WASHINGTON – Immigration reform is a path to a healthier U.S. economy and a stronger housing market, House and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said Monday in a speech to the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, prompting enthusiastic applause.

Donovan stuck close to President Barack Obama’s housing finance reform policies and support for the Affordable Care Act, which he also said would help boost the economy.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (hud.gov)

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (hud.gov)

The HUD secretary said that since the housing crisis in 2008, the market has been healing, but there is still a lot of work to do. Access to credit is still too limited, he said, and underwater borrowers are still too common.

“They’re more than figures on spreadsheet,” Donovan said, “They represent peoples’ dreams and their nightmares.”

Donovan urged the gathered real estate representatives to support a housing reform bill that he expects out of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the next few weeks.  The bill would begin to eliminate government-funded mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and replace them with a privately capitalized system. Five years after the housing crisis, the bill is an attempt to “modernize and streamline” the housing finance system, according to its sponsors. “I know you’re thinking ‘What makes Shaun Donovan crazy enough to think we can get a bill through Congress?’” he said, prompting laughs.

But housing reform is a historically bipartisan issue, he said. The bill before the banking committee has both Republican and Democratic sponsors.

Donovan pushed Obama’s three principles of housing finance reform: increased use of private capital rather than government funds to support loans, a more explicitly defined government role and ensuring access to safe financing for all qualified first-time borrowers.

Sen.Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also spoke a recorded message on the importance of American opportunities – the American Dream — in the Hispanic community.

Rubio and Donovan both spoke of their humble roots as examples of what can be achieved in America with hard work and opportunity. Home ownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream, Donovan said.