WASHINGTON (Inman News Features) - President Bush's proposed fiscal 2003 budget announced yesterday includes $31.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid homeownership, rental assistance, protect vulnerable people and stimulate economic development. The budget request represents an increase of $2.1 billion over HUD's initial fiscal 2002 budget.

The proposal includes $200 million for the proposed American Dream Downpayment Fund, which is intended to help more people purchase a home. The fund would be administered under HUD's HOME program and would help an estimated 40,000 low-income families a year become first-time homeowners.

The spending plan includes funds to combat predatory lending, prevent housing discrimination and continue reforming the home-buying process to eliminate hidden fees, according to HUD Secretary Mel Martinez.

The budget includes funding for approximately 34,000 additional incremental Sec. 8 housing choice vouchers and a $35 million increase in the public housing operating fund.

The administration also is proposing a $1.7 billion tax credit for rehabilitation or new construction of an estimated 100,000 homes for purchase by low-income households over a five-year period and $35 million for a separate housing counseling assistance program for low-income families.