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USDA helps rural homebuyers own their future

Tony Hernandez and Stan Gruszynski

In August 2009, when I was named state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development for Wisconsin, the housing market was collapsing and our nation was sinking into a recession unparalleled in more than 70 years. People were losing their homes, credit was tightening, and for many working Americans the ability to purchase a home was becoming nearly impossible.

Through it all, USDA Rural Housing staff continued to work with and support the rural housing market to provide credit, security, and opportunity for those rural families and individuals capable of meeting credit terms and paying a mortgage.

In some communities in Wisconsin, we were considered “the only game in town.” We worked with local lenders and realtors. We took on some risk, and in the end, we played an important role in steadying an unstable economy. The American people invested in themselves, and it paid off.

Owning your own home is part of the American dream. For 65 years, USDA has helped millions of rural residents achieve the dream of homeownership through our affordable home loan programs. This year, USDA Rural Development has helped nearly 3.4 million rural families and individuals become homebuyers nationwide.

In Wisconsin, our single-family housing programs provided homes for more than 4,000 individuals and families in 2013.

Affordable home financing creates ladders of opportunity to help families grow and thrive. Every year, USDA Rural Development’s direct and guaranteed home loans help tens of thousands of rural residents become homeowners. Here in Wisconsin, since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA Rural Development has made or guaranteed loans for more than 17,000 rural residents.

For example, in Menomonie, Wis., Gabrielle Velez recently purchased a home through the Direct Home Loan Program. She and her 12-year-old son now live in a safe, affordable, three-bedroom house they can call their own, helping to lay an economic foundation for themselves and their community.

We also have a home repair loan program, and grants for very-low-income seniors, to help homeowners protect and preserve their most valued asset.

In 2013 alone, Rural Development helped more than 170,000 rural residents become homeowners through direct loans, guaranteed loans, grants and technical assistance to provide them with affordable, safe homes. In both people and dollars, 2013 was the most successful year on record in the history of USDA’s single-family housing programs.

Homeownership is a conduit to neighborhood, family and community, and the positive impact of more than 3 million rural American homeowners across the U.S. is difficult to overstate. The benefits extend beyond the homeowners themselves. Homeownership creates economic opportunities for homebuilders, for providers of durable goods such as lumber or appliances, and for Realtors. Local governments benefit from increased revenue through property taxes. Simply put, the millions of rural homebuyers assisted through USDA are strengthening the rural economy and helping small-town, rural America remain vibrant and prosperous.

At its core, homeownership is about families, preserving rural values and the rural way of life. Research shows that families experience greater educational achievement, improved health and reduced crime in areas with higher homeownership rates.

President Obama has said the true engine of America’s economic growth is a rising and thriving middle class. For most Americans, a home is the largest single investment they will make — and the largest asset they will hold — in their lifetime. A home is a monumental waypoint on these families’ journey toward a brighter financial future. Homeownership helps build equity, assets and long-term financial security — the foundation for upward mobility.

Although rural America is changing due to the rise of new technologies such as the Internet and the advent of globalism, one thing still holds true: Homeownership remains one of the most important factors helping rural residents thrive and prosper economically.

During National Homeownership Month, please join us as we celebrate these rural families who, with USDA’s help, are investing in their future through a home of their own.

Tony Hernandez administers USDA Rural Development’s housing and community development programs. Stan Gruszynski is USDA Rural Development State Director in Wisconsin. More information about USDA homeownership assistance is available on the Rural Development website.