Throughout Black History Month we honor the legacy of African Americans who have helped shape our great nation. Earlier this week, I was pleased to welcome BET Chairwoman and CEO Debra L. Lee to HUD, and join with HUD staff to affirm this important legacy. The message of Black History Month is a particularly significant one for HUD, whose mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
At HUD, we know as well as anyone the impact that the economic and housing crisis has had on the Nation, and minority communities in particular, in many cases wiping out decades of gains in a matter of months and leaving entire neighborhoods devastated. The crisis had an even deeper and more lasting impact on homeownership. Since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, American families have looked to homeownership as a cornerstone of stability and prosperity. This has been particularly significant for African American families. Whether it meant putting down roots in a community, building wealth, or ensuring security for their families, millions of African Americans have had a chance to live the American Dream through the ability to own a home and be part of a community. For many, the economic housing crisis threatened that dream. Singled out by unscrupulous banks and predatory lenders, hard-working families, often minority, were the victims of exploitation and fraud.
With the economy beginning to turn around, we are engaged in the critical work of rebuilding communities. There are many encouraging signs in the housing market – construction is growing faster than at any time since 2008, 2012 was the strongest year of home sales since the economic crisis began, and rising home values are lifting 1.4 million families above water. Mortgage rates remain at historic lows, around the country, foreclosure starts are down and unemployment continues to fall – putting families and communities on the road to recovery.
In the last four years, for instance, the FHA has made homeownership possible for over 3.5 million families, and that has been especially critical for African American and other minority homebuyers. Similarly, the latest report from the Mortgage Servicing Settlement Monitor revealed that the Settlement has already exceeded expectations, delivering almost $46 billion of consumer relief to more than 554,000 homeowners across the country, including many African Americans who live in areas particularly hard-hit by the recession.
Our Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) continues its work to ensure that all families have the right to find a home, free from discrimination. FHEO, along with its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program, investigate approximately 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually as part of its work to enforce federal fair housing laws, as well as establish policies that ensure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice.
In the coming months, HUD will be working closely with other Federal agencies in support of the President’s Ladders to Opportunity plan, which will build and strengthen pathways to the middle-class for all Americans. This initiative builds on some of HUD’s experiences and successes, and helps to ensure that housing opportunities are part of a broader solution – directly related to and supported by quality transportation, employment and healthcare opportunities.
By giving families the help they need to begin to rebuild, strengthen and enrich their lives we can restore the faith that all families should have in the American Dream. I can’t think of a better way to honor Black History Month than that.