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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.

Today's guest: Mel Martinez, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez
June 2, 2003

Mel Martinez
Good Afternoon Everyone, I am very happy to be joining you in "Ask the White House" this afternoon to talk about Homeownership Month and the importance of homeownership in people's lives and positive benefits for communities. I am looking forward to taking your questions.

James, from Portland writes:
Mr. Secretary, what would you do your housing development agenda for the next seven years? Goals? Objectives? What is the benefit from the loan rate? and land tax? Muchas gracias.

Mel Martinez
Since I became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development we have focused on four priorities: expanding homeownership, especially among minorities; improving access to affordable housing, free from discrimination; strengthening communities, with a special focus on ending chronic homelessness; and addressing the internal management issues that I inherited at HUD.

I am happy to say that in the last two years, HUD is closer to meeting its promise of becoming an agent of empowerment, compassion and opportunity. Our work is guided by our determination to make government more responsive and accountable, with an insistence on measurable results. I am happy with the progress and I am eager to continue our hard work.

Kim, from Oklahoma writes:
How will the President's tax cuts affect HUD's goals for home ownership?

Mel Martinez
Kim, The President’s tax cut will help stimulate the economy. It will enable people to be able to buy homes.

Lance, from Bellevue writes:
Being a Cabinet Secretary must take a lot of your time. How do you balance all the time it takes in service to the President and your country with time you can spend with your family and friends?

Mel Martinez

It’s hard but family is important to me and I make every effort to spend as much time as possible with them.

Sandy, from Baltimore writes:
As a Floridian, do you have any thoughts on the University of Miami joining the ACC? Should they stay in the Big East or come join the Big Boys?

Mel Martinez
I think they should join the ACC. As a Seminole we have to play them every year anyway and it will give Miami a real conference to be a part of.

Lincoln, from Patterson NJ writes:
How has the President's faith-based work impacted the work you do at HUD?

Mel Martinez
We at HUD have the largest faith-based office in the government. We are really proud to be a big part of that initiative. And we find, each and every day, that there are more organizations at the local level that are finding it possible to partner with us to do the things they do in their communities.

Blanca, from N. Richland Hills, Texas writes:
Secretary Martinez: If there is three major points you would want to make to Hispanic youth all over the country to inspire them to stay in school and become the achievers we all know they can be, what would those major points be? Thank you so much for all you and the Bush Administration are doing!! The President has shown the world what a good leader he is and has surrounded himself with a wonderful cabinet.

Mel Martinez
Thank you for your confidence in this Administration. Hispanic youth staying in school is a real passion for me because education allowed me to achieve the things that I've been able to do in my own life. None of which would have been possible without it. Staying in school ought to be the number one priority of the Hispanic child and all of his/her family.

The greatest gift they can give their parents in thanks for all that parents do for their children would be to see them graduate which will open doors for them and for their families.

The longer you stay in school, the more successful you will be and the more earning power you will have.

Alex, from NY writes:
With rising costs, what is being done to make property more affordable to buy?

Mel Martinez
First of all, the President has a proposal to give tax credits to developers who build affordable homes -- the single family affordable housing tax credit. It is before the Congress and if approved would encourage the development of 200,000 affordable homes per year. Over five years this results in $2.4 billion in tax credits. Additionally, the home program which provides money from HUD to the states to help in the construction of affordable housing received a budget increase of $113 million this year -- proposed in the 04 budget -- which will provide a total of $2.1 billion to states and local governments to build affordable housing.

Maria, from Nashville writes:
What progress has been made on minority homeownership?

Mel Martinez
The President has made the top priority at HUD the provision of more affordable housing for minorities. We are happy to have a partnership of the public and private sector which was launched by the President in October. This new effort is already paying dividends and our goal, which is to close the gap, between the majority and minority homeownerships rates in the country and it is being closed through a variety of strategies like: American Dream Down Payment Assistance fund which is pending before the Congress which will provide down payment assistance to first time home buyers and the expansion of home ownership education programs

Paul, from Charlestown, West Virginia writes:
As a victim of predatory lending, I am concerned that something be done about this despicable practice. What can you do, SPECIFICALLY, to rectify this problem?


Mel Martinez
Paul, bank regulators have a lot to do with attacking predatory lending but we at HUD are doing all we can to deal with predatory lending as it relates to housing.

We have taken measures like an anti-flipping rule which forbids a flipping of property where a lot of abuse by predatory lenders takes place. But most of all, also through education so that people in the market are better educated consumers.

And lastly but just as importantly we have increased funding for enforcement by HUD of people who violate the rules.

Jane, from San Diego writes:
I know that you were one of the Peter Pan * children I hope I am using that term the right way - how has that experience shaped the way you see your role serving President Bush?

Mel Martinez
It shaped my life and made me appreciate the value of freedom. The 14 thousand + children who were a part of that humanitarian effort were given the gift of freedom by people who cared enough to make a difference in our lives. I have always felt a great debt to give back in an effort to pay back those who made such a difference in my life.

* Moderator

Secretary Martinez was one of more than 14,000 Cuban children sent to find freedom in the U.S. as part of a relief operation that later became known as Operation Pedro Pan. The operation . the largest refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere -- resulted from the growing desperation many Cuban parents felt in the 1960s, as the Castro regime drove families from their homes, seized businesses, and closed churches and religious schools. Parents who wanted their children to grow up in freedom made the great sacrifice of sending them to live in the U.S., where government and religious agencies cared for them. Many, although certainly not all, were eventually reunited with their families in America.

Operation Pedro Pan was named for Peter Pan, the free-spirited character in the James Barrie play who could fly anywhere he wanted.

Kim, from Western Kentucky writes:
Hi, Is Habitat for Humanity part of the Self-Help Homeownership Program SHOP? How do you see the SHOP program expanding in the future? Thank you!

Mel Martinez
Habitat is a part of SHOP. We believe in it greatly. In the 04 budget, we asked for the largest increase ever -- $65 million to fund the SHOP program. Tomorrow, I will be building a Habitat house here in the Washington area kicking off our national home ownership month.

George, from Florida writes:
What are you doing to enforce the Fair Housing Act?

Mel Martinez
We just finished Fair Housing Month (April) where we emphasized the problems that still exist in America with people having problems with discrimination and housing. HUD has always been charged with the responsibility of enforcing the fair housing laws. We take this responsibility very seriously. In partnership with the Ad Council we have initiated a series of ads that will highlight for people the problems in housing discrimination. Where there are problems we want to know, because we will prosecute and pursue with great vigor.

The President's commitment in this area is so strong that this year's budget request is the largest ever in the area of fair housing.

Rebecca, from West Virginia writes:
Mr. Martinez, how did you come to be the secretary of Housing and Urban development? Do you like being in the White House with the President? I know I would. smile

Mel Martinez
The President asked me to do it -- that's how it happened. I was asked by the President to join his cabinet. It was an incredible thrill and privilege and every day I enter the White House I am always in awe of the history of the place and the symbol of democracy it is for the world.

Donna, from Spokane writes:
I know this administration has done a lot of work on increasing the amount of minority home ownership in our country - but as a low-income, non-minority what have you done to increase home ownership for the entire population?

Mel Martinez
All of the programs that we employ to increase homeownership -- they help people irrespective of race or gender. We usually emphasize the minority aspect of it because there is such a gap of the home ownership rates between the majority and minority communities. So whatever programs we have available to help people become homeowners, they are available to you. Good question.

King, from Mars writes:
Greetings Mr. Secretary

Although there are no humans on Mars at present, I would like to invite the human race to consider Mars as an ideal location for a vacation home or just a place to get away from it all.

Would you consider offering incentives to those who might want to build a home on Mars? I'll tell you, it is a beautiful place and oh, let me tell you, there is nothing like Autumn on Mars.

And please don't tell me that you are looking at Venus first.


King Bloop Zod

Mel Martinez
Dear King,

Your problem is one that does not appear to be housing. I think you are doing great at promoting tourism but affordable housing in America is more of my concern. Good luck in your endeavors.

Mel Martinez
Thanks. This was a lot of fun. It was great having a chance to talk to such a diverse audience. I hope to have a chance to communicate this way again and I really appreicate the interest in housing which is so vital to the American dream. For more information on housing, you can reach us at or

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