Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today kicked off National Homeownership Month by highlighting programs to help rural residents buy, refinance and repair homes.
"Homeownership should be an achievable dream and in many cases, USDA housing programs provide the only way for rural residents to buy a home," said Vilsack. "Working with our partners in the lending community and with state and local housing authorities, we are continuing to make safe, affordable housing available to creditworthy applicants across the nation."
USDA has helped rural residents purchase homes since 1949. Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA Direct and Guaranteed home loan programs have helped more than 650,000 rural residents buy houses. USDA often works with partners. For example, last year USDA Rural Development and Habitat for Humanity collaborated to help a formerly homeless single mother in Kentucky take steps toward becoming a first-time homeowner.
Suzanna Hoskins approached Habitat for Humanity about a home for herself and her three school-age children. She was living in a homeless shelter when she came to the attention of the local Habitat office in Morehead, Ky., and Habitat was glad to assist, as was USDA Rural Development. Rural Development approved Hoskins for a very-low interest Direct Home Loan, which paid for building materials. Habitat volunteers provided the labor. Her new home has three bedrooms, two baths and is energy-efficient -- with utilities expected to cost approximately $15 per month. In order to be eligible for Habitat's assistance, Hoskins was required to provide a maximum of 500 sweat equity hours toward the build and complete a homeownership counseling class.
President Obama also said in his May 11 weekly radio address that more than 2 million families have lowered their mortgage costs by an average of $3,000 a year through government-supported refinance efforts.
USDA is providing additional support for rural housing through a pilot program enabling USDA borrowers to refinance their home loans at today's low interest rates. Introduced in 2012 and expanded this year, the pilot is being tested in 34 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico -- areas that were hardest hit in the housing downturn. It has already enabled more than 5,500 USDA-backed homeowners to refinance $750 million in mortgages.
USDA, its state and federal partners, members of the housing community, lenders and communities across the country celebrate National Homeownership Month each June to bring attention to the role housing plays in the economy. This year's theme, "USDA: Bringing Rural America Home," underscores housing's importance to millions of rural residents.
USDA Housing and Community Facilities Administrator Tammye Treviño will officially kick off homeownership month next week with a series of events and activities across the country. Treviño will visit USDA-financed homes and highlight ways in which USDA housing programs complement the Department's programs and initiatives to help create jobs and stimulate rural economic activity.
One of these is USDA's recently expanded StrikeForce initiative. Its goal is to increase partnerships with rural communities and leverage resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. StrikeForce is under way in 16 states.
For information about Homeownership Month activities near you, or for information about Rural Development programs, contact your nearest Rural Development office. A list of these offices is available at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html.
Secretary Vilsack also said the Food, Farm and Jobs bill being debated in Congress would further boost the rural economy. The bill would enable USDA to create new opportunities for local and regional food systems, grow the bio-based economy and expand markets for agricultural products.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way -- strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.
USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as USDA implements sequestration -- the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act. USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $828 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.