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Celebrating the work of NHC and our members

Remarks of David M. Dworkin at the 2023 National Housing Conference Housing Visionary Awards Gala

Good evening! What a beautiful night to spend time together and celebrate the work of three of our exceptional colleagues.

Tonight’s celebration would not be possible without the generous support of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Rocket Mortgage and the National Multifamily Housing Council. You have stood with us over many years – through thick and thin and have helped us celebrate the brightest lights of housing. Thank you.

Last month, we were in Memphis to celebrate the second anniversary of the Black Homeownership Collaborative, where we launched an extraordinary new mortgage affordability calculator on the 3by30 website.

The Black Homeownership Collaborative is one of NHC’s most important initiatives, bringing together prominent leaders in civil rights and affordable housing to create 3 million net new Black homeowners by the end of 2030. We convened at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Motel. As you can imagine, it was a moving and inspirational reminder of how important this work is, and how much so many sacrificed on its behalf.

As I looked into the room where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his last night, and the balcony where he drew his last breath, I thought, if he were here today and asked me, how we are doing with his legacy, I would be embarrassed.

While we have made important progress, we have so far to go to realize his vision, his dream. He knew how hard it would be. He told us many times throughout the last year of his life as he grappled with the challenge of housing discrimination and genuine economic opportunity.

“We’ve fought across the South, in various struggles to get rid of legal, overt segregation and all of the humiliation that surrounded that system of segregation,” he said.

“But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality, and it’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good, solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in safe, sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine quality integrated education a reality.”

Recalling the fierce, often violent opposition he faced in Chicago and Boston, he said he was “convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now.”

Those of you who we honor tonight, and so many of you here, understand this challenge because you are committed to this harder work; committed to going “all the way.”

Just last week, our colleagues at UnidosUS launched a bold initiative to transform the economic trajectory of Latino families through homeownership. The Home Ownership Means Equity initiative will advance systemic change to enable the creation of four million new Latino homeowners by 2030. We are honored to be a trusted ally in this initiative and to work in partnership so everything we learn in the Black Homeownership

Collaborative has the broadest impact for everyone who has yet to be well served by the nation’s housing ecosystem.

Of course, homeownership isn’t the only path to economic stability. We don’t have nearly enough affordable rental housing. Since our founding in 1931, we have been steadfastly committed to creating safe, quality affordable rental housing. Today, we are laser focused on enactment of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which can create over 2 million affordable units over ten years. This legislation has strong bipartisan support and will pass if policy makers actually make it their top priority.

We are also engaged in regulatory reform initiatives to make the programs we already have on the books more effective. No one should have to avoid accepting housing choice vouchers because of bureaucratic costs or pay tens of thousands of dollars in so-called development fees that discourage or reduce the production of affordable housing.

As I have often said, opposition to affordable housing is the last bastion of bipartisan politics. We have seen it in blue states as well as red ones, as we most recently saw so vividly demonstrated in New York. If you don’t want affordable housing in your backyard, you’re going to have homeless people living in your front yard.

At a recent luncheon at the Capitol with a dozen young Members of Congress I was asked, what can we do to make a difference right now without waiting years.

My answer was simple.  Nothing.  It took years to get into this situation and it will take years to get out of it.  If we focus our efforts on quick fixes, we will delay success even longer.

This work is not simple, especially in the economic environment we’re in today. Thousands of our colleagues have lost their jobs as high interest rates have crushed mortgage origination volume. We all have had to make hard choices, and will likely continue to have to make them. It’s easy to say, this work is too hard and it’s not the time to commit scarce resources to it. Yet, you have, and you do, and here we are.

Today, the largest opportunity to survive this challenging economy is to build more housing for renters and homeowners, and expand homeownership for those who remain underserved. That’s where the opportunity is for everyone.

And that’s what we are here to do – to work with you, and leverage your efforts, and build unlikely coalitions, and make a difference that is tangible, measurable and impactful. That’s what and who we are honoring today – people who go all the way. And we honor them because it reaffirms the qualities that made them successful so we can be successful too.

So, to Lisa Rice – our moral compass, my North star; Susan Dewey, our trailblazer and my innovation sensei, and Doug Bibby, who has consistently stepped up to be a true ally and was there on my first day in the field of affordable housing 30 years ago – thank you.

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