By Agatha So, Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project, NCLR
Many questions remain for Dr. Ben Carson, who last month was officially sworn in as our newest Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Since his January 12 confirmation hearing, many are still wondering how Dr. Carson will fulfill HUD’s mission and carry out the critical task of providing affordable rental and homeownership opportunities—free from discrimination—for all Americans.
On March 28, Secretary Carson had an opportunity to discuss his housing policy priorities at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals Conference. It was an important audience for Secretary Carson—the Association represents the largest group of Hispanic real estate professionals, whose primary mission is getting Latinos into homes. This is a critical constituency, because Latinos are expected to form more than 40 percent of new households in the next decade. By 2020, Latinos are expected to account for half of new homeowners. Yet today, only 46 percent of over 14 million Hispanic households own their home, well below the rate in 2006, before the housing crisis, when nearly half of over 12 million Hispanic households owned homes.
Secretary Carson’s remarks came after an animated speech by the CEO of the nation’s top home lender, who underlined the significance of Latino household growth to the housing market, as well as the importance of a healthy Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program. While his remarks were connected to housing, Carson failed to provide substantive policy ideas for how to engage the growing Hispanic homebuyer market. In particular, we were hoping to hear if he will revisit the proposed FHA Mortgage Insurance Premium rate reduction and the future of government-backed 30-year home mortgages, two issues that are critically important to low-income homeowners. Dr. Carson also missed an opportunity to discuss how the recently proposed $6.2 billion cut to HUD programs would impact the availability of affordable housing to accommodate new Latino households.
NCLR has a long history of expanding homeownership opportunities for Hispanic families. In the 1990s, we partnered with nonprofits and the housing industry to pioneer the development of affordable loan programs that integrated housing counseling and down-payment assistance to help hundreds of low-income Hispanic families become homeowners. Affordable loan programs that followed clarified the mortgage process and how families could become eligible. Since 2007, the NCLR Homeownership Network, made up of 51 HUD-certified housing counseling agencies, has assisted more than 30,000 families qualify for fair and affordable mortgage terms and become homeowners. Housing counselors walk the journey with Latino families, helping them navigate a process that can be frustrating to do alone. The devastating impact of the housing crisis on Latino household wealth demonstrated that home equity is critically important to the economic security of Latino families, and homeownership remains the cornerstone of efforts to close the wealth gap for Latinos.
As his listening tour continues, we urge Secretary Carson to listen to organizations and institutions serving Latinos in their home communities, roll up his sleeves and get to work immediately. In looking for ways to ensure that first-time homebuyers can affordably enter the market, Secretary Carson must understand how communities of color and low- and moderate-income families gain access to quality loan products, as well as the role of federally-funded programs, such as the Community Development Block Grant that enable community-based housing counseling agencies to assist low-income homebuyers qualify for affordable and safe loans.
We need a HUD Secretary who will work toward a productive housing system that provides sustainable and affordable homeownership opportunities for all communities. This includes a commitment to fully funding a program that ensures first-time homebuyers have access to independent advice and support from a housing counselor. NCLR is ready and able to work with the Secretary to help make this a reality.