WASHINGTON, March 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- National Urban League President Marc Morial today unveiled a six-point Homebuyer's Bill of Rights to boost homeownership in the United States, especially among African Americans. "Greater homeownership means greater personal wealth, which, in turn, means greater economic empowerment, the civil right of the 21st Century," Morial said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "It is also helpful in closing the gap that exists between blacks and whites in the United States." In 2004, African-American homeownership hit a historic high -- nearly 50 percent, compared to 76 percent of white Americans, slipping to 47.9 percent in 2006, thanks in part to increased foreclosures that are threatening decades of progress. Through six major policy recommendations, the National Urban League Homebuyer's Bill Of Rights is designed to minimize four major obstacles standing in the way of more Americans owning their own homes: 1) lack of net savings for downpayments and closing costs; 2) lack of information on how to shop for homes and apply for loans; 3) lack of quality affordable units in livable locations; and 4) lack of consumer protection. "It is not enough to put more Americans into their own homes if we fail to arm them with the tools needed to sustain homeownership. Far too many first- time homebuyers with limited financial experience have fallen into the trap of predatory lending where unscrupulous mortgage brokers steer them into unsuitable and exploitive mortgage products and turn their American Dream into the American Nightmare. The National Urban League Homebuyer's Bill of Rights seeks to reverse and eliminate this trend." Morial added. National Urban League Homebuyer's Bill Of Rights 1. The Right to Save for Homeownership Tax-Free Recommendation -- Create Individual Development Accounts for Homeownership administered by employers as matched savings plans for the future purchase of a home. -- Similar to 529 plans, the IDA for Homeownership would be a tax- advantaged investment vehicle designed to encourage saving for the future home purchase expenses of a designated beneficiary. 2. The Right to High-Quality Homeownership Education Recommendation -- Redesign of an industry-wide system that integrates pre- and post-purchase homeownership education and counseling; and expansion of HUD's budget for housing counseling from $42 million to $80 million in FY 08. -- HUD funding does not cover all costs of homeownership education and counseling and limits non-profits' ability to collect fees for their services. The private sector contributes only a small share of funding to homeownership education and counseling efforts, and even if the industry's (banks) support matched HUD's, non-profit education and counseling programs would be grossly under-funded if services were expanded to include a larger share of first-time buyers. 3. The Right to Truth and Transparency in Credit Reporting Recommendation -- Demystify the credit reporting system through creation of a public education and awareness campaign about credit scoring and its impact on wealth creation, and establishment of a penalty structure for credit reporting bureaus that maintain inaccurate client files. -- In the United States, once every 12 months, each person is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Under fear of penalty, credit reporting agencies should be required to collect, maintain, and report data that is accurate, relevant, and up-to-date. -- The Government could offer a free publication called Understanding Your Credit Report and Credit Score. This publication would provide sample credit report and credit score documents with explanations of the notations and codes that are used. It would also contain general information on how to build or improve credit history, and how to check for signs that identity theft has occurred. The publication could be made available online. 4. The Right to Production of Affordable Housing for Working Families Recommendation -- Cities and other municipalities should through zoning and tax incentives require that at least 30% of all new market- rate construction be made available for purchase and rental by households comprising the locality's working families. -- Workforce housing includes single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, starter homes, and apartments that are affordable to an area's workers such as: teachers, firefighters, municipal employees and the other workers who provide essential services in communities -- policing, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail workers. -- A program that once held great promise in this regard -- HOPE VI is broken and should be re-thought and re-built. With a vague and changing mandate, HOPE VI strayed from its initial intent of rehabilitating 6% of the nation's public housing stock; instead, it has funded the demolition of housing and displaced many thousands of poor families to meet the demands of private developers. -- New York City provides an innovative example of one such local approach to the issue. Under their current program, known as "421- a", developers of new buildings in most neighborhoods are eligible for a 10- to 15-year exemption from the increase in real estate taxes resulting from the work. Developers do not receive a tax break unless 30 percent of all the units are affordable to families earning no more that 50 percent of the median income for the area, or about $35,000 for a family of four. 5. The Right to be Free from Predatory Lending Recommendation -- Elimination of incentives for lenders to make predatory loans; a fair, competitive market that responsibly provides credit to consumers; access to justice for families caught in abusive loans; and the preservation of essential federal and state consumer safeguards. -- During recent years, responsible mortgage lenders and consumer advocates have recognized the urgent need to curb abusive lending practices that harm homebuyers and homeowners. NUL supports legislation that supplements existing law by promoting these basic objectives. NUL supports the "Prohibit Predatory Lending Act" (Miller-Watt-Frank) HR 1182. 6. The Right to Aggressive Enforcement of Fair Housing Laws Recommendation -- Create a HUD Task Force to vigorously investigate and prosecute violations of fair-housing laws and authorize congressional oversight hearings to hold HUD accountable. -- In a multiyear study using homebuyer "tests" funded by HUD and completed in 2005, the National Fair Housing Alliance found that potential homebuyers were steered to white or minority neighborhoods 87% of the time. -- The Task Force would investigate and process mortgage lending complaints, including such actions as inappropriate steering to sub-prime loans, stricter qualification standards for minority borrowers and higher rates and/or conditions for minority homebuyers. National Urban League (http://www.nul.org) Established in 1910, The Urban League is the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream. Today, the National Urban League (http://www.nul.org), headquartered in New York City, spearheads the non-partisan efforts of its local affiliates. There are over 100 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 36 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services like job training, home ownership and educational assistance to millions of people nationwide along with extensive advocacy and research.
SOURCE National Urban League