REAFFIRMING HIS FIRST-TERM GOAL OF 5.5 million new minority homeowners by the decade's end, President Bush is making some changes to his housing program. Important to our industry is a new tax credit for builders that Bush says he thinks could increase affordable housing for middle-income families by at least 40,000 units a year.

In addition, the president is also looking at ways to reduce local and state regulations that discourage developers from putting up affordable housing. And a separate proposal would create zero down-payment loans for first-time buyers whose mortgages are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration.

Since Bush took office in 2001, homeownership rates have grown from 67.5 percent to 69 percent. And, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department, of those 5.5. million, about 1.9 million have already been established as homeowners. While low interest rates have been beneficial, the president contends that his tax relief programs have provided a boost as well.

Other issues affecting the White House homeownership agenda include:

  • HUD's wish to move quickly on a proposal to create opportunity zones that would give struggling urban and rural communities priority in receiving federal help for housing, education, and job training.
  • Renewed efforts by Bush and congressional Republicans to tighten oversight of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which have experienced accounting scandals.
  • The department's pursuit again of changes in procedures governing real estate settlements and closing costs.