Let’s Focus on What Matters

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Photo: Gage Skidmore

It seems that we in the Latino community are not exempt from this election’s silly season. This week Buzzfeed published an article stating that the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA)—a 25-year-old coalition of the 40 largest Latino organizations in the country—was “kicking out” Presente, an online organization that aims to amplify Latino voices, because of its attack this week on HUD Secretary Julián Castro. This is false. And apparently reporting from the future, kos of Daily Kos took this unsubstantiated and unconfirmed rumor as fact and even ascribed motivations to why it was done: “old school” Latino organizations objecting to criticism of a Latino leader.

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Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Makes Progress for Latino Families

Photo: HUD

HUD Secretary, Julian Castro. Photo: HUD

In his first congressional hearing since being confirmed last summer, Julián Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, testified before the House Financial Services Committee today on his agency’s progress and accomplishments.

This hearing couldn’t come at a more critical time, given that Latino families are still struggling to rebuild the wealth they lost during the Great Recession. Though an economic recovery is now under way, Latinos are not necessarily seeing improved outcomes in access to mortgage credit. Just last year, Hispanic home-buyers made up only 6 percent of the conventional mortgage market, despite comprising 17 percent of the population.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has the means to make mortgages more affordable for all creditworthy homebuyers through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which it oversees.

Thus far, Castro has helped FHA pivot toward a new focus on affordability and homeownership promotion. Just three months after taking office, he announced a new plan for HUD to expand mortgage credit access, which included measures affecting borrowers and lenders alike. In an effort to boost lenders’ willingness to make more loans, FHA will give lenders clarity on HUD policies and compliance issues. To the direct benefit of prospective homebuyers, FHA also lowered mortgage insurance premiums for all FHA loans by an average of $900 annually.

Castro also directed Ginnie Mae, a government corporation that creates mortgage-backed securities, to begin a new pilot program to give more mortgage lenders access to the secondary market and stimulate increased lending to borrowers.

While HUD has accomplished much during Castro’s tenure, the agency can do more to support homeownership and prevent foreclosure. Though the worst of the foreclosure crisis has subsided, far too many Latino families still risk losing their homes to foreclosure today. HUD should take concrete actions to keep struggling families in their homes and prevent needless foreclosure, including by continuing to require firms participating in its Distressed Asset Sales Program (DASP) to ensure that communities are stabilized.

HUD can also extend access to DASP properties to housing nonprofits, which are eager to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes. These properties have recently been prohibitively expensive for nonprofits, compared to for-profit investors. Under Secretary Castro, for the first time loans insured by FHA will be eligible for consumer relief that includes principal reduction as an option. This could also help prevent many foreclosures.

Finally, Congress should vote to restore full funding for the Homeowners Armed With Knowledge (HAWK) program, which would expand mortgage credit to homebuyers who complete pre- and post-purchase housing counseling. Housing counseling is a proven practice that works, providing families with certified professionals who can answer their crucial questions about mortgages and homeownership and help them avoid pitfalls.

As Secretary Castro continues implementing practices designed to boost homeownership and improve the housing sector, we urge him to consider the needs of struggling homeowners and prospective homebuyers from traditionally underserved communities. With half of all first-time home-buyers expected to be Latino by 2020, we cannot delay in ensuring that the American Dream remains accessible to all.

Weekly Washington Outlook – June 30, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

The House is in recess, returning Tuesday, July 8.

The Senate:

The Senate is in recess, returning Monday, July 7.

White House:

On Monday, the president will welcome back to the White House, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The two leaders will discuss ways to advance peace and global security, social inclusion, and free trade. Other agenda items include UN Security Council matters, other multilateral and regional issues, and ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as expanding educational exchanges and deepening collaborations in the areas of energy, science, and technology. The vice president will also participate. In the afternoon, President Obama will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month; the first lady will also attend.  On Tuesday, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting; Vice President Biden will also attend. In the afternoon President Obama will deliver remarks on the economy at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington. On Wednesday, the president will host top economists for lunch to discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, expand opportunity, and improve the competitiveness of the American economy. The vice president will also attend. On Thursday, President Obama will attend unspecified meetings at the White House. On Friday, the president and the first lady will celebrate the Fourth of July by hosting military heroes and their families for an Independence Day celebration with a barbecue, concert and a view of fireworks on the South Lawn. Staff and their families from throughout the Administration will also attend this event for the concert and fireworks viewing.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court ends its session for the year with the announcement of a 5-4 decision to narrow the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court decided that closely-held private companies are exempted on religious grounds from a requirement that employer-provided health plans include a range of contraception options at no additional cost to the individual.  Additional details available.

Also this week and beyond:

Unaccompanied Children – The working group appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address the situation with unaccompanied children held its first meeting last week. By all accounts, this was productive and positive and members framed the issue as a humanitarian crisis. In the coming weeks, they are likely to make at least one trip to the Southern border in order to make appropriate recommendations on possible Congressional action. Elsewhere, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and CBP facilities this week as part of the Administration’s ongoing response to influx of unaccompanied children. The White House this week also sent a letter to Congressional Leadership, providing additional details of the actions being taken. These include additional enforcement resources, an increase in immigration judges, and a request for emergency supplemental appropriations.

Appropriations – The Senate Appropriations Committee will continue its work on individual spending bills next week, but Senate Leadership is struggling to find a path forward for a stalled “minibus” that includes Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills. The measure was pulled from the floor earlier in the month over yet another disagreement about the process for considering amendments. Elsewhere, after the Agriculture-FDA bill was pulled from the House floor earlier this month, it appears the process will begin again with the Energy-Water bill in early July. It is likely that Financial Services would follow, in an effort to return again to regular order. At the Committee level in the House, Chairman Rogers indicated that Labor-HHS-Education will be marked-up this month, but Congressional staff has said it is unlikely this would be brought to the floor.

Workforce Investment Act – Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a re-authorization to the Workforce Investment Act.  The House is expected to take up the measure in the next work period.

Highway Trust Fund – Lawmakers are expected to devote the beginning of the July work period to finding a short-term “patch” for the Highway Trust Fund, expected to be insolvent by the end of the month. Without an injection of revenue immediately, an estimated 700,000 construction jobs are in jeopardy and 100,000 projects are potentially on-hold. To address the shortfall, the Senate Finance Committee began marking-up an $8 billion bill that would keep the fund afloat for six months to allow time to negotiate a more permanent solution. In the House, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has said that he prefers a fix through at least 2015. House and Senate negotiations are expected to take place this week, with the hope that a compromise could be on the floor of each chamber as soon as possible.     

Nominations – On Monday, the President will nominate former CEO of Procter & Gamble, Bob McDonald to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Later in the month, the Senate is expected to vote to confirm both Julian Castro as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Shaun Donovan to head the Office of Management and Budget.

At Confirmation Hearing, Castro Supports GSE Overhaul and Wins Bipartisan Support

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Last week, Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio faced the Senate Banking Committee for his confirmation hearing as nominee to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Overall, the hearing went fairly smoothly, with Castro receiving support from committee Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas, who introduced him.

For the benefit of homeowners, renters, and all Americans, confirming Julian Castro as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is the best opportunity to ensure a sustainable housing system and a housing finance overhaul that serves all communities.

A three-term mayor of America’s seventh-largest city, boasting a majority-Latino population, Julián Castro presided over San Antonio’s successful urban revitalization. As he succeeded in San Antonio, we believe he can succeed in the Obama Cabinet.

While NCLR has expressed strong support for Castro’s nomination, adding another highly qualified Latino to the Obama Cabinet, no matter who the new secretary is we urge that person to focus on ensuring real, affordable access to housing credit for communities of color in any housing finance overhaul.

Fortunately, there is strong reason to believe that such goals are consistent with Castro’s positions. Though the hearing did not delve into specifics, Castro highlighted support for major housing finance changes.

Currently, control of the two government-sponsored enterprises is placed under the Federal Housing Finance Agency, but this temporary system is unsustainable. The Senate Banking Committee recently passed the Johnson-Crapo proposal, which would overhaul the current system, replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with private capital backed by government guarantee.

Unfortunately, the current version of this bill passed in committee doesn’t do nearly enough for the Latino community, effectively cutting off unacceptable numbers of people of color and underserved communities from access to affordable mortgage credit. A newly confirmed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development could persuade the Senate to change that while also impacting access and affordability through improvements at the Federal Housing Administration. We hope that, if successfully confirmed, Julián Castro will make sustainable housing finance reform a top priority.

Weekly Washington Outlook – June 16, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

The House returns on Tuesday afternoon to vote on a series of bills to name post offices and other government facilities, under suspension of the rules:

1) H.R. 1458 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1 Walter Hammond Place in Waldwick, New Jersey, as the “Staff Sergeant Joseph D’Augustine Post Office Building” (Sponsored by Rep. Scott Garrett / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

2) H.R. 43 – Officer Tommy Decker Memorial Post Office (Sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

3) H.R. 1391 – The Lance Corporal Joshua B. McDaniels and Veterans Memorial Post Office Building, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Steve Stivers / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

4) H.R. 3765 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 198 Baker Street in Corning, New York, as the “Specialist Ryan P. Jayne Post Office Building” (Sponsored by Rep. Tom Reed / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

5) H.R. 1707– To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, Illinois, as the “James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building” (Sponsored by Rep. Rodney Davis / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

6) H.R. 3472 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 13127 Broadway Street in Alden, New York, as the “Sergeant Brett E. Gornewicz Memorial Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

7) H.R. 1865 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 35 Park Street in Danville, Vermont, as the “Thaddeus Stevens Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Peter Welch / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

8) H.R. 2112– To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 787 State Route 17M in Monroe, New York, as the “National Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency NCS Officer Gregg David Wenzel Memorial Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

9) H.R. 1671 – To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6937 Village Parkway in Dublin, California, as the “James ‘Jim’ Kohnen Post Office” (Sponsored by Rep. Eric Swalwell / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

10) H.R. 3786 – To direct the Administrator of General Services, on behalf of the Archivist of the United States, to convey certain Federal property located in the State of Alaska to the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska (Sponsored by Rep. Don Young / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

11) H.R. 3998 – Albuquerque, New Mexico, Federal Land Conveyance Act of 2014 (Sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

12) H.R. 3375– To designate the community-based outpatient clinic of the Department of Veterans Affairs to be constructed at 3141 Centennial Boulevard, Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the “PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic” (Sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)

13) H.R. 1216 – To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center in Prescott, Arizona, as the Dr. Cameron McKinley Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Center (Sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)

14) H.R. 4199– To name the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Waco, Texas, as the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)

15) H.R. 3682 – To designate the community based outpatient clinic of the Department of Veterans Affairs located at 1961 Premier Drive in Mankato, Minnesota, as the Lyle C. Pearson Community Based Outpatient Clinic (Sponsored by Rep. Timothy Walz / Veterans’ Affairs Committee)

16) H.R. 4360 – To designate the facility of the United States Forest Service for the Grandfather Ranger District located at 109 Lawing Drive in Nebo, North Carolina, as the “Jason Crisp Forest Service Building” (Sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows / Agriculture Committee)

17) S.Con.Res. 37 – Authorizing the use of the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Commemoration of the award of the Shimon Peres Congressional Gold Medal (Sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte / House Administration Committee)

On Wednesday and the balance of the week, the House will consider the FY2015 spending bill for the Department of Defense, and bill (H.R. 4413) to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  The House will also vote on a motion to go to conference and instructions for conferees to reconcile House and Senate versions of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

The Senate:

The Senate on Monday evening will begin consideration of a number of judicial nominees.  On Tuesday, after these nominees are confirmed, the Senate will move to consider a package of three spending bills for FY2015: Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (C-J-S), and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD).

White House:

On Monday, the president and first lady will return to Washington from Palm Springs, Calif.  On Tuesday, President Obama will travel to TechShop Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Penn. to deliver remarks on the economy. Following this, he will travel to New York City to attend the DNC LGBT Gala and take part in another DNC Event. On Wednesday, the president will host the first ever White House Maker Faire and meet with students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch new businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and fuel the renaissance in American manufacturing.  On Thursday, President Obama will award Corporal William “Kyle” Carpenter, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. On Friday, he will meet with Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, climate change, and military-to-military cooperation.  The two leaders are also expected to engage on the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, regional maritime security issues, and global security issues.

On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden travels to Natal, Brazil to attend the USA v. Ghana FIFA World Cup match. Later in the week, he will travel to Guatemala where he will meet with President Pérez Molina, and he will also meet with President Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador and the senior representative of the Honduran government, Coordinator General Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, to address the rise and flow of unaccompanied children to the United States, to discuss our security and economic support for the countries of Central America, and more generally, to increase our cooperation in the region.

Also this week and beyond:

GOP Leadership Election – Following Majority Leader’s surprising loss in his primary against David Brat last week and subsequent resignation from House leadership, House members will vote to fill the Majority Leader and Whip positions.  Despite a late challenge from Congressman Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), current Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is widely expected to easily win the Majority Leader position. The race to replace McCarthy as Whip, has become more contentious, however, with current Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) squaring off against Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).  While things remain in flux, Congressman Stutzman, best known previously for comments during the government shutdown, appears to have peeled votes away from Scalise as both are appealing to movement conservatives to make the case for a more right-wing voice in Leadership.  Roskam over the weekend attempted to address these concerns in a letter to colleagues.  Despite intense lobbying on all sides, for now, Scalise remains marginally ahead of Roskam with Stutzman gaining ground.

Immigration – With all focus on Leadership elections this week, the path forward for immigration reform in the House remains uncertain.  The House has a light agenda this week while Republicans sort out their internal affairs.  The House Judiciary Committee, however, is planning on moving forward with a hearing also on Thursday aimed to link immigration reform with the rise in unaccompanied minors.

Appropriations – The Senate this week will consider a “minibus,” three spending bills wrapped into one: Agriculture, C-J-S, and THUD.  After the end of the fiscal fights, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is eager to return to a more normalized appropriations process and move all 12 spending bills to the floor.  Across the Hill, the appropriations process is somewhat on hold until after Leadership elections.  While the House will vote on the Department of Defense spending bill this week, Leadership had to pull Agriculture off the floor last week and this is not likely to resurface any time soon.  Despite a commitment to return to “regular order” in the House with appropriations, the internal disarray makes next steps highly ambiguous.

Financial Regulations – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray is scheduled to deliver his semi-annual report to Congress to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. Director Cordray appeared in the Senate last week.

Workforce Investment Act – A compromise reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act is scheduled for consideration in both the House and Senate during the June work period.

Nominations – The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s nomination to Secretary of Department of Housing and Urban Development.