Bush pushes minority homeownership

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, White House reporter  |  June 15, 2002 at 10:09 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush Saturday proposed an initiative to dismantle barriers that prevent minorities from owning their own homes.

"A home is a foundation for families and a source of stability for communities. It serves as the foundation of many Americans' financial security," the president said during his weekly radio address to the nation.

Bush is expected to start focusing on housing issues next week. He is to travel to Atlanta, Ga., Monday, where he will visit a community redevelopment project and discuss his proposals for spurring homeownership among minorities. Tuesday, Bush will tour the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington.

The administration plans to highlight the American Dream Downpayment Fund, which would provide $200 million to an estimated 40,000 low-income families a year.

"When a low-income family is qualified to buy a home, but comes up short on the down payment, the American Dream Down Payment Fund will help provide the needed funds," Bush said.

While nearly three-fourths of all white Americans own their own homes, less than half of all African Americans and Hispanic Americans are homeowners, Bush said.

Bush detailed three obstacles to homeownership: High down payment requirements, a lack of affordable housing, and the difficulty of the purchasing process.

"Consumers need to know their rights and responsibilities as home buyers. Education is the best protection for families against abusive and unscrupulous lenders," Bush said. "Financial education and housing counseling can help protect home buyers against abuses, greatly improve the loan terms they are offered, and help families get through tough times with their homes intact," Bush said.

The Millenial Housing Commission was charged by Congress to examine the state of housing in the United States. In its report released last month, the panel found that housing affordability is the "single greatest challenge" facing the nation. Approximately 13.4 million renter households and 14.5 million homeowners face spending between 30 percent and 50 percent of their incomes on housing.

The 22-member panel recommended enhancement of the role of the private sector in producing affordable housing. Bush agreed.

"Government action isn't enough. We need to energize and engage the private sector as well. That is why I have challenged the real estate industry leaders to join with the government, with non-profit organizations, and with private sector financial institutions in a major nationwide effort to increase minority homeownership," Bush said.

Last week, Bush declared June National Homeownership Month. The administration wants to triple funding to faith-based and self-help housing programs such as Habitat for Humanity which builds homes for low-income residents. HUD funding for so-called sweat equity programs would increase from $22 million to $65 million.

Bush is also asking Congress to approve $35 million for the Housing Counseling Assistance program and funding for the Section 8 homeownership program, which would allow local housing agencies flexibility in moving low-income families into their own homes.

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