Hearing on the Nomination of
Prepared Testimony of
the Honorable Mel Martinez, of Florida
to be the
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Senate Banking Committee
the Honorable Mel Martinez
10:00 a.m., Wednesday, January 17, 2001
Chairman, Senator Gramm, and distinguished Members of the Committee,
thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. And thank
you Senators Graham and Nelson, for your kind introductions.
Let me begin by expressing my profound gratitude to President-Elect
Bush for his friendship and his confidence in asking me to be a
part of his Administration. I am humbled and honored to be nominated
by President-elect Bush as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
your indulgence, Mr. Chairman, I would like to introduce my wife
Kitty and our three children, Lauren, John, and Andrew. It is with
their love and support that, if confirmed, I will find the strength
to undertake this important responsibility.
Chairman, I come before this Committee with a strong set of beliefs
that were shaped by my life of living the American dream. I arrived
in this country as a teenage refugee from Cuba with nothing but
faith in God and myself, and the conviction that America, like nowhere
else in the world, was a place where hard work and a life of principle
would be rewarded.
spent my first days in America in a government refugee camp, and
I have seen and experienced hardship firsthand. But I also know
how desperately those living in hardship just want the chance, the
opportunity, to build a better life. And I know the compassion and
charity of the American people people like Walter and Eileen
Young and June and the late Jim Berkmeyer, who volunteered through
their churches to provide places for me to call home for four years
until my family was reunited here in freedom.
my life, I have witnessed the greatness of America, and the genuine
goodness of the American people.
my public life, I strive for inclusion and the elevation of ideals
over politics. As a new member of the Orlando Housing Authority,
I pushed for the rights of public housing tenants to be part of
Authority board meetings, more than a decade before the implementation
of a similar Federal requirement. As Authority Chairman, I pushed
for five long years for the construction of new affordable housing
facilities financed by Authority investments for elderly and single
mother low-income households.
the last two years, I have been the elected chief executive of Orange
County, Florida, one of the fastest growing large metropolitan areas
in the country. As chairman, I was confronted with overcrowded schools,
crime and drug abuse, a growing senior citizen population, traffic
congestion, mass transit challenges, and the need to make additional
commitments to preserving environmental lands. And what we pledged
we would do, we were able to accomplish, even in the short two years
that I served. Sometimes it wasnt the most politically expedient
thing to do, sometimes the vested special interests did not like
what we did, but in the end, for our community, it was the right
thing to do.
each position, I bring an important perspective as a consumer of
HUD programs, both in public housing administration as well as dealing
with community development and housing block grant programs at the
I take this next step in my life with the experience of managing
a county government staff of over 6,000, and representing 860,000
of my fellow Floridians, but most importantly, with what I hope
is a strength of character defined by my past and demonstrated by
the Senates approval, I will take up housing and community
development challenges in America. Over the last few weeks I have
met with many Members of this Committee, and I look forward to meeting
with many more of you in the weeks to come. I have also met with
the United States Comptroller General, and spent several hours with
him and his staff discussing the issues surrounding the Department
of Housing and Urban Development. I have been nominated to lead
an agency that has been chronically designated as high risk. And
while there have been some areas of improvement, during my stewardship
of this office, significant program areas of high risk remain to
first priority will be for HUD to continue to put its own house
in order, so we have the institutional fortitude to provide the
housing and community renewal opportunities needed by so many families
and so many neighborhoods. The Department of Housing and Urban Development
must be healthy itself, if we are to deal with the challenges before
us. And while former HUD Secretaries Kemp, Cisneros, and Cuomo have
built a foundation for strength, there are a great many areas of
institutional weakness that must be addressed. GAO and the HUD Office
of Inspector General have identified similar program and management
areas needing the most improvement, including: the Federal Housing
Administrations single family mortgage insurance risk; the
impact and continuing evolution of HUDs 2020 management reform
effort; and the failure to integrate financial and information systems.
Senate confirmation, I will make addressing each of these issues
a high priority as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
But HUDs management challenges do not mean that we will shrink
from the housing and community renewal challenges integral to HUDs
core mission. Part of putting compassionate conservatism into action
means using resources efficiently, so there is the means to treat
with compassion those in need.
are a great many families and communities in need of opportunity.
HUD has found that the number of Americans with worst case housing
needs is growing. And at the same time, HUDs inventory of
affordable housing is shrinking. Despite spending over $10 billion
on homelessness over the last ten years, too many still live life
on the streets. America is also growing older as the sons and daughters
of the greatest generation age into retirement years. Our grandparents
and our parents helped build this countrys greatness and deserve
the peace of mind to know that they will be taken care of, and can
live in safe and decent homes and neighborhoods. And despite record
high levels of homeownership, African-American and Hispanic American
homeownership rates remain below 50 percent. That is not acceptable,
and it is something I intend to address. Unless we make sure that
everyone is participating in this great economic expansion and until
we ensure that barriers to homeownership are torn down for everyone,
until then, our job is not done.
In recognition of these challenges, during his campaign, President-elect
Bush proposed "the New Prosperity Initiative," to expand
homeownership opportunities to low-income families and renew distressed
areas in communities across the country. Just a month ago, with
this Committees help, Congress enacted one of President-elect
Bushs proposals, allowing low-income families and individuals
with disabilities to use Section 8 rental vouchers toward homeownership.
I pledge to you the timely implementation of these important initiatives.
The President-elect also proposed the creation of more than 1 million
Individual Development Accounts by providing tax credits to financial
institutions that match the savings of low-income earners, who can
withdraw the matched funds tax free to finance a home, a business
or education. Obtaining downpayment and closing costs, in most cases,
is the primary barrier low-income families face when trying to buy
a home. To address this problem, President-elect Bush has pledged
to establish the "American Dream Down Payment Fund" to
provide $1 billion of matching grants to lenders over five years
to help as many as 650,000 unassisted low-income families become
homeowners. To increase the supply of affordable housing and rid
communities of vacant properties, the President-elect has proposed
$1.7 billion over the next five years in investor-based tax credits
to encourage the construction and rehabilitation of single family
homes in distressed communities. If confirmed, I look forward to
working with this Committee on many aspects of these initiatives.
the issues relating to how we grow and develop as communities must
be part of our discussions during the next few years. If confirmed,
I intend to initiate a national dialogue on the challenges of growth
and its impact on quality of life issues. These are issues of great
importance and deserve careful study and consideration.
every community, from inner city Chicago, to the Wests Silicon
Valley corridors, from the Orlando suburbs, to the rural Iowa community,
the opportunity need is great. It is over the next several weeks
that, if confirmed, I will explore how to meet this opportunity
need, to see where we should be going with housing and community
renewal policy. A key part of this process will be continuing discussions
with Members of this Committee, to learn from your experience, to
better understand what the issues are that we will be confronting
together as partners. We will be partners, and I look forward to
a very close relationship with Congress and this Committee.
addition, as a former local government official, I expect to work
closely with our partners at the grassroots level, from mayors,
local officials and governors, to non-profit and faith-based organizations,
housing advocate and industry groups. Together, we can meet the
challenges of housing affordability, availability, and community
renewal so that all people can truly achieve the American Dream.
am a living testament to the promise of America. It is our responsibility
to help fulfill the promise of America for people from all walks
of life, throughout this great country.
came to America with a suitcase and the hope of a better life. I
know the value of homeownership because I have witnessed its great
power throughout my entire life.
can still remember the pride my dad and mom had when they bought
their first home in America with the help of FHA. It seems like
yesterday that Kitty and I bought our first home, the home where
we have raised our children and where we lived life as part of a
your own home is the American Dream, and I intend to fight for those
who do not yet own a home, so they can live the American Dream and
experience the transformation that can happen in a life through
Chairman, Senator Gramm, Members of this Committee, we have much
work to do. The Department of Housing and Urban Development must
continue to evolve into a more efficient and more effective institution.
At the same time, for low-income families and distressed communities
across the country, the opportunity need is great. Working as partners,
I am confident that we can meet these challenges together. If confirmed,
I will work in a bipartisan manner, working with Republicans and
Democrats to advance our common goals. It is my belief that our
mission at HUD is not a Republican or Democrat mission, but rather
an American mission and with your help we can and we will succeed.
Content Archived: March 17, 2010