WASHINGTON (Inman News Features) - Mel Martinez, U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, announced President Bush's proposed budget will nearly triple funding of "sweat equity programs," which help low-income families become first-time homeowners. Under the Administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2003 budget, funding for HUD's Self Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) will increase from $22 million to $65 million and will expand opportunities for sweat equity programs that allow low-income families to contribute their own time and labor toward the construction of their future home.

"President Bush and I firmly believe that opening the door to homeownership to low-income families is the best way to capture the spirit of the American dream," said Martinez. "By tripling the funding to this program, thousands more families will be able to realize this dream and join the historic ranks of homeowners across the country."

Martinez also stressed the importance of expanding funding opportunities to faith- and community-based organizations with a focus on results to increase affordable housing to lower-income Americans.

SHOP grants are used to purchase land and make infrastructure improvements, primarily to build new homes. By contributing time and labor, families join volunteers and contractors to construct or rehabilitate their homes.

According to HUD, SHOP grants are competitively awarded based upon an organization's experience in managing a sweat-equity program. Other factors include identifying their community's needs, generating other sources of funding and the soundness of their program design.