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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Alphonso Jackson
Secretary of Housing & Urban Development

April 10, 2007

Alphonso Jackson
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me to discuss Fair Housing Month. As we celebrate the 39th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, President Bush and I remain committed to ensuring that all Americans have equal access to housing. In a report my Department released earlier this month, we found that discrimination complaints are at an all-time high, with race and disability being the most common bases of housing discrimination. For this reason, HUD is continuing its enforcement, education, and outreach activities to ensure that all Americans can find a home, regardless of the color of their skin or if they have a physical disability. Click here to read more about the entire report:

Ok, let’s get started.

Vicky, from North Carolina writes:
I am very concerned about housing for our elderly. At this point, many of them cannot afford safe housing due to limited income and fmaily issues. What is being done to help assist our elderly population with housing issues?

Alphonso Jackson
Hi Vicky. Today’s seniors should be able to enjoy their golden years without having to worry about whether they can make their monthly mortgage or rent payments. HUD is committed to helping put an affordable roof over their heads. Based on funds appropriated over the past three years, 20,000 new housing units have been approved for construction under HUD's Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. This program continues to provide housing for low-income seniors and support the conversion of more assisted living facilities. We have also developed demonstration projects around the country that are designed to increase the production of units for people who have special needs.

Marcus, from Philadelphia writes:
What should jurisdictions be doing to affirmatively further fair housing?

Alphonso Jackson
Jurisdictions that receive HUD funds are required to sign a certification that they will provide housing and housing-related services on a nondiscriminatory basis and to take steps to affirmatively further fair housing. To ensure that jurisdictions are in compliance with the "Certification to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH)," jurisdictions are required to draft amendments to State and local fair housing laws in order to make them substantially equivalent to the federal Fair Housing Law. We encourage communities to assist us with our outreach efforts and continue to advise people who believe they’ve been discriminated against to call HUD’s housing discrimination hotline at 1-800-669-9777, or the TTY is 1-800-927-9275 and the website is:

Rob, from Washington D.C. writes:
Lately, it feels like I've heard a lot of lawmakers say that they expect more than 2 million people to lose their homes over the next year and a half due to foreclosures. Does that number sound right to you? Do you think lawmakers need to step in to stop some of these foreclosures?

Alphonso Jackson
Hi, Rob. One family losing a home is one too many. I sincerely hope two million is wrong. I have asked the Government Sponsored Enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) to do everything they can to assist help families keep their homes. We are doing the same at the Federal Housing Administration. Our loss mitigation measures are proving very effective in keeping families in their homes. The most important step families can take is to seek housing counseling and work with their lenders to prevent foreclosures. There may be some things that lawmakers can do but housing counseling and 'reading the fine' print are imperative.

Ernest, from Quantico, VA writes:
Good Day, You usually don't hear about HUD homes in the general population via commercials, newspaper artcles and etc. Is HUD going to do more to advertise itself to the general population? Thank You.

Alphonso Jackson
Ernest, HUD spends millions of dollars to advertise its properties through several Management and Marketing firms nationwide. That advertising is supplemented with several websites such as, and in late May, we will re-launch You’ll also see targeted HUD newspaper advertising in communities nationwide starting in June 2007. You can help also. Please spread the word to friends looking for good homes. Thanks for the question.

William, from Southern Pines, NC writes:
I am concerned about increased homeownership, especially among minorities. What has the President done over the past five years on this issue?

Alphonso Jackson
I’m glad you asked, William. In 2002, President Bush set a goal of creating 5.5 million new minority homeowners by the year 2010. We are already more than halfway to that goal, with nearly 3.5 million new minority families having become homeowners since the President issued his challenge. This is good news, but we can do better. HUD is stepping up its efforts to create better, safer and fairer housing opportunities for every American, particularly minorities, by looking at every aspect of the home buying process. Specifically, HUD has looked into traditional and non-traditional lenders, insurance companies, and agents to ensure the Fair Housing Act is not being violated.

In addition, HUD has enacted several initiatives to ensure that we meet President Bush’s goal by 2010 and help families stay in their homes. These initiatives include:

  • The American Dream Downpayment Initiative (ADDI) provides closing cost and downpayment assistance to low-income homebuyers. Since 2003 when it was created, the program has helped more than 21,000 low-income families with downpayment assistance, fifty percent of whom are minorities.

  • HUD’s Homeownership Voucher Program allows families with Section 8 vouchers to use their vouchers to help with mortgage payments. Families approved for the Section 8 homeownership vouchers can switch from rental assistance to mortgage assistance when they are ready to buy a house. Since the program’s inception in 2000, more than 7,500 former public housing residents have become homeowners. The President’s 2008 budget calls for additional funds to assist 10,000 additional families to become homeowners.

  • HUD’s Housing Counseling program educates potential homebuyers so that they better understand their housing rights, whether buying or leasing. An educated consumer is much less likely to be taken advantage of or to enter into overly expensive housing transactions. The President’s budget for FY 2008 proposes $50 million for housing counseling, which can help about 600,000 more families prepare financially for homeownership, get their credit scores in order, and learn how to avoid predatory lending and mortgage default.

  • HUD’s Federal Housing Administration is undergoing a historic transformation to give homebuyers who do not qualify for prime financing a better alternative to high-cost, high-risk loan products. Many of these types of non-traditional mortgages lead to high foreclosure rates. The Budget presented to Congress in February continues the legislative proposal to modernize the FHA's mortgage insurance program so that tens of thousands of potential homebuyers have access to a safer financing tool.

  • Specific to Native Americans, HUD offers the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program (Section 184), which is designed to offer homeownership, property rehabilitation, and new construction opportunities for eligible tribes, Indian Housing Authorities and Native American individuals and families wanting to own a home on trust land or land located in an approved Indian or Alaska Native area.

Anne, from Gladstone, MO writes:
When was the Fair Housing Act passed and what is the purpose of the legislation? Thanks

Alphonso Jackson
Hi, Anne. The Fair Housing Act, which was enacted in April 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. A top priority of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is creating equal housing opportunities for every resident of this nation. One of the primary ways HUD accomplishes this goal is by aggressively enforcing the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. In Fiscal Year 2006 (October 2005-October 2006), HUD received more than 10,000 fair housing complaints, the highest number ever received in a single year. Forty percent of the complaints alleged race discrimination, while 40 percent alleged discrimination based on disability.

Joe, from Odessa, Texas writes:
What is Fair Housing Month?

Alphonso Jackson
Thanks for the question, Joe. Used to create awareness, Fair Housing Month is designed to educate individuals about the rights they have under the Fair Housing Act, and to promote the principles of equal opportunity in housing to those in the housing industry (realtors, landlords, property managers, etc.). This month marks its 39th Anniversary, which coincides with the month the law was passed, April 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to deny housing based on familial status, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, and sex.

Michael, from NYC writes:
While the rest of the country is supposedly in a down-market regarding available real estate and mortgaging solutions, here in NYC, the prices continue to skyrocket, while wages continue to drop. With the predatory practices of adjustable mortgage rates, so-called reverse mortgages, and other practices targeting only lower to middle class families (and even minority upper class families), what is the Federal Government doing to help us regular Americans obtain an opportunity to own our own home? Are we supposed to move away from the decent paying jobs, as the housing around same are unaffordable, or should we quit looking for better employment opportunities, accept lower wages and then petition the government to help pay for our rent? While there is plenty of help out there for minorities (upper classes), white women, business owners and other particular matters, what programsexist that help first-time home buyers, REGARDLESS OF RACE, ETHNICITY or GENDER?

Alphonso Jackson
Thanks for the question, Michael. HUD is working to enforce the fair lending provisions of the Fair Housing Act against lenders who redline (which refers to predatory lenders who refuse to lend in certain neighborhoods, zip codes and blocks), the practice of steering (which refers to unscrupulous realtors who refuse to show properties in certain neighborhoods), subprime lenders who gouge certain racial and ethnic groups as well as those with disabilities, and predatory lenders who target particular populations. HUD is especially concerned about the high number of defaults and foreclosures associated with loans that come with excessively high costs, and is proactively investigating lenders who violates the law.

To provide families, an alternative to risky mortgages, HUD is making reforms to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and urging Congress to pass legislation that brings the FHA up to date with today’s lending practices. Right now, too many families have been steered toward predatory lenders because the FHA has been priced out of the market in many areas of the nation, including California and the Northeast and in places like New York City. If Congress passes FHA modernization legislation to increase loan limits and make the downpayment requirement more flexible, the FHA will be able to help many more minority families, first-time homebuyers, and families with less than perfect credit find a home and avoid foreclosure.

Also, you might be interested to know that the FHA goes above and beyond to help families with FHA-insured loans stay in their homes. The FHA’s successful lending relief program helped 75,000 families avoid foreclosure last year, and has already helped another 36,000 this year.

Chester, from St. Peters Missouri writes:
What has HUD done to protect properties leased to your clients? Properites are inspected before clients move in, are they inspected after clients move out? And if not why?

Alphonso Jackson
That’s a great question, Chester. Generally speaking, the HUD Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspects properties no less than every three years depending on the condition of the previous individual project. Any project with a condition score below 80 is inspected annually; between 80 - 89 semi-annually; 90 and above every three years. The process includes interior inspections of a portion of units. The number of units inspected is determined by a statistically valid sampling methodology based on the size of the project.

In addition to the HUD inspections, the agreement with the third party contract administrators requires that they inspect the dwelling units at least annually to assure that decent, safe, and sanitary housing accommodations are being provided, which would include interior inspections on a sampling of units.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
Why was your Department created?

Alphonso Jackson
Hi, Michael. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration to stimulate the housing market during the depression. Then, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 to spur economic growth and help families who were down on their luck to find homes at an affordable price. The Department’s mission has remained the same for the past 42 years – to increase homeownership, support community development and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination. There have been 13 Secretaries of HUD, including four African Americans and two Hispanic Americans.

John, from Texas writes:
It would seem to be an opportune time while people are rebuilding housing in New Orleans that there should be new building codes for houses in the US. For instance are energy efficiency and alternative energy like solar power going to be part of our housing future? Can you imagine what good could happen if every house that was rebuilt in New Orleans were self-sufficient energywise?

Alphonso Jackson
Great question, John, and I do think the “green building” trend is not just the future, but part of the present. Earlier this year, President Bush signed an executive order (EO 13423) to make the Federal government become more energy efficient, use renewable energy, reduce water consumption and to implement other environmentally-friendly technologies in its operations. At HUD, we have begun to do just that and we are exploring ways to help our grantees build “greener” projects. We intend to rebuild the housing projects in New Orleans in the most environmentally sustainable way possible, just as we have with other Public Housing Authorities. It makes good fiscal sense, saves the taxpayers money and it’s better for the environment; a win-win all around.

Ericka, from Petaluma, California writes:
Mr. Jackson, I reside in Northern California and I am disappointed to find that there is still housing discrimination throughout this region. How does our Goverment expose and penalize those individuals that are in violation? Some places will tell you it's available over the phone and when they see you in person tell you it's not. Is there anyway to determine if they have indeed rented a unit out in such a short time frame without infringement of another individuals rights (if in fact it is true)?

Alphonso Jackson
I’m disappointed in the amount of discrimination that goes on today, too, Ericka. The biggest challenge to effective enforcement of the law is that a lot of people who experience discrimination don’t know options that they have. For example, if you are Hispanic and visit an apartment building seeking a place to live, the building manager may nicely tell you that the apartment you asked about has already been rented. What that person may not know is that a white person who visits later that day could be told that the apartment is still available. That is discrimination. Our studies show that this happens all too often, but the average person wouldn’t necessarily recognize it.

If you suspect a landlord has told you a false story, report it to us — call 1-800-669-9777. We can send matched pair testers, posing as equally qualified applicants, and see whether those apartments are still available. That kind of evidence is the most valuable evidence in proving discrimination.

Tony, from Louisville, KY writes:
Given the extreme housing shortage in New Orleans, why is HUD tearing down public and assisted housing that can be repaired?

Alphonso Jackson
Every American deserves an opportunity to achieve the American dream; New Orleans public housing residents deserve no less. They deserve something better than the crime-ridden, gang-infested, crumbling buildings that always seem to make their way into the headlines. We need neighborhoods where families can thrive, and the next generation has hope.

That has been the basic premise behind the movement in recent years in urban centers across the country to replace public housing projects with mixed-income developments. Successes have been achieved in Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities across the U.S.

New Orleans public housing had also been undergoing its own historic transformation, in places like the Fischer redevelopment...until Katrina hit.

These projects have worked because, despite the stereotype, the vast majority of public housing residents -- in New Orleans and elsewhere -- are law-abiding citizens who only want and/or need decent housing.

But Hurricane Katrina made a bad situation even worse for New Orleans public housing. For decades, these properties suffered from neglect; many were over 70 years old and had serious maintenance problems. In fact, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) had done such a poor job of managing their properties, including being unable to account for millions in taxpayers dollars, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was forced to take over HANO in 2002 - long before Katrina struck the city.

At that time, a decision was made, after talking to community leaders, to redevelop the city's public housing and replace it with a mixture of public housing, affordable rental housing and single-family homes, as well as rent-to-own opportunities for public housing residents to own their own homes. These mixed-use and mixed-income projects have improved the community by breaking up concentrations of destitution and crime.

Since 2002, HUD has redeveloped half of the city's largest public housing complexes. Every one of these residents has either been given a new place to live in the redeveloped property or has been given a voucher; when Katrina struck, we were making progress toward the redevelopment of B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete, and we had begun the planning process at Lafitte and St. Bernard.

Given the massive displacement of residents throughout the city due to the storm's destruction of so many homes, we re-evaluated our redevelopment plans for the remaining projects because we realized the urgent need for any and all housing. However, after careful environmental and economic review, it was simply made no sense to restore these dilapidated projects that now had even more serious problems, including mold. Redevelopment made the most sense in 2002 and it still makes the most post-Katrina.

In the meantime, HUD has been working to repair the storm-damaged units that are fixable and can be inhabited. Residents want to come home, and we are doing everything we can to help those who want to return to do so. Almost half public housing units that were occupied and affected by the disaster have been repaired and can be lived in. Over 1,200 families have already come back to New Orleans or will be coming back within the next 90 days to occupy these units. HUD has a team working alongside HANO staff in New Orleans contacting these families and making arrangements for their return as units are fixed and ready for occupancy. But just fixing up old units and putting residents back into the same community and its myriad of problems is not a good long-term solution.

Ron, from Washington DC writes:
I have a son that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with other mental complications. Is their a HUD plan that can assist him in gaining a home since his capabilities of earning resources is limited.

Alphonso Jackson
Housing that is available and accessible to persons with disabilities is a cornerstone of America's disability policy -- from the Fair Housing Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal regulations and state initiatives have enabled people with disabilities to have access to public housing and greater opportunities to live in the home of their choice. Please contact your local HUD office at (202) 275-9200 to see if they locate a suitable housing alternative for you and your son.

Fred, from Irvine, CA writes:
Hi, Secretary Jackson: Thanks for your government service. What do you think of the various laws now popping up that will penalize landlords for renting to undocumented aliens? Fred

Alphonso Jackson
The Fair Housing Act does not address (or apply to) how one entered this country or what one's citizenship status is today. Citizenship status is an immigration issue. The Fair Housing Act protects every resident of this country from housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status. This protection is provided to everyone, without regard to whether he/she is a citizen. So, for example, if a person alleges a landlord would not rent to him because he uses a wheelchair, he can avail himself of the Fair Housing Act, whether he is a citizen or not. The law is triggered anytime any resident encounters discrimination on one of the seven bases I described above. The law does not prohibit a landlord from screening applicants or tenants based upon citizenship status, but if he/she does, he/she must apply that same criteria to every applicant or tenant, regardless of nationality (race, sex, etc.).

Tony, from Louisville, KY writes:
What Congressional Act authorized the creation and construction of the Fair Housing Training Academy in Washington, DC?

Alphonso Jackson
Congress approved the creation of The National Fair Housing Training Academy under the Fair Housing Assistance Program, or FHAP. Each year, under FHAP, Congress provides a budget and direction for 107 state and local agencies that assist HUD in enforcing our nation’s fair housing laws.

Gabriel, from Warwick, RI writes:
Mr. Secretary: Are there safeguards being discussed or developed in lieu of the disasterous amounts of bankruptcies that will occur from the interest-only lending practices of the past 5 years? Could it cripple our economy?

Alphonso Jackson
Thanks for the question, Gabriel. The fundamentals of our economy remain strong. Minority homeownership is up, incomes continue to rise, and interest rates are much lower than the double digit rates of the 1980's. Certainly, the last thing I want is for families to experience financial hardships by losing their home to foreclosure. They can avoid loan default by going to a housing counselor and learning more about the array of safe mortgage choices that are available, including through the Federal Housing Administration, which is part of HUD. It is absolutely imperative that before anyone signs a mortgage document, they should read the fine print - because what you see is not always what you get.

Alphonso Jackson
Thanks to everyone who participated today. I hope that my responses were helpful. If you want to lean more about how HUD administers and enforces our federal housing laws and ensures all Americans have equal access to housing, visit our website at Again, if you know someone who feels they might have been the victim of housing discrimination, please encourage them to contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

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