Prepared Remarks of MBA 2021 Chairman Susan Stewart at the CREF21: Lending, Investing, Servicing and Technology Convention & Expo

Rob Van Raaphorst
(202) 557-2799

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 3, 2021) - Susan Stewart, MBA 2021 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at SWBC Mortgage Corporation, delivered the following remarks here today at MBA's CREF 21: Lending, Investing, Servicing and Technology Convention and Expo.

Good morning! My name is Susan Stewart. It's my privilege to serve as your MBA chair this year. Today, it's my pleasure to welcome you to CREF 2021. No matter where you are physically, I'm glad you're here virtually.  

This year, we've rolled 2 of our biggest and most important conferences into one. We're covering everything that matters to commercial and multifamily finance - lending, investing, servicing, technology, you name it. We'll focus on the things that matter most to you, so that by the time this conference ends, you're better prepared to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities throughout the year.  

The last year hasn't been easy for anyone in our industry, especially our commercial members. But the MBA has fought every step of the way to make sure you have the support and flexibility you need to serve your customers, preserve your business, and come through this crisis.  

You'll hear a lot about what we've done for you from others, especially MBA's president Bob Broeksmit. But for my part, I just want to say that a big reason MBA successfully advocated for you in 2020 was because of my predecessor. Brian Stoffers was the perfect leader during an imperfect time. Brian is well respected throughout the industry and we all benefited under Brian's leadership.  

I hear a lot of people say there's a big gulf between residential and commercial. But I don't buy it. I've come to see there's far more that unites us.  

We're all in the business of building vibrant communities.  

We all work hard to empower people to achieve their dreams.  

And we are all leaders who want to do the right thing.  

My main topic today touches on all three of these points - vibrant communities, empowering people, and our leadership role as members of this industry. It's something with huge implications for residential, commercial, and multifamily, and it's my main initiative for 2021. This year, the MBA is working harder than ever to expand minority homeownership and affordable rental opportunities.  

Here's why I chose this issue. The past year has shined a spotlight on injustice in America. I believe that promoting minority homeownership is the single best way for our industry to combat that injustice. Minority homeownership is the essential ingredient for the vibrant communities we all want.  

Certainly, minority homeownership is important to residential lenders like me.  

But minority homeownership is just as important to both commercial and multifamily.  

Helping minority buyers find homes isn't a one-and-done thing. It's a process with many steps along the way, and rental housing is significant stepping stone for some and a permanent solution for others. A lot of people aren't quite ready to buy a home, but if we want to help homeowners find the right home later, we have to help them find affordable rental housing now. And even if they don't want a house, they still deserve the best apartment possible. The American Dream takes many forms.  

Finally, minority homeownership matters a whole lot to commercial lenders. The home is the foundation of family wealth creation, which is the key to flourishing local economies. More people with affordable homes means more local commerce - from restaurants to retail and to local office space. Homes let families lead better lives, which leads to better and more vibrant communities in every respect.  

My point is that homeownership has a powerful effect on all of us - for better or for worse. And that's why all of us should be concerned about the current crisis of minority homeownership.  

Here are the facts. Nationally, the homeownership rate is around 65%. For whites, the rate is even higher, at around 73%. But Black homeownership rates are only 44%, which is close to its lowest level in 50 years. For Hispanics, the homeownership rate is hardly better, at 49%, and for Asians, it's 59%. And the situation is only going to get worse as the country's demographics continue to change.  

Behind these numbers are millions of families who've been pushed to the sidelines of the American Dream. They deserve better - and we must do better. MBA must lead the way toward stronger and more vibrant communities where everyone can thrive, whether they live in a house or an apartment.   

And I'm pleased to report that we're already making progress.  

The MBA has built a highly effective team, led by Steve O'Connor, that's completely focused on affordable housing. We've also created two advisory councils to help chart a path forward. The first is focused on affordable homeownership. The second is focused on affordable rental housing. Both bring together residential, multifamily, and commercial voices.   On the rental side, the recent focus has been on two fronts.

First, we're working to help renters affected by the pandemic.  The Council has been an invaluable source of ideas and feedback on different COVID relief efforts. It has also enhanced MBA's voice in policy discussions. In fact, it helped us obtain $25 billion in rental assistance in the last stimulus bill.

Second, the Council is developing a new rental housing production program that addresses the need for more workforce housing. It will release a concrete proposal this year. As Congress and the new administration develop their housing agendas, we will continue to shape the conversation and offer a path forward.  

Beyond the Councils, we have also launched a new program called "Convergence" to help preserve and improve minority homeownership. It brings together stakeholders from across the industry and communities to find real solutions to housing problems. The program started in Memphis, Tennessee, and this year, we'll bring it to Columbus, Ohio. We believe that the work by Convergence in those communities can be become a model for how our industry can help promote minority homeownership.  

And of course, the MBA is pursuing policy progress at every level of government. We're fighting to keep bad policies from gaining ground. And we're fighting for good policies that deserve to see the light of day.  

Last year was a watershed for stopping bad policies in their tracks. In California, the MBA helped beat back a dangerous rent control ballot measure that would have led to less affordable rental housing.  And we also helped defeat a California ballot measure on the commercial property tax. It just goes to show that our united approach as an industry helps build vibrant communities on every front.  

We think this year can be a watershed for better policies, at the state and federal levels  

We're especially focused on breaking down regulatory barriers to affordable rental housing.  We continue to aggressively advocate for changes to how the Davis-Bacon Wage Rate requirements are applied to FHA-assisted multifamily projects. We're also pushing for major modifications to HUD multifamily program requirements and the modernization of FHA's technology and infrastructure. And we're striving to reduce costs associated with affordable programs in opportunity zones, with a focus on examination fees and broadening the definition of affordable for workforce housing.  

And of course, we want to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads, no matter what. Late last year, we secured $42 billion in assistance for HUD programs in 2021. We're confident we can make even more progress under the new administration.  

When it comes to affordable housing, however, policy isn't the only solution. For almost a decade, MBA's Opens Doors foundation has helped thousands of families cover their housing payments. I personally appreciate how so many of you have stepped up to support this wonderful initiative. And I  hope even more area able to get involved in 2021.  

Everything we've done, and everything we're doing, will benefit every MBA member tuning in today. Multifamily and commercial stand to gain as much as residential. It's a powerful reminder that while our lines of work may differ, our interests are the same, and our success is shared.

When I accepted this role as MBA chair, I said in my first speech that I'm guided by the words of America's 26th president. Teddy Roosevelt once declared, "the credit belongs to the man in the arena," who "strives" and "spends himself in a worthy cause."

Those are words to live by. We have to be in the game, on the front lines, doing the work that needs to be done. You and your companies have a proven track record of doing just that. You stand up and speak out when it matters most. As MBA members, you have united with your colleagues across the whole industry to move the ball forward, time and again. As a team, we have always accomplished incredible things, and this year will be no different.  

I'm confident we'll make progress on minority homeownership, affordable rental housing and every other issue this year. As we do, we'll help create the vibrant communities that we care so much about. And we'll even strengthen America itself.  

Thank you. I look forward to working alongside you, in the arena, in the days ahead.