Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hispanic Homeownership at a Crossroads

HISPANICS and other minorities in America face a significant housing crisis today. While Hispanic homeownership is at its all-time high approximately 47 percent of Hispanic heads of households own their homes the rate still lags behind their white counterparts, who enjoy a 76 percent homeownership rate.

According to a recently released study, "The Roof Over Our Heads," by Esperanza USA, Hispanics are also more likely to pay more than half of their household income on housing expenses than their white counterparts and face a higher rate of home-mortgage denial.

Esperanza USA, the largest Hispanic faith-based community-development corporation in the country, is intimately involved with serving housing needs for Hispanic communities and creating infrastructure needed to support strong neighborhoods. Through mortgage counseling, financial literacy and capacity building programs, we see firsthand the increased challenges faced by first-time Hispanic homeowners.

All prospective homeowners face challenges when purchasing a home: credit scores, ability to save for closing costs and down payments; and access to affordable housing. These problems are exacerbated for Hispanics. Esperanza's recent study found that while the number of mortgages approved for Hispanics families increased 236 percent from 1993 to 2003, Hispanics still have lower mortgage-approval rates than non-Hispanic Whites; the median income of Hispanic homeowners is far lower than that of whites; and the nation's Hispanic population is also disproportionately concentrated in relatively expensive urban-housing markets, such as Los Angeles and New York City.

Fortunately, there are organizations in this country working hard to make the dream of affordable homeownership a reality for more Americans, specifically government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These fundamental financial institutions play a critical role in helping minorities to secure affordable mortgages.

By creating secondary markets, bank capital is freed to provide more loans. Although low-income loans are a minute percentage of the total market, the greater the amount of available capital, the greater number of loans can be issued for low-income homeowners.

Congress is considering reforms that would severely compromise the positive and significant roll Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae play in increasing minority homeownership opportunities. We are all aware of the accounting problems that faced these two entities. While all GSEs should be held to accurate reporting standards and strict accounting principles, it is critical to note that none of the accounting problems go to the core stability and purpose of the organizations. They remain well-positioned to continue to serve the mortgage market.

Politics is nothing if not the law of unintended consequences. Great care is needed not to reverse recent increases in minority homeownership, especially those of Hispanic Americans. Congress must keep the basic principles of the government-sponsored enterprises in tact when addressing the overall reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Targeted reforms rather than sweeping policy changes should be the order of the day. A reckless approach to reform would be worse than no reform at all.

Should reform-minded lawmakers have an interest in increasing minority homeownership, I respectfully suggest Congress require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac direct 5 percent of their profits to purchase low-income mortgages. This amount is half of the Federal Home Loan (FHL) banks' current 10 percent requirement, a requirement that has released millions into the low-income markets. Requiring Freddie and Fannie to direct a percentage of their profits specifically for this purpose would unleash a new housing economic engine, increasing minority homeownership opportunities through the country's most efficient and effective market.

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the FHL banks serve as the financial backbone of America's housing market, providing the tools and programs necessary to help make homeownership affordable for millions of American families. Their continued strength represents a cornerstone of the efforts of Esperanza and other organizations like ours to improve the housing situation for minorities across the country.

The Rev. Luis Cortes Jr. is the president and CEO of Esperanza USA, the largest Hispanic faith-based community-development corporation in the country.

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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Politicians Prominent at Third National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast


c. 2004 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON –Hundreds of Latino clergy and lay people were greeted Friday (June 4) by Republican and Democratic leaders as the third National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast was held in an election year.

President Bush sent a message via video while other speakers – including Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Joe Lieberman, D-CT. spoke Scripture or a bit of Spanish live to the audience.

The president, who met with Pope John Paul II on the same day as the breakfast, used his video message to affirm Hispanics in general and their work with faith-based initiatives in particular.

"The pastors and leaders attending this breakfast are part of what I call the armies of compassion," Bush said. "You are living proof of the tremendous success we can have when we allow fair treatment of faith-based groups. I'll continue my commitment to the faith-based initiative so you can continue to receive federal support for your works of compassion."

Organized by Esperanza USA, a Philadelphia-based national Hispanic faith-based organization, the breakfast drew about 500 people from 20 states and a range of denominations. Esperanza USA has received millions of dollars in federal funding that has helped 150 Latino organizations with training and grants to expand their work.

Breakfast attendees were treated to eggs and muffins as well as bilingual prayers, Latin gospel music and political speeches.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL., praised President Bush for being outspoken about his faith.

"I don't know about you, but I don't think that's a problem," he said. "I think that's a wonderful thing, to have a president that talks about faith."

Evans cited economic advances by the administration to increase minority home ownership and decrease unemployment, but also touched on his belief that faith has influenced his life and the country.

"Our faith and our freedom both flow from the same source, our Creator," he said.

Lieberman _ who said a blessing in Hebrew, Spanish and English – attended the breakfast as a representative of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

"Only in America would an Irish-Catholic senator ask an Orthodox Jewish senator to represent him at a gathering of Hispanic Protestants," said the Democrat from Connecticut.

Clinton opened her remarks by declaring a verse from Psalm 118: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

She was among 70 members of Congress who were visited by delegations of Hispanic religious leaders the previous day.

"I believe we are called on to exercise our faith in visible ways so that others may see faith in action," she said.

She also spoke of being raised with knowledge of prayer and faith.

"Of course, having been in the White House for a few years, I would have become a praying person had I not gone in as one," she said, drawing applause.

Democrats and Republicans touched on issues of concern to the audience, from faith-based initiatives to immigration reform.

The Rev. Luis Cortés, president of Esperanza USA, urged members of Congress to pay particular attention to immigration.

"The immigration issue continues to be a problem," he said. "We need you to do something. We need you to respond to this human need – not a political need but a human need."

Hispanic Church Leaders Shy Away From Topic of AIDS in Community


c. 2004 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON –New research indicates Hispanic church leaders are trailing their religious colleagues and the general public in their understanding of HIV/AIDS and how to address it.

Preliminary findings for a report by the Center for the Study of Latino Religion, revealed at an annual gathering here capped by the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on Friday (June 4), showed many Hispanic church leaders view the disease primarily as a gay illness and don't consider it to be a church priority.

"Many people don't understand how AIDS is acquired, the complexity of ways it is acquired," said Edwin Hernandez, director of the center at the University of Notre Dame. "In our conversations, we found a lot of simplistic understanding of the disease."

Researchers said they found hesitancy among clergy to reveal their ignorance at training sessions with people more familiar with the disease.

The Rev. Luis Cortés is president of Esperanza USA, a national faith-based organization that unveiled Pacto de Esperanza (or Pact for Hope) last year to increase AIDS education among Hispanics.

"We're so far behind the general populace and the church in general when it comes to HIV education," said Cortés, whose Philadelphia-based organization sponsored the Notre Dame study. "In the last couple of decades, while everyone else was having education and prevention programs, they did not happen in our churches and in our communities in general."

His organization's Web site lists information on how Hispanic churches can "break the silence" about HIV/AIDS and calls HIV infection a leading cause of death for Latinos from ages 25 to 44.

Additional efforts are under way to help the Hispanic church community catch up with other AIDS initiatives.

Cortés traveled earlier this year to Africa with African-American leaders from Philadelphia to learn more about how AIDS is affecting that continent.

"Our major concern right now is Hispanic people in the U.S., but this is a global crisis and we need to see it as such," said Cortés, an American Baptist minister.

On Wednesday at a dinner focused on the AIDS issue, Esperanza USA honored three local Latino faith-based AIDS ministries that have been working in Cleveland, Miami and New York.

That same evening, Latin Grammy-winning artist Marcos Witt premiered a new song to draw attention to HIV/AIDS called "Hay Una Respuesta" (or "There is an Answer").

Witt said in an interview that he hopes the ballad will encourage people affected by AIDS and prompt greater involvement in addressing the disease.

"Hopefully, it'll spark a fire inside of people to say, `Hey, we can do something about this. Let's get going," Witt said.

The Notre Dame study, whose full results will be released this fall, includes a survey of 607 Chicago churches and information from focus groups with Latino religious leaders in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia. Researchers plan to create a directory of Latino religious organizations working on HIV/AIDS for those same five cities, Hernandez said.

Election 2004: Hispanic Vote

Election 2004: Hispanic Vote

Rev. Luis Cortes
8th Congressional District
Friday, June 4, 2004; 12:00 PM

On Friday U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, U. S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others will join over 500 Hispanic pastors from across the U.S. in the Third Annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. Hosted by Nueva Esperanza, Inc., the attendees will discuss the role of the Hispanic faith community both locally and nationally.

Rev. Luis Cortes, founder and president of Nueva Esperanza, discussed the role of Hispanics in the 2004 election and Friday's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Rev. Cortes, thank you for participating in this online session. My question involves the story published yesterday regarding an email sent by the Bush campaign to churches in Pennsylvania seeking their help in the election. The Bush campaign apparently wants to enlist members of "Friendly Congregations" to distribute campaign information and register voters at church. What is your position on the appropriate role for churches in politics, particularly involving advocacy for a specific candidate in an election?

Also, have hispanic churches been targeted by the Bush campaign as "Friendly Congregations"? If so, how does your organization advise congregations regarding participation in partisan politics, regardless of the political party involved?

Rev. Luis Cortes: Congregations are made up of individuals who are citizens. Each congregation has its own way of functioning as an institution, so if it is in the ethos of the congregation to be active in whatever social or political issue it becomes feasible for them to become politically involved. Both parties have supporters in all facets of the church and in all different faiths, so that in one sense it is part of the democratic process and congregations have a social right to decide how much political involvement they would have

I happen to know that both parties have interests in communicating with Hispanic congregations within the US and we advise our congregations to listen to all candidates, review the candidates as best they can, prioritize issues of importance and make whatever decision or pronouncement they choose to make. What Esperanza USA provides to congregations is a rubric that asks them to prioritize Latino agendas such as immigration, public school education, welfare reform, health care and issues of that nature that are more particular to Hispanic issues and communities.


Detroit, Mich.: What concerns does Nueva Esperanza want Kerry and Bush to address in this presidential campaign?

Rev. Luis Cortes: First and foremost is immigration: the need to clear up immigration law which today ranks second in complexity only to tax law, but it keeps many families divided unjustly.

Secondly, public education because our future is in our youth and we are very young people in this country in terms of age. The key for us to move out of poverty and be productive in our country rests in public education.

Thirdly would be issues of healthcare. Specifically we are over represented in diabetes, asthma, some particular cancers and HIV/AIDS.


Hunsterville, N.C.: It appears that Bush is holding his own with Hispanics. How can this be when the vast majority of the GOP base would like nothing more than to see most Hispanics deported?

Rev. Luis Cortes:
President Bush because of his experience in Texas with the Hispanic community has been able to communicate with the Latino populous in the U.S. Hispanics in the U.S. challenge and transform the liberal-conservative black-white Republican-Democrat divide because we are morally and ethically conservative but socially and economically liberal as a people. We don't fit the prototypes of the two parties. As such there is opportunity for both parties to recruit. Every year there are over 800,000 new Hispanic voters. There are close to 10 million native born Hispanics under the age of 18.


San Diego, Calif.: How do you anticipate the Latino turnout to be on election day? How do your projections compare to past elections? In roughly what proportion do you expect them to vote for Kerry as opposed to Bush?

Rev. Luis Cortes: In the last election approximately 35 percent of the Latinos who voted, voted for George Bush - which was the highest that any Republican had ever gotten. My assumption is that he will maintain or increase that amount, but there will be many more Hispanics voting because I think voter turnout will be very high in this election.


Concord, N.H.: Rev. Cortes:

Thanks for taking our questions. I understand that you are Protestant and not Catholic. Nevertheless, given the large number of Catholic Hispanics, I am wondering how you and your organization view the calls by the Vatican and some American Bishops for Catholics to vote based on their faith -- at least on abortion, but not, apparently, on the death penalty or the war in Iraq.

Rev. Luis Cortes: We have studies that say that of the 40 million Hispanics in the US 8 million are protestant and there is a small percentage are other groups and the rest are Roman Catholic. I believe that every religious institution has a fundamental right to tell its constituency what to do. Each individual within that institution needs to examine their conscience and make a decision whether they are going to follow their faith leaders or their religious hierarchy. But fundamentally it is important to understand that all faith groups have the right to express their opinion and make any decrees about ethics and morality as they choose.


Columbus, Ohio: If John Kerry were to pick Bill Richardson as his Veep, how do you think the Latino community would respond to a latino on the ticket? Would Kerry garner more support and higher turnout than Gore did in 2000? And, do you think that any whites who would vote Democrat would withold their vote because of Richardson's presence on the ticket?

Rev. Luis Cortes: Obviously a Latino Vice Presidential candidate would excite the Latino community, so I believe it would excite the Democratic base in addition to which it might influence and bring over to the democratic party people who are undecided -- both Latino individuals and other progressives who are undecided. But of course there would be a small group who would be reactionary who probably would not vote at all.


Rochester, N.Y.: Will there be any vote in the near future for statehood for Puerto Rico?

Rev. Luis Cortes: There are two facets to an answer there. First of all there is an entire issue about who should make that decision. Currently it is Congress that would have to decide that through vote and in a very real sense there should be a referendum by the people of Puerto Rico to see what they desire. It is quite complicated because there are 3 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland of the US and there are many property owners and residence in Puerto Rican who are culturally not Puerto Rican. So who votes and how we decide is the first hurdle and obstacle in addressing that question.


Silver Spring, Md.: You said, "I believe that every religious institution has a fundamental right to tell its constituency what to do." What gives any human this right?

Rev. Luis Cortes: In the United States of American every citizen and every resident is guaranteed freedom of speech and religion. For Christian people we also believe in freedom of conscience therefore we believe that every human being has the freedom to express their opinions to others - not to impose them, but to share them - and every human being has a right to reject them.


Rev. Luis Cortes: First I want to thank everyone who shared a question and I hope I have been helpful in answering them. I do want people to know that the Hispanic community is an eclectic one. We do have things within our culture that make us unique - our food, language, we are morally and ethnically conservative, we are socially and economically liberal and we have high aspirations for our future in America. We are a hard working people. Per capita we have more small business than other communities. We are also a deeply religious people. A Pew Charitable Trust study showed that Hispanics are the most religious group in America -- we participate in more religious services than any other group. As a people of faith we look forward to our continued integration into American society. Thanks again for the opportunity to be on.

If anyone is interested in finding out out more about us please visit our Web site: Esperanza USA

© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive