(Photos: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters; Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
The National Action Network’s annual convention opened its doors to a host of Obama Administration officials. So many that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan joked about moving Cabinet meetings to the conference’s location in downtown D.C.
Donovan and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson outlined the administration’s goals and how the president’s policies have affected communities of color. They both spoke with the kind of heightened energy and urgency that only an election year can bring.
On this day, they were not just the nation’s top authorities on housing and the environment, they also functioned as Obama campaign surrogates, making the case for why the audience of 400 civil-rights supporters and advocates should give President Obama another shot this fall.
Donovan detailed efforts to keep more people, particularly African-Americans, in their homes.
“Today, six million more families kept their homes because of progress to help them modify their loans. We’ve added four million more jobs over the last two years and counting. But the president knows that the work is not done until every family is part of that progress,” Donovan said.
He talked about the administration’s historic $25 billion settlement with banks that targeted underserved communities with sub-prime loans. “We told them to help the homeowners that you harmed, and keep them in their homes. So now those banks are forced to pay billions of dollars for housing counseling and services,” Donovan said.
Homeowners with Federal Housing Authority loans have seen their mortgage fees slashed as a result of new guidelines.
“Sixty percent of African-Americans got an FHA loan last year and thanks to the changes the president made, they have an added $3,000 a year that can mean the difference between paying tuition for a child and a dream deferred,” Donovan said.
Donovan also talked about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is aimed at renewing urban communities. “Because African-Americans bore the brunt of this crisis, these dollars are twice as likely to be targeted to African-American neighborhoods as other groups,” he said.
Donovan wrapped his speech with a direct appeal to the audience to spread the news about what the president has done. “If you’re marching backwards, ain’t nothing gonna change and that’s the choice we have before us this year,” said Donovan.
The EPA's Jackson re-enforced Donovan’s plea for support by highlighting efforts to make environmental justice a priority and the toll that pollution takes on underserved communities.
“Consider the fact that heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease are the top fatal illnesses and all three are linked to pollution in our air and water,” she said.
Jackson talked about the administration’s attempt to treat the environment as a health issue, economic issue and a moral issue. “If we want true equality, we can’t let the harmful effects of the environment fall so heavily on African-American communities," she said. "And we are working to develop environmental protections that do reach all communities.”
Jackson discussed new mandates requiring government programs and agencies to address environmental justice disparities and look at the impact of their decisions on vulnerable communities.
“There are some who feel in order to move forward, we can sacrifice our environment. But we know better and if we are going to fulfill our promise we have to do more,” she said.
At the conclusion of the speeches, the audience offered a standing ovation; an indication that the message delivered by the two representatives of the White House was well-received.
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