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National Credit Union Administration
"Access Across America Economic Empowerment Summit"

Remarks as prepared for delivery by
Secretary Alphonso Jackson

Tampa, Florida
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Thank you, JoAnn, for that very generous introduction. President Bush made an exceptional choice when he named JoAnn to chair the National Credit Union Administration. We're delighted that she agreed to serve.

And I'm delighted that NCUA invited me to join you here. By promoting the expansion of credit into underserved areas through "Access Across America" and other programs, NCUA plays a vital role in helping families realize the American Dream of homeownership.

In fact, NCUA is one of the Administration's strongest allies in boosting minority homeownership. Two and a half years ago, President George W. Bush called on the nation to increase the number of minority homeowners by more than 5.5 million families by the end of this decade. NCUA signed on as a charter member of the American Dream Team and they've been with us ever since. We're proud to have their help, and together, we're doing great work.

As of today, we're 1.6 million homebuyers closer to meeting the President's goal.

NCUA's commitment would mean nothing if the credit unions it regulates weren't working in America's communities to create housing opportunities for low-income families, immigrants, and renters.

But, of course, you are.

Joann tells me that Access Across America had its best year ever in 2003. Over the last three years, 558 federal credit unions have adopted nearly 1,000 underserved neighborhoods. Today, families in those communities no longer have to rely only on check-cashing outlets and pawnshops when they need to make a financial transaction. A local credit union may be able to help them instead.

As a result, more than 64 million Americans have better access to lower-cost financial services. And that, in turn, is creating more opportunities for homeownership.

Thank you for stepping up to fill a great need.

Today, approximately 10,000 credit unions are serving families in this country. Many of your members don't have access to traditional means of credit. Sometimes they're immigrants, or perhaps they speak English only as a second language. Maybe they just don't feel comfortable doing business with a big bank.

But credit unions are tied directly to their communities, and bring together people who share a common bond - whether it's through a job, their place of worship, a geographic location, a shared interest. And because credit unions are committed to the philosophy of "Not for Profit, Not for Charity, But for Service," your members have the opportunity to build wealth, create savings, and take advantage of services they might otherwise miss out on.

This is especially true in minority communities. By reaching into minority areas and empowering the underserved through affordable credit, you're helping to create homeownership and small business opportunities for those who haven't had such opportunities in the past. Your efforts to combat predatory lending are having an equally powerful impact.

The bottom line is that credit unions are helping to make low-income and minority communities better places in which to live and raise a family.

HUD strongly supports your mission of service.

Over the past nearly four years, our Administration has taken significant steps to make homeownership more affordable and more accessible to low-income and minority families. I'd like to spend some time this afternoon describing the steps we're taking to boost homeownership and fight predatory lending in neighborhoods across America.

HUD is committed to expanding homeownership because President Bush himself is committed to it. It's no exaggeration to say that this President has done more than any president in HUD's nearly 40-year-history to focus the attention of the nation on the power of homeownership.

The President and I believe passionately in the idea of an ownership society, in which individuals own a stake in their communities. As you know, the most powerful ownership tool of all is homeownership.

Throughout our nation's history, homeownership has been creating community stakeholders who vote and stay active in their churches and local charities. Homeownership offers children a stable living environment that influences their development in measurable ways. And it's hard to overstate the importance of housing and all of its related industries to the national economy. For three years, housing has led the U.S. economy - in fact, housing was directly responsible for keeping many parts of the country from falling deeper into recession in 2001.

The homeownership rate in America has never been higher than it is today. Nearly 70 percent of the population owns a home. Minority homeownership is up across the country - in fact, it's over 50 percent for the first time ever.

Even so, minorities are far less likely to own a home. Our Administration is working hard to change that.

We're helping families buy homes through programs like the American Dream Downpayment Initiative, which is delivering $161 million to more than 400 state and local governments across the country this year. These grant dollars will help first-time homebuyers with their downpayment and closing costs, which researchers tell us represent the single greatest obstacle to homeownership.

If Congress enacts legislation we've proposed that would allow FHA to offer a Zero Down Payment Mortgage, we think we could help another 150,000 families become homeowners each year.

Since 2001, we've more than doubled funding for homeownership education programs that not only help guide families into homeownership, but also help them manage their investment after they've settled in.

Housing counseling is a cornerstone of HUD's efforts to combat predatory lending. First-time homebuyers are vulnerable to abusive lending practices, especially those buyers who come to the U.S. from other countries, or speak English only as a second language.

The most effective way to reduce the harmful impact of predatory lending and mortgage fraud is to root out the culprits and create an environment in the mortgage industry that fosters integrity and concern for the homebuyer.

HUD is also encouraging local housing agencies to use their public housing and Section 8 programs to move families into homeownership. Across the country, more than 2,000 families are participating in our Section 8 Homeownership Program through 350 housing authorities.

I'd like to invite more credit unions to participate.

To help even more Americans achieve their dreams of homeownership, the President recently set a goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing by seven million over the next 10 years. We think that's achievable if Congress enacts the President's Homeownership Tax Credit.

The tax credit will encourage the production of homes for moderate-income families, and we estimate it could create as many as 50,000 more homeowners annually. It will make a tremendous difference in areas of the country that are experiencing a shortage of affordable housing.

Our Administration believes that government must do more to help create new opportunities for jobs and housing in lower-income neighborhoods. In September, the President unveiled his new Opportunity Zone initiative to stimulate growth, opportunity, and job creation in troubled areas.

Opportunity Zone communities will be areas in transition that are struggling to diversify their local economies - for example, a city that once relied on one or two major employers and now lacks the infrastructure and other basic tools needed to leverage jobs and investment. We'll put a new emphasis on broadband and other telecommunication technologies. And we'll recognize the direct link between the health of the local economy and the ability of the local school system to produce the skilled workers that today's economy demands.

The nation's credit unions are working right alongside us, and we're proud to be your partner. You're at the forefront of economic empowerment; whether we're talking about a tiny credit union that serves a rural community, or a billion-dollar institution that serves millions of members, you're helping families across this country lift themselves toward a better quality of life.

Today, more than 300 credit unions participate in FHA. In the years ahead, I hope that we'll see more credit unions making mortgage loans and serving the next generation of homeowners. You've had unmatched success in reaching the low-income and minority Americans we're pursuing through the Administration's homeownership programs. We welcome your expertise in providing credit to America's fast growing and often-underserved communities.

I look forward to a continued strong and fruitful partnership with the credit union community. Your work has made this nation stronger, and I salute both your commitment and your compassion.

Thank you again for inviting me to be with you today.

Last Modified: October 15, 2004
Content Archived: January 20, 2009
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