Thank you, Larry Gluth, for those kind words, and for your great work. Let me also recognize Jane Maloney, whom I met at a Habitat build in Knoxville.
Some people go their whole lives without realizing the positive difference they make in other people's lives. The folks at Habitat for Humanity International get to see it every day. And we are all grateful.
You know, I often say that owning a home is the American Dream. That's true-but incomplete. The real American Dream is to give your children a better life than the one you had.
My dad believed in hard work. But he didn't want his children working three jobs like he did.
So he and my mom made sure our quality of life would be better than theirs.
They made incredible sacrifices to make sure their 12 kids had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. They taught us the value of a good education, and made sure we got one.
It wasn't always the easy path, but it was the right path. The path toward a better life may start at charity, but it passes through opportunity.
That is Habitat for Humanity's path.
Habitat has built more than 225,000 houses around the world, helping over one million people realize their dreams.
Equally important is what you ask of those families. You ask them to invest in their dream-downpayments, mortgage payments, "sweat equity." To swing the hammer before swinging open the front door. To own the Dream.
Because of this, Habitat families are fully invested in their future. And that is why we are investing in Habitat's future today.
I am proud to announce the release of more than 18 million dollars in SHOP grants to Habitat for Humanity International and three other organizations.
SHOP stands for "Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program." And the common denominator between the four groups is success in managing these self-help programs.
Habitat for Humanity International will receive more than $8.4 million. The other groups are Community Frameworks, from Washington state (with $2.8 million); the Housing Assistance Council, in Washington, D.C. (with $5.2 million); and PPEP Microbusiness and Development Corporation, from Arizona (with $2.2 million).
In total, the $18 million investment will produce a minimum of 1,100 residential units. That's more than a thousand happy families, smiling faces, content children.
Homebuyers will be expected to contribute at least one hundred hours of labor toward the building of homes. It's an investment in a more vital, opportunity-filled future.
Habitat calls its families "partners." And we consider you our strong partner. Over the past decade, HUD has contributed more than $127 million to build Habitat homes across the country.
We share the same goal of getting families into affordable homes. But we also want families to be able to keep their homes. Buying is just the first step.
Two years ago, we expressed concerns that some first-time homebuyers were being lured into exotic or sub-prime mortgages without understanding the risks.
In some cases, they were enticed by low "teaser" interest rates. Now they watch as those interest rates double or triple. For them, the Dream has become a rude awakening.
The vast majority of subprime loans are sound. However, about two million homeowners are expected to default on their loan over the next two years, with about half a million going into foreclosure.
Can we do something about it? The answer is yes!
It's called FHA Secure. It allows homeowners who are current on their loans or in default to refinance through the Federal Housing Administration.
The FHA's purpose is to get low- and moderate-income Americans into decent, safe, affordable housing. Just like Habitat's.
Who qualifies for FHA Secure? Only families with a history of on-time mortgage payments under the original interest rates, plus a good debt-to-income ratio and a stable employment history. In other words, reliable homeowners, not reckless speculators.
FHA Secure will help an estimated quarter of a million Americans buy and keep their homes over the next year.
Now, in the future, we need the tools to prevent a housing slowdown, not just predict one. So we are working with Congress to modernize the FHA.
The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved the Expanding American Homeownership Act. We welcome the vote.
The bill would help 200,000 families become eligible for an FHA-insured loan by increasing loan limits and reducing the minimum downpayment. It will bring the 73-year-old FHA firmly into the 21st century. We now call on the U.S. Senate to act.
Several weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Paulson and I met with mortgage industry representatives to find more new ways to help struggling homeowners.
What came out of it was a partnership called the HOPE NOW Alliance. Through it, we will reach out and educate homeowners on their options. They may have more than they realize.
We don't want people to feel they have to agree to a loan they either do not understand or cannot afford.
That brings me to our housing counselors. They're helping consumers of every income level, language, and cultural background learn their rights and options.
President Bush has increased funding for housing counselors by 200 percent since 2001. Last week, we announced another $43 million in new grants. It's worth it!
Finally, the President's Council on Financial Literacy is about to be launched. It's a comprehensive, government-wide effort to help consumers understand the fine print before they sign on the dotted line.
We want all Americans to learn the benefits of homeownership, including financial security, improved health, and education. As Habitat homeowner Alverna Walker put it, "My children did great in school...and I really feel it was because of the [home] environment."
Stability is important. As we all know, things can change quickly. The city in which we meet bears witness to that fact.
New Orleans had the largest percentage of native-born residents in America. Many had lived in their homes for generations. They had real roots here.
That's why Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were such a punch to the gut. Nearly a quarter of a million people lived in homes that took on four feet of water. 1.3 million people were displaced.
Into the breach came Habitat for Humanity. Fifty thousand volunteers left their air conditioned classrooms, homes, and offices for the privilege of gutting and rebuilding flood-damaged homes.
One of them, Sue Stone from Knoxville, had this to say: "It's hard. But hard is good."
"Hard is good." A good motto for what we're doing today!
This is not about charity. It's about opportunity. It's about ownership. It's about the next generation having a better shot than we did. And it's about doing the hard things-the "sweat equity"-to make the American Dream come true.
HUD is proud to work side-by-side with organizations like Habitat for Humanity as they help families unleash their "elbow grease" to build a place called home.
NOTE: To read the Press Release, visit