At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, HUD Secretary Mel Martinez expressed his desire to reduce homelessness, increase minority homeownership and take a lead role in the nationwide debate about managing growth. Here are excerpts from his written statement:

“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.”

“My 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.”

“There 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, HUD’s 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 country’s 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.”

“In recognition of these challenges, during his campaign, President 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, Congress enacted one of President-elect Bush’s proposals, allowing low-income families and individuals with disabilities to use Sec. 8 rental vouchers toward homeownership. I pledge to you the timely implementation of these important initiatives.”

“The President 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 ‘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 the Committee on many aspects of these initiatives.”