HUD Secretary Says Most Banks Too Big For Communities, Applauds CUs

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With the presidential election looming, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson used NCUA's Access Across America Economic Empowerment Summit here to praise both credit unions and President George Bush.

"Two and a half years ago President George W. Bush called on the nation to increase the number of minority homeowners by more than 5.5-million families by the end of this decade. NCUA signed on as a charter member of the American Dream Team, and they've been with us ever since," Jackson said. "But NCUA's commitment would mean nothing if the credit unions it regulates weren't working in America's communities to create housing opportunities for low-income families, immigrants and renters. But, of course, you are."

Jackson went on to tout the fact that since Bush's call to increase minority homeownership, an additional 1.6 million minority families have been added to the homeownership rolls, and under NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson and her predecessor, Dennis Dollar, 558 credit unions have adopted nearly 1,000 underserved neighborhoods.

"You will notice that I never use the term 'poor.' My father told me that poor is a state of mind, not a condition. The condition is poverty. I have rich friends who are poor. I tell them, 'If I had your money and your G5-That's a Gulfstream V jet-I wouldn't have anything to complain about,'" Jackson related. "So I do not use the term 'poor.' Think about your work. There are 65 million people who have better access to low-cost financial services, and that, in turn is creating more opportunities for homeownership. Thank you for stepping up to fill a great need."

Jackson also took the time to point out Bush's commitment to HUD and its mission as well as how important credit unions are in helping HUD succeed in that mission.

"In this time of war, there were only three departments that were not cut: Homeland Security, Defense, and Housing and Urban Development," he commented. "Rarely do they ask cabinet members to come address groups like this, so you can see that the president considers credit unions and their work very important."

And, if Bush is re-elected, he has upped the ante on the goals he initially set for HUD.

"The president called me the morning before he was going to make his speech at the Republican Convention, and I was afraid to call him back," Jackson laughed. "But I called him back, and he said, 'Look, 5.5 million [additional minority homeowners by 2010] is good, but it's not enough. I want to go for another seven-million, and I want to announce it in my speech, so can we do that?' Now, I was friends with George Bush before he was president, and I'd tell him just exactly what I think. But now he's the president, so when he says, 'Can we get another seven million?,' I say, 'Yes, sir!' So I'm asking you to help me make that happen."

Jackson called on credit unions to participate in the American Dream program that helps low- and moderate-income people with closing costs. But in an interview following his remarks, he was careful to point out that while he'd like to see more credit unions get involved, HUD has been pleased with credit unions' participation so far-and isn't about to ask for more from the ones that have already signed on.

"Credit unions have been a flagship partner in the American Dream partnership from the very beginning, and they have done an excellent job promoting homeownership," he told The Credit Union Journal. "If credit unions do just what we have asked-and they have-that is so significant, that we simply can't ask any more. Credit unions are not for profit, but they still must make a profit to be viable. We are not asking for anything charitable, just what is fair and equitable."

In his address, Jackson praised the deep and longstanding ties between credit unions and the communities they serve and later took that praise that one step further. "Credit unions are so important because they are in the communities and understand the needs of their communities where banks don't. They're just too big, they don't have the same relationship," he said in the interview. "Credit unions really are part of their communities, they have a family relationship."

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