I was one of five children raised by a single mother. As with 75% of families headed by a single mother, we did not own our home. We lived in a three-bedroom shotgun, where the kitchen table was the only table in the entire house. It was a struggle to sit at that table – it is where we ate, where my mother corralled all the papers and bills that come with raising a family, and where I did my homework –lots of homework.
Just as I often had to fight for a spot at our family table, I realized quickly that if I wanted an education, if I wanted to open doors closed unfairly to so many, I would also have to fight for my spot at that table.
I stand before you as proof of what we can accomplish when we have access to the right resources. I stand before you as the Deputy Director of a federal agency that oversees an industry where only 9% of executives are women and just a fraction is of Hispanic descent.
We are often led to believe that the inspiration to pursue an education, attend college, or chart a career path is innate to oneself. The truth is – passions and pursuits are cultivated – a seed must be planted, watered, and showered with sunlight before it takes root and grows on its own. A loving family, a teacher who cares, a mentor who sees your potential, a sponsor who opens the door – these are not things everyone is fortunate enough to always experience, but they are the things that fertilize seeds and enhance growth. For those of us who have lived these life-altering experiences – we must be committed to facilitating access to opportunities and building support for the generations that follow.
That support structure starts with a home. I grew up not far from colonias – rural communities without adequate water, sewage, or housing. For those who have never visited the U.S.-Mexico border, it may be hard to imagine a favela in our backyard, but there they are, and they are full of people focused on survival. And it is exceedingly hard to thrive in your education or work if your mind is in survival mode.
I reference colonias because one of my first jobs was working with my Congressman to obtain Community Development Block Grants for the colonias. Congress ultimately assigned a modicum of CDBG grants to the area, and I knew then that so much more was needed to build, support, and facilitate access for communities historically overlooked or ignored. I also knew that I could be part of pressing for such an outcome. In short, I knew I needed to get them a seat at the table.
The collapse of the housing market in 2007 wrecked many lives and devastated communities around the country. Latino homeowners were some of the hardest hit. For those who received mortgages between 2005 and 2008, over 7% lost their homes to foreclosure. Thousands of families had been sold the American Dream, and just as soon as they moved in, the welcome mat was pulled out from under them.
At the CFPB – right at the outset – we were committed to ensuring that the sparks that triggered the implosion of the housing market did not repeat. With the word “Consumer” in our name, one thing I knew to be true was that we must be a stakeholder-driven agency. The CFPB would not just listen to what one party said and accept it as Gospel, nor would we pat consumers on the head and assume we alone could take care of their interests. We were going to listen to consumers, homeowners, those who had suffered foreclosures, communities and the advocacy groups that supported them. We were also going to listen to industry players who believe in serving customers and not merely profiting off them.
When the Bureau began developing the Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgage Rule, my number one priority was bringing you all to the table. We needed civil rights groups, advocacy organizations, and realtor associations, particularly those that advocated for communities of color. And our work paid off – we crafted a rule that ensured families of color were not set up for failure by financial entities unconcerned with the names and faces behind the mortgage paperwork. Each one of us here tonight and all the others that worked on the ATR-QM rule, including hundreds at the CFPB – we reset the future for millions of families and helped foster a housing market where mortgages and wealth are more secure and children do not have to worry where they will sleep at night. We helped implement a structure that will allow more parents and children to excel in school and in work, and, in turn, they will help form a stronger and more diverse workforce to fill boardrooms and C-suites.
I am grateful for this moment of recognition and the opportunity to acknowledge that our work is not done yet. Among other areas, we are focusing our attention on housing in post-pandemic markets. Under Director Chopra, we have redoubled our efforts to end redlining and punish offenders. We are also increasing our research of algorithms and machine learning to understand how these technologies affect fair lending outcomes. We will not allow lawbreakers to limit the dream of homeownership. And we will not allow algorithmic bias to be a proxy for human bias.
Thank you NAHREP for this award, it is an honor to be here tonight, and I look forward to continuing our work together.