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Mel Martínez: 1947—: Cabinet Secretary

Pledged To Fulfill Hud Aims

One goal Martínez hoped to achieve during his tenure was to improve minority home-ownership statistics. When he became HUD Secretary, figures showed that 72 percent of white households in United States owned their own home, compared with figures in the mid-40s range for blacks and Hispanics. "I'm not sure we can improve a whole lot on that 72 percent, but in that 45 to 46 percent, we darn sure can do better," Martínez told Nakashima in the Washington Post interview. In the spring of 2001 he and Attorney General John Ashcroft pledged to ensure that the landmark Fair Housing Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act of same year, was being upheld. At a news event, they reminded builders of the need to comply with regulations specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sounded a warning note to mortgage brokers who charge excessive fees to first-time, low income home buyers. The Bush Administration's two top officials in this realm stated that discrimination in any form would not be tolerated. Martínez said his own experience trying to settle Cuban refugees in the early 1980s in the Orlando area awakened him to discriminatory practices. At the time, he used his law background to help the refugees overcome the obstacles, and "fortunately we were able to get them a decent place to live," a writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Martínez as saying that day. "But I wonder how many powerless people are out there who may not have an advocate. That is who we need to serve."

Martínez also surprised some when he spoke at the annual convention of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America during his first year as HUD Secretary. He told his audience that consumers needed more protection regarding mortgage-industry fees, and urged the group to comply. "Too many home buyers are taken advantage of at closing," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News writer John Handley quoted Martínez as saying. "Too many American families sit down at the settlement table and discover unexpected fees that can add thousands of dollars to the cost of their loan." Martínez said that some of the mortgage paperwork should include an exact description of the mortgage broker's services, and how much the broker will earn on the deal. "When you are committing to the biggest financial expenditure of your life, you should know all the costs up front," he declared.

In early 2002 Martínez was instrumental in securing a $700 million grant for New York State from HUD's Community Development Block Grant program. The money was given to help in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, devastated by the attacks on the World Trade Center. "It's the largest single grant in the history of our department," Martínez told New York Times writer Robert Pear. "We worked hard to get it out as quick as we could. The focus is on economic development, with a particular emphasis on small business." Around the same time, the HUD Secretary also spoke before Budget Committee senators regarding the Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2003 budget. It included an increase for HUD's Section 8 program that would yield 34,000 new Section 8 rental-assistance vouchers, but there were an estimated one million families on a waiting list for them. The proposed budget would also earmark $150 million in federal funds for a program to help first-time low-income home buyers.

Martínez and his wife Kitty, whom he met in college, have three children and have become foster parents to Cuban and Vietnamese refugee children. His brother Rafael is also an attorney. Martínez believes he brings a unique perspective to HUD, one of the cabinet departments created during the mid-1960s by a civil-rights-minded political leadership. "I will try to be someone who shows a very caring heart, for people that are hurting, for people who may be homeless or in a less than desirable housing situation," he told the Washington Post's Nakashima. "I myself in my own life experienced what it's like not to have a lot, not to be in a position where you couldn't do without the help of others."


Bond Buyer, December 14, 2001, p. 5; January 23, 2002, p. 5; February 14, 2002, p. 5.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, October 28, 2001.

Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2000, p. A32.

Mortgage Banking, February 2001, p. 13.

Nation's Cities Weekly, March 12, 2001, p. 8.

New York Times, December 21, 2000; February 3, 2002, p. 32.

Orlando Business Journal, May 18, 2001, p. 1; October 5, 2001, p. 3.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 2001, p. A11.

St. Petersburg Times, January 17, 2001, p. 1A.

U.S. Newswire, September 17, 2001.

Washington Post, February 21, 2001, p. A21.

—Carol Brennan

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalMel Martínez: 1947—: Cabinet Secretary Biography - Cuban Refugee, Helped Bush Win Florida, Pledged To Fulfill Hud Aims