Montgomery County Affordable Housing Conference
Montgomery County, MD
May 9, 2011
Thank you very, very much. I want to thank Ike Leggett for taking such care and concern over my mother.
You have one of the outstanding County Executives, not only in Maryland, but in the United States of America in Ike Leggett. (Applause.)
It is great to be here with all of you and I want to thank my friend, Barbara Goldberg Goldman, for all that she does – from the beginning of this conference. And, Barbara, what you did to start that program where we saw some of our neighbors who are in home ownership only because of your efforts. And thank you, Norman Dreyfuss.
Lt. Governor Anthony Brown is with us. Lt. Governor Brown is the highest ranking elected official in the United States of America to have served a tour of duty in Iraq, and he goes to Leisure World at least once a month now as part of his duties as Lt. Governor and has done an outstanding job in this administration.
So, Anthony, thank you and thank you for your interest in affordable housing transit-oriented development, fighting this foreclosure wave that you and I have had the privilege to be able to fight alongside of Maryland homeowners to defend that building block of a growing and stronger middle-class, which is a safe home.
I forget the exact phrase of the last gentleman who came across the stage, but he talked about home as a safe and loving environment. The most powerful place in our State is a family home. You and I also know that there’s no way to protect that home without a job. Chris Van Hollen knows that. Ben Cardin knows that. Barbara Mikulski and our entire Congressional delegation knows that.
Our President, Barack Obama, knows that. Which is why he made the tough decision necessary – even though it wasn’t popular at the time – to pass the Recovery and Reinvestment Act so we wouldn’t slip off the cliff into the second Great Depression.
It’s why, as a part of that, he made sure that there were some dollars so we could keep this important industry going that is affordable housing and weatherization and the other things that not only put a roof over a family’s head, but put food on a family’s table. There’s nothing more important than a job.
And I want to thank all of you. I look around and I see the eyes of those of you who have had to weather through these last three very difficult years and the challenges that our economy has been facing, and I know that you’ve had to go back and tell your people that we’re going to get through this, we’re going to get through it together.
And I hope you take at least some solace from the fact that professional people run your State government now, like Greg Skinner, who, when we had the opportunity for those affordable housing dollars, we got them out there as soon as we possibly could.
I know that there is so much more you can do, and that you will do, once our country gets out of this detour we’ve been on for the last ten years and starts investing in that better, fair, more just future that Paul Sarbanes fought so nobly for in all of those years that he represented us in the United States Senate.
You know, Chris mentioned asking for your help and it was a no small act. We need your help, our country needs your help to be actively involved as Congress debates our future as a nation.
There’s a lot of talk about shared sacrifice. But one of the great things about our experiment in democracy, I think, is this concept of shared return. And when we make investments in things like the G.I. Bill, that makes our economy grow. When we make investments together in things like affordable housing, that makes housing opportunities grow. That fuels our economy.
So, yes, shared sacrifice is an important part of what it means to be an American, to be a citizen of the United States. But we do that with the enlightened self-interest because we know that when everybody else is doing better, we are doing better as well.
And for 200 years that’s how this Republic worked. Until the last decade. And in the last decade 95 percent of Americans saw their take-home pay, the value of their pay-check, actually go stagnant or decline while the top one percent of our nation amassed now 40 percent of our wealth.
I’m not sure how many of you have seen the short little article done by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in this month’s Vanity Fair. It’s only a couple of pages and I really recommend it to you, because he talks about the importance of maintaining balance. And really, that’s what’s at stake in the halls of the United States Congress. Do we have the ability to find that precious consensus necessary to balance and move forward at the same time.
I believe we do. But it’s not going to happen unless we’re honest about the trade-offs here. Fifty-five percent of the Federal deficit projected to grow by 2019 is fuel. Fifty-five percent of it. By Bush-era tax cuts that benefitted primarily the top one percent of Americans who, by the way, were not hurting at all by the end of Bill Clinton’s eight years. You remember those eight years, don’t you? The economy was growing, home ownership was increasing, affordable housing investments were happening, the country was moving forward.
And, yes, he also inherited a deficit and in the course of those eight years was able to retire it in a reasonable phased way, so that we could keep growing our economy and growing our middle-class. And not putting the brakes on our economy, succumbing to the antique FDR haters, who want to do away with Medicare, Medicaid, affordable housing programs and everything else we learned over the course of 200 years to do together, so that we could make our country better, so we could grow our economy. (Applause.)
All of you know this, but there is this danger zone that families can get into when more than 30 percent of their income – 30 to 50 percent of it goes into their housing costs. They’re in a precarious and fragile economic situation. That means – especially until we have healthcare for all – they’re one medical calamity away from maybe losing that home.
In 1960 one-quarter of our citizens were in that danger zone, that 30 to 50 percent. Today half of our citizens are in that danger zone. So we have our work cut out for us.
But nonetheless, as a State, we are fairly better than most and we continue to move forward. Over the past five years, working together, we’ve invested more than $1.5 billion in the financing and construction and preservation of 118 affordable rental housing complexes and the construction of nearly 11,000 new rental units. That’s a building block, of course, to home ownership.
Last year, with thanks to President Obama’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we were able to move forward on the construction of 38 multi-family complexes, the most we’ve ever done all at one time.
The reality is, though, that we face a shortage of affordable housing. Not only affordable home ownership, but also affordable rental units. And that’s why the work you do is so very important.
We announced the new partnership at the Weinberg Foundation in order to create more units for low income disabled Marylanders, Marylanders living with disabilities, excuse me. And the Foundation is investing more than $1 million to make this happen initially and that will be folded in and become a part of all of our offerings as we work with you to maximize every affordable housing dollar we have.
We also agreed that there’s a lot more work ahead of us. I think we have tremendous opportunities as a State to grow not only in smarter ways, not only in more environmentally sustainable ways, but in more economically sustainable ways, more just ways with transit-oriented development. There are so many sites, Metro sites, that still have fallow land all around them and I look forward to working with you to make those become a reality.
Among the many, many important things you do as an organization is the assistance you provide to the families that some of whom you met just now. And I really do applaud you, those 25 families that need help to get into a home. As we’ve fought against foreclosure, as we fight to promote home ownership, you know, I’m reminded that there’s a saying from the Talmud that if you save just one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world. Well, that’s sort of the ethic by extension that we’ve brought to this cause of home ownership, fighting back against foreclosures, fighting for affordable home ownership. If you can save just one home, it is as if you are saving the world.
This morning we announced a new initiative that’s going to help us move the ball forward and that is when it comes to foreclosure prevention. Last year Chris Van Hollen, Ben Cardin, Barbara Mikulski and Barack Obama signed into law – passed the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program.
And as we were the first state to use those Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars for the first transportation project, and one of the earliest to put the dollars out there for affordable housing, we became the first to have a citizen of our State actually qualify finally a year later for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program.
During the past five years we stepped up to the plate time and time again, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. When we first passed foreclosure prevention legislation about three years ago, as this wave first started to wash up and over our State, along with other states, the Washington Post called it some of the most sweeping foreclosure prevention legislation in the country. But it wasn’t enough, because we saw the graph continue to go up as people lost jobs, continued to have challenges.
So we went back to the drawing board and we created a mandatory right to mediation before any homeowner can be thrown out of their home. (Applause.)
And together, we’ve invested over $9 million in the Hope Network, nonprofit housing counselors, they act as mediation or mitigation originators, if you will, and they’re really dedicated people. (Applause.)
We probably had five of them standing on this homeowner’s lawn in Bowie today. They are people whose names you’ve never heard, you probably never met them before, but they are on the phone every day, doing that important home-saving work. And they’ve counseled over 57,000 Marylanders.
Together, we’ve also reached agreements with multiple mortgage servicing companies to create a streamlined and more transparent loss mitigation process. And we also found a great use for lawyers -- I can say that, I used to be one, in fact, I’m still one – I’m a recovering lawyer. Judge Bell recruited 1,200 lawyers in Maryland to act as pro bono attorneys in this fight to save homeowners. (Applause.)
Look, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. And frankly, there’s not another State that is better prepared than we are to remind the rest of the country that our best days are still in front of us.
I’m so proud of the groups and so proud of the individuals in this room that have worked through these difficult and tough times for that most important thing that we can do for our country’s future, and that is to strengthen and grow the ranks of our middle-class, to make the dream of home ownership a more likely possibility for more and more people.
We’re a great country because people believe that in America if you work hard and if you play by the rules you can make your children’s lives even better than your own has been.
The question I ask all around our State is this, how many of you firmly believe that you have enjoyed a better quality of life than your parents and grandparents have enjoyed? Raise your hand. Most every hand, right? Okay.
Second question, how many of you believe just as firmly that your children and your children’s children will enjoy a better quality of life than you have? Raise your hand. Not quite so many. And, folks, we’re the more optimistic people in this world.
So that’s the biggest challenge we have right now is that fear of fear itself, that somehow maybe our best days aren’t in front of us. But look around this room, look at the dedication in this room, look at the talent in this room, look at the beliefs that bring diverse people together in this room. A belief in the dignity of every individual, a belief in our own responsibility to advance the greater good. And an understanding that we’re all in this together and what we do in our own lifetime does matter.
I look forward to working with you, out of this recession and into a better future for all of our people. Thanks very much.