Thank you, Renee (Rooker). Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to join you. The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have a long and productive partnership. I am thankful for that…I know that the nation relies on your good efforts.
For example, during our preparation for the hurricanes last year, NAHRO gave HUD a free booth at the San Diego Conference. You also gave us several speaking slots. All of that was extremely helpful for people affected by the hurricanes. Also, in San Diego, you facilitated a meeting with several public housing authorities on specific technical issues about the Housing Choice Voucher program. Everyone benefited from those meetings. I thank you for these actions and others that help us better respond to the needs of Americans. And, in response to interest from NAHRO members, the Office of Public and Indian Housing recently worked with NAHRO to sponsor a satellite broadcast on implementation of site-based waiting lists. We look forward to continued collaboration on areas of professional development, particularly as it relates to asset management.
I am pleased that Saul Ramirez is here…there is a strong feeling of respect and appreciation for his work at HUD. Saul, thank you for your service to the nation. I bring warm greetings from your former colleagues.
I know that former Secretary Henry Cisneros spoke yesterday. He was a memorable leader at HUD who is still mentioned with high regard. I shared the stage with Henry last month in Miami at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. As always, I thought his comments insightful.
And I want to mention another Texan, Henry Gonzales, born and raised in San Antonio. He was Chairman of the House Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee for many years. I am pleased that this convention center is named for him. He was a formidable figure, an influential civil rights leader, who helped make America nobler, more fair and just. He was a strong advocate for affordable housing and other efforts to help people in need. I am honored to speak in any place named after Henry Gonzales.
Affordable housing was a serious challenge for Representative Gonzales and his generation of leaders; it remains a serious challenge for us today. It is a priority for all of us.
I know we face tremendous budgetary and regulatory difficulties. I don’t have to tell you about these problems and barriers. You know them well.
But affordable housing is more than the number of units or the amount of money spent or even overcoming opposition in the community. It is also about quality of life…about transforming our neighborhoods into better places to live…about creating mixed communities with stores and restaurants, places of culture and character, with job opportunities and recreational activities…about making affordable housing a good and safe and nurturing place to live. Yes, we want people who need affordable housing to find it. And we want that housing to be motivational, healthy, secure, and even inspirational. We want it to empower people, help them improve their lives, to make their lives better so they won’t need affordable housing at some point in the future.
I want our partnership to continue to push for affordable housing that is good for the family, a place for our families to grow up and grow old together without worries about safety, urban blight, failed services, or alienating and scary activities happening right outside the door. We want to build a real community, a community of people who care about each other and care about their living environment.
So, this morning, I will outline our opportunities to provide more affordable housing. Then I have a few comments about our efforts to provide a continuum of care for homeless Americans. I will also have a few comments about HUD’s response to Hurricane Ike.
This year our partnership will be tested as never before. And at the same time we have a singular, unprecedented opportunity to greatly expand affordable housing.
I know you have followed recent events in the economy. And you know what it means for affordable housing: it will be in even greater demand.
Let me explain. The turbulence in the housing market and the tightening of credit has rippled out to affect every part of our economy, including affordable housing. Our problems may worsen before getting better. The coming year may be difficult. Then, current projections have a large number of Alt-A and Option ARMs resetting into 2010 and 2011. We have new households that will still need access to credit in order to buy down the excess supply. Serious credit market difficulties may continue to persist unless banks begin to inject liquidity into the market.
And that means the problems in the housing market could increase the number of people who need affordable housing. In some high-cost areas of the country, the affordable housing market is tight in the best of times, with waiting lists and shortages of affordable housing in many cities. Now, more people may need affordable housing than ever before. Already, many low-income Americans have been forced out of many cities, facing long commutes and piling on difficulties in raising families as the commutes become longer, staggering. Some people commute to jobs in New York, the District of Columbia, or Las Vegas from distances of over 100 miles, often driving two hours each way because affordable housing is simply not available. And these are the people who help run our cities: transportation workers, nurses, emergency medical personnel, teachers, policemen, and firemen. Our cities must have people of all incomes and classes to be healthy, vibrant, and workable cities.
So, we must work together to tackle the housing crisis itself. We must listen to each other and create partnerships with a shared vision and common goals. For example, just over a week ago, HUD hosted a national symposium on regulatory reform. We gathered a number of local community representatives around the table to discuss the problem of excessive regulation and how it is contributing to the affordability problem. As many of you are aware, layers and layers of outdated and unnecessary regulation are literally choking the life out of affordable housing. Developers and home builders are simply passing these costs along to families who are increasingly priced out of their housing market. Through HUD’s Affordable Communities Initiative, we are encouraging these communities to reexamine their regulatory landscape so that we can bring these artificial costs down. Over the past year, more than 140 State and local governments have answered HUD's call to action to reduce barriers that impede the availability of affordable housing.
Of course, we must do as much as possible to address the foreclosure crisis. There are a number of new tools available and we must make sure they are used.
For instance, we have expanded foreclosure prevention measures. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is one answer: a federal program that offers 30-year fixed rates backed by the full faith and credit of the government. The last payment is the same as the first payment. This program is designed for low-and-middle-income Americans and it can help homeowners refinance into a more affordable loan.
As you know, in August of 2007 we opened FHA up to more borrowers through a program called FHASecure. We have expanded this refinance program twice to provide assistance to subprime borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages who are past due on their mortgages, and have helped to restore liquidity and stability to the markets. Since we started this program, FHA has helped approximately 400,000 families keep their homes by refinancing into a more affordable FHA-insured mortgage. We believe a total of about 500,000 families will refinance into more affordable FHA mortgages by the end of the year.
We have further expanded our efforts with the HOPE for Homeowners program. This program will provide additional help to those who wouldn’t have previously qualified for FHA. Two weeks ago, I announced implementation of this program. For families struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments, HOPE for Homeowners will be another resource to refinance into a loan they can afford.
There is also an industry effort called HOPE NOW that has helped more than two million homeowners. The industry has voluntarily contacted homeowners in trouble, helping many people to refinance their mortgages into something more affordable.
And there is an increased use of housing counselors. They are vital to helping people find the right mortgage for the right home. This year, funding for HUD-approved housing counselors has skyrocketed to over $410 million.
Financial literacy is also helpful. There have to be more efforts to help borrowers understand the terms of their mortgages and to be fully informed at each step of the process. The terms of the mortgage must be clear and understandable. So another step we have taken is to begin the process for adoption of new rules that would ensure borrowers understand the fine print. We will mandate that mortgage lenders provide a clear statement of all closing costs and expected monthly obligations under the loan. These new rules under the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA) will ensure borrowers know what they have agreed to. That is just common sense, a good business practice, and it is the ethical thing to do.
So far, I have spoken generally of the tools available for keeping people in their homes. But there are opportunities right now to make great strides in providing affordable housing.
There is more funding available to states and local governments for the purchase or rehabilitation of vacant homes through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. HUD is providing emergency assistance to state and local governments to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight within their communities. These targeted funds will be used to purchase foreclosed homes at a discount and to rehabilitate or redevelop them, or to resell these homes at discount to low-, moderate- and middle-income families. Or to turn these homes into affordable housing.
HUD recently hosted a national housing summit in Washington, as well as three regional summits around the country, where we unveiled a new $4 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Program. State and local governments can use their neighborhood stabilization grants to acquire land and property; to demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties; and/or to offer downpayment and closing cost assistance to low- to moderate-income homebuyers (household incomes not exceed 120 percent of area median income). However, NSP grantees must use at least 25 percent of the funds appropriated for the purchase and redevelopment of abandoned or foreclosed homes or residential properties that will be used to house individuals or families whose incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the area median income.
And, as I said, many of these abandoned properties can be converted into affordable housing by the city or state. HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program and the HOME program, together already provide almost 150,000 units of affordable housing every year through either rehabilitation or new construction. This provides between 60-90,000 jobs annually. In fact, the HOME program has created a total of 865,000 affordable housing units, including 365,000 units for new homebuyers, since 1992. In addition, 195,000 tenants have received direct rental assistance.
In other words, this is a golden opportunity to vastly increase the amount of affordable housing in many cities through the use of these new funds. This is a singular moment. You have the chance to dramatically increase the availability of affordable housing…right now….this moment. I believe this is a leadership moment for all of us. And we would be foolish to let this opportunity slip away. If we can successfully convert abandoned and vacant homes, we could vastly increase the amount of affordable housing available in our communities.
This is a source of new financing for affordable housing. But we must also be concerned about traditional financing, especially the use of tax credits. With changes in the economy, tax credits lose their value and it is hard to get from conception to reality in affordable housing. We have to remain vigilant to keep developers on track. This vigilance must be evident at every step of the funding process: Congress, my department, investors, housing authorities, involved non-profits, advocates, citizens, and residents themselves. We have to make certain that funding remains certain and predictable, both in word and deed.
So far I have spoken of homeownership and affordable housing. Let me now turn to our efforts to address homelessness.
At HUD, we have encouraged “Continuums of Care” to address the entire spectrum of homelessness needs, from those who find themselves on the streets for the first time and need immediate shelter…to those who need assistance with problems of addiction or dependence… to those who need help in finding more permanent housing.
And, over time, with the help of many organizations and levels of government, we have constructed a social infrastructure and safety net for homeless people in virtually every city and county.
The President has delivered increased funding, record levels, to enable our partnership to reach more homeless people, especially with more permanent housing. Last year, HUD announced grants of $1.3 billion nationwide to address homelessness, the latest in a commitment that, since 2001, has totaled approximately $10 billion to support housing and services. In the President’s new budget, we are seeking $1.6 billion for HUD’s continuum of care homeless assistance grant programs.
As a nation, we have been able to devote more resources to help the homeless. Since 2003, HUD has provided funding for more than 42,000 new, permanent, supportive housing beds, most of which were created through faith-based and community organizations, a more than 25 percent increase. This year over 600,000 homeless persons will be assisted with HUD homeless funds operated by local non-profit organizations. Of that number over 130,000 persons will be assisted by faith-based groups.
Recently, the department released our Third Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. This report documented a 30 percent reduction in chronic homelessness over the last two years! 30 percent!
But we still have a long way to go. Overall, if you add up the number of homeless, chronic and short-term, there are approximately 673,000 people who are homeless at some point during the year. And as I said before, I am worried that the foreclosure crisis is increasing the number of people on the streets. We will work to keep up our efforts to provide a continuum of care. It is working.
Again, we have a unique opportunity to expand our facilities for the homeless. This is an excellent opportunity for cities to enhance “Continuum of Care” efforts. I know that many people are talking about using the Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants to provide more shelter for the homeless, perhaps by turning vacant homes into shelters. I think that is a good idea.
Let me also add some comments about HUD’s response to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. As you know, the devastation in Galveston and Houston was incredible, almost beyond imagination in Galveston. There are many people in Texas and in other states on the Gulf Coast dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes.
I appreciate the way that your organization and others stepped forward. It is extremely encouraging to work together on creative efforts to help people confronting catastrophe. I believe this is our country at its best…when we join together to get the job done.
And I want to thank the San Antonio Housing Authority for its timely assistance. It stepped forward to respond to the needs of families. I appreciate the hard work and commitment of all of those in the Housing Authority. Their work is a credit to this city and to the people of Texas.
The Housing Authorities here and elsewhere worked with HUD and FEMA. Within my department we created the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (“DHAP–IKE”) for families displaced by the hurricanes. It provides a transparent and predictable means for delivery of rental assistance for eligible families. This is a good program, one that will help families in need. We worked with FEMA to get this program set up in record time. The new program, slated to begin November 1, 2008, will help these families find intermediate housing as they rebuild their lives. It mirrors the successful program that housed families following the 2005 hurricanes, which continues to support 30,000 families.
HUD, through its network of Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), will also work with families and landlords to assure that eligible families can find a suitable apartment while they are in the process of rebuilding and returning to self-sufficiency.
I have spoken of many programs. In the end, housing is a central part of our economy and an important task for a nation. Government has a role. But the provision of housing involves all levels of government and the entire community. It is one of the tasks that are shared by all, because it is vital for all.
Our partnership is one example of this effort. I hope in the years to come that we can find more ways to reach out to those in need of affordable housing. I believe that our work together makes a difference for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and I would like to see that work become even more effective and far-reaching.
Let me conclude by looking back in order to look forward. On this date, October 27th, in 1787, two hundred twenty-one years ago, the first of the Federalist Papers was published. Federalist Number 1 was written by Alexander Hamilton, who would become our first Treasury Secretary. He was a visionary about America’s promise. He wrote that history has asked Americans a great question: whether we can design a good, rational response to the needs of our people, whether we will be guided by the best interests of our country, or if we would leave everything to chance or accident?
He said that the safety and welfare of our people and our country depended on our response, our answer to this great question.
I believe we try to answer that question with the work we do together. We have taken it upon ourselves to provide one of the most basic needs: shelter. We have stepped forward because we care, because we want to make a difference, because we want to help. And we are here at this conference because affordable housing means more than statistics and facts and charts…it means families who stay in their homes, families that do not find themselves on the streets or in homeless shelters, it means families who live in their cities and thrive in their cities, it means families that remain part of their communities.
We try to provide a safety net and we also work to empower our citizens so they can eventually make it on their own. That is the point and purpose of our federal programs, and of our great partnership with this organization.
Yes, we want to be guided by our compassion and our commitment. We want to make this great country work well for those in need. We want to be there, to lend a hand, to make common cause with those who need us. And we do that through providing a place to live.
Again, thank you for all of your good work.