoubling our efforts
to close the homeownership gap for minorities, keep the inventory
of federally assisted housing strong and viable, and shelter the
homeless and lead them toward self-sufficiency.
As our two peoples work together in search of answers, let us recognize
that solutions dictated by government will not work on their own.
Instead, we must strive to expand self-sufficiency for individuals,
strengthen families, and empower communities to shape their own
futures and their own destinies. Today's conference is a strong
step in that direction.
This goal is good for our countries, good for the international
community, and good for every individual who pursues a dream.
Thank you for being here today. Our countries have so much in common
and we look forward to working together to make vibrant, safe and
affordable communities a reality for the people of our two great
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