MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now we're going to continue our conversation on housing with someone who's deeply involved in housing policy. Julian Castro has served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for two years now under President Obama. Last month, Secretary Castro quietly targeted a longtime practice in the rental housing industry - landlords who require information about criminal arrests and convictions and then may refuse to rent to those who have them. Castro issued a 10-page guide - it's the first of its kind at HUD - warning that landlords who have a blanket policy of refusing to rent to people with criminal records are violating Federal Fair Housing Laws.
As you might imagine, we're also interested in speaking with Secretary Castro in this political season as he has been among those considered a rising star in Democratic politics. A former mayor of San Antonio, he made a strong impression as the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He's with us now from his office in Washington, D.C. Mr. Secretary, thank you for speaking with us.
JULIAN CASTRO: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So let's talk about about those new guidelines restricting landlords' ability to take into account criminal records. How exactly is this going to work?
CASTRO: Yeah, so the idea here is that we want to ensure that folks who have an arrest record or conviction get an effective second chance in life. And we believe that the opportunity to secure an affordable, decent place to live is one part of that effective second chance. So we put guidance out that basically says, if you're a landlord that you cannot have a blanket policy that anybody with an arrest or conviction record is automatically not going to be considered for an apartment or a home.
So what we found is that when you apply a blanket refusal to consider anybody that has been arrested or convicted without going further than that, without exercising some sort of nuance, that that has a disparate impact on those communities and that it violates the Fair Housing Act.
MARTIN: What reaction are you getting to this? I saw a blistering column on this from a conservative columnist with The Globe, Jeff Jacoby, who just says that in essence - he doesn't use the word discrimination, but he's saying that in essence he's saying, discriminating against people with criminal convictions is just common sense if you're a landlord.
CASTRO: Yeah, and I just fundamentally disagree with that. You know, of course we've heard both sides. A lot of folks have applauded this. On the other hand, yeah, you get the legitimate question that folks ask. Usually people will ask, well, does this mean that we can never consider any kind of criminal history, or if I'm a landlord and I say no to somebody who has an arrest record or a conviction, that suddenly I'm going to get sued for discrimination? And the answer to that is no. We're not saying that you can never consider the fact that somebody has been arrested or convicted. The fact is that you can't have a blanket refusal to consider those folks.
MARTIN: You know, is the predicate of this policy though, is that the criminal justice system is biased, is that it's racist? Is that really what you're saying?
CASTRO: Yeah, it is a recognition of the need to address that issue under the Fair Housing Act. At the same time, we're not telling landlords you can never consider a conviction or an arrest record. But absolutely, it does recognize the biases that exist in our criminal justice system.
MARTIN: One of these things I do have to ask you about is that - and you surely know about this - progressive groups have been criticizing you on how mortgage sales have been handled. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized the department for selling mortgages to hedge funds at steep discounts. These groups are saying that HUD is doing too much to favor Wall Street's private equity firms and overlooking in these mortgage sales nonprofits that they say, or presumably would do more to promote housing opportunities for black and Latino communities. But given that it has risen to the level of Sen. Warren, I do have to ask you about that. What is your response to that?
CASTRO: Well, number one, that this was a program that was started in about 2010, and the idea was to see what HUD could do to ensure that homeowners who were delinquent in their mortgages were able to stay in their homes longer. And the idea was to get those mortgages into the hands of a new servicer.
When I became HUD's secretary, I met with and listened to many of the folks who were critiquing the program. And so we made further improvements in 2015. One of the critiques was that too many of these loans were being sold to Wall Street firms, so we started a nonprofit-only pool of nonprofits who would work to stabilize neighborhoods and work even harder, perhaps, with homeowners so they could stay in their home. We've been working over the last few months on further improvements to the program.
So the politics of it aside, we actually have been working to improve that program and make sure that at the end of the day that they're better, stronger outcomes for families, for these homeowners. And I think that when we roll out our next round of improvements to the program that a lot of folks are going to be pleased.
MARTIN: Is part of what you're saying though, is that some of the people criticizing this don't really understand how this works?
CASTRO: There was some misunderstanding, but I want to give some of the groups credit that they have been speaking to this issue for some time. I just think that in the latest round of this somehow politics got a lot more caught up in it than it had been before.
MARTIN: You know, on the Republican side, a lot of - there's a number of political figures who have said they would not accept a role on the ticket with the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. What about you? If Hillary Clinton offered you the role as her running mate, would you accept it?
CASTRO: Yeah, I'm going to be back in Texas and try not to mix HUD business with the politics. So I'll let the politics play itself out.
MARTIN: Fair enough. That is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. He joined us, as he told you, from his offices at HUD in Washington, D.C. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for speaking with us.
CASTRO: Hey, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
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