Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am grateful to be considered for the position of Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
I would like to acknowledge the members of my family who have joined me here: my husband, Felix Toledo and my daughter, Raquel. I would not be here today without their love, support, and understanding and before I get any further I want to assure my daughter that even as Assistant Secretary, I will continue to attend all of her Saturday soccer games.
I wish to thank President Clinton for nominating me for this position, and Secretary Cuomo for his leadership at the Department. In our short acquaintance I have learned that Secretary Cuomo's commitment to civil rights and fair housing is genuine and his expectations are as high as mine.
I would also like to thank the staff of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. They have already impressed me as one of the most committed and dedicated staffs in Government.
I come before you today having practiced law during my entire professional life. During that time, I have taken on genuinely challenging work, but none means as much to me as the opportunity to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. As an immigrant and a woman of color, I believe that I bring to this position an appreciation of America's promise of opportunity as well as an understanding of the realities of prejudice.
We are at a time of great possibility for our country. We are a nation at peace. Our economy is doing well. Unemployment is low, more Americans own their own homes than at any time in our history, and we are striving as a nation to move millions of Americans from dependence on social programs to self-sufficiency.
Despite our abundance, however, there continues to be a great gap between Americans at different ends of the social and economic spectrum. And for some, it may be an almost impossible challenge to move along that spectrum of opportunity - no matter how hard they work. The America my family experienced as new immigrants was a country where if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would have an opportunity for advancement.
I know well that no family can advance without good jobs, a sound education, and a safe and decent environment - all things which are determined to a great extent by where we live. That is why fair housing is so critical to our country's promise of equality, and that is why I wish to become the next Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing.
My personal upbringing makes me appreciate the importance of this position. When I was 11 years old, my father passed away, leaving behind a young widow with four small children. In a short time, we went from a comfortable middle-class existence to just getting by. Soon, we had to move from our family home to the only option we could afford -- public housing.
My mother took a job as a store clerk in the El Paso County Courthouse. It was in those years that I developed a great respect for the rule of law. My mother pointed to the lawyers and the judges, and recalled my father's words on the value of education, reminding me that if I worked and studied hard, 1, too, could find opportunity.
My family was very fortunate to have the option of living in public housing. However, as my only brother grew up, our concern grew. We lived in a development where crime and drugs were becoming more common. Without a father, it was becoming more difficult for Mother and I to direct my brother's interests away from peer pressure and temptation.
Around that time, a new public housing development opened in our community in South El Paso. This development consisted of detached homes in a different neighborhood. We applied for a house in this new community. Mother and I knew that it would be easier to protect my brother in the new environment, away from his friends.
Unfortunately, our family was not selected as new tenants for this development, and this became the first housing case I would argue. Of course, I was not yet a lawyer - in fact, I was only fourteen years old. But I did have a cause I believed in. I knew that if we couldn't escape the limited opportunities and social pressures of our environment my brother might never live out his full potential.
So, I pleaded my case with the manager of this development. I told him about my family's struggle to improve our lives and about our recent loss. I was passionate and persuasive, and achieved the desire result.
Our family continued to live in that new public housing development for well over ten years until after I had graduated from Harvard University. To us, the move away from the projects literally opened up the world. My brother, an El Paso Police Officer, is now counseling and, unfortunately sometimes arresting his former friends.
Our family's experience with public housing taught me that government can work for ordinary people, and that safe, affordable, and decent housing in a healthy environment makes all the difference in people's lives.
As Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, I will enable families like my own, and all Americans, including persons with disabilities and families with children, to fight discrimination in housing.
HUD's role was made clear last month when I met the victims of recent housing discrimination. One woman, an Italian American, received death threats when she showed an apartment to Affican Americans. Using the most vulgar terms possible, her own neighbors threatened to blow up her family and her home if she rented to a "n-word."
A young Hispanic man told of how his father-in-law offered to sell him his trailer home, but had to withdraw that offer when the park owner told him that a "greasy Mexican" was not welcome.
And a real-estate agent in Worcester, Massachusetts bravely blew the whistle on a firm she worked for, when the agency asked her to illegally code the applications of African Americans seeking to rent apartments from certain landlords.
These cases do not make the front page of the New York Times or result in million dollar settlements. But they are examples of the face of discrimination in America today, and for those people denied the right to live in the house or neighborhood of their choice because of someone else's bigotry, these events are transforming.
This is a critical time in our country. Through his Initiative on Race Relations, President Clinton commenced a dialogue on what we must do to come together as a Nation. But, the President knows that talk is cheap. Americans want their government to take action against discriminators. And President Clinton has taken the first step by directing that over the next four years, HUD double the number of its fair housing enforcement actions. While this is a daunting challenge, I strongly believe that now is the time to act, while our nation is at peace and many Americans are basking in the light of prosperity.
As a trial attorney and later a public official at the Department of Justice, I was responsible for directing many complex investigations and litigation matters. My role was to forcefully enforce the rights of Americans and secure the best interests of the United States. There, I learned the heavy responsibility inherent in balancing the rights of diverse interests in our country; and I learned to be selective and careful when bringing down the power of the Federal Government upon individual citizens. As a former trial and appellate lawyer, as a legal administrator, and as a policyrnaker, my experience has prepared me to address the complex issues involved in fair housing and to recommend sound and responsible policies that will be effective in combating discrimination and securing equal housing opportunity for all Americans.
I bring to this position the diversity of my own experiences and the empathy and understanding I have for people in all walks of life. I have worked on behalf of the poor and underprivileged, as well as for the largest and most prosperous corporations. I understand what it is like to motivate and manage hundreds of employees. I also understand at a personal level what it is to be an immigrants a foreigner, a minority, a woman, and to be trapped in poor housing, with low wages. I understand what it is like to work hard, and reap the rewards. Lastly, I understand that the position of Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity carries a heavy responsibility. If confirmed, I will be honored to accept this challenge.
Thank you for your consideration.
Home | Menu | Links | Info | Chairman's Page