WASHINGTON -- Saluting the beaming new minority homeowners sitting primly behind him on stage, President Bush said Tuesday that reducing the huge disparity between white and minority homeowners is essential "for the sake of a more hopeful future."
Bush said the goal he set of turning 5.5 million more blacks and Hispanics into homeowners by the end of the decade -- which would be a 40 percent increase -- is realistic.
"Some may think that's a stretch. I don't think it is," Bush told a George Washington University audience of lenders, nonprofit chiefs and government officials attending the White House Conference on Increasing Minority Home Ownership.
Almost three-quarters of white families are homeowners, but the same can be said for less than half of black and Hispanic families, or just over 13 million households.
"It's a gap that we've got to work together to close, for the good of our country, for the sake of a more hopeful future," Bush said.
To get there, Bush has asked Congress to increase government help for 40,000 low-income families trying to scrape together a down payment for their first home; approve $2.4 billion in tax credits for developers who increase the supply of affordable homes in needy areas; let federal rental assistance be used toward down payments or mortgage payments; and triple funding for organizations that help families become homeowners through "sweat equity" and other volunteer efforts.
The Bush administration also has focused on simplifying the often complex settlement process -- with the president sympathetically relating that "I had that very same problem" -- and informing potential home buyers about their rights, obligations and financing options. Bush announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would distribute $35 million in grants next year for such education.
But the conference also was intended to cheerlead the many private sector players, whose follow-through on making capital and credit more available to minority home buyers is viewed by federal officials as critical to achieving the goal.
Bush applauded three families who each bought or are on the way to buying a home after overcoming significant personal hurdles -- such as language, little or bad credit histories and no down payment savings -- with government or private sector help.
Jesse and Trendia Horton, of North Little Rock, Ark., for instance, qualified for their home county's lease-to-own program and moved into a house that had been rehabilitated through a federal program. "When we started talking about owning a home, a smile spread right across the face of the dad that could have lit up the entire town of Washington, D.C.," Bush said of Jesse. Horton.