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U.S.-Spain Forum on
Housing and Transportation Finance

Remarks as prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez

Washington, D.C.
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 two Administrations.

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 Nations resolutions.

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 grateful.

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 security."

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 citizenship.

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 market.

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 communities.

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 nations.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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