Posted on March 25, 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today joined fellow lawmakers in constructing a home with a local family in Washington, DC. The program is organized by the Congress Building America (CBA), a nationwide public-private-non-profit partnership between Habitat for Humanity International and the United States Congress. "Homeownership is one of our most essential economic and social investments. Owning a home empowers families to contribute to the economic vitality of their communities while creating personal financial stability and growth," said Frist. "Today we're demonstrating our commitment to affordable homeownership for low-income American families, and to show our appreciation for faith based groups — like Habitat for Humanity — that provide critical services to individuals and families in Tennessee and across America." "Habitat for Humanity is a great American institution," Alexander said. "Today's event reminds members of Congress that this country really doesn't work from Washington - it works community by community, family by family, volunteer by volunteer. It reminds me of the old barn raisings that people had back in the early part of America when they would just stop what they were doing and go help a neighbor to raise a barn. It reminds me of the Tennessee homecoming we had in 1986, when we stopped and thought about what made our communities strong. Habitat for Humanity reminds us of what it means to be an American. When people have a place to live - crime goes down, scores go up in our schools, and people have better jobs." CBA is designed to raise awareness for the need for affordable housing, to strengthen the network of affordable housing advocates by partnering members of Congress with local Habitat for Humanity (HFH) affiliates, to build simple decent houses with HFH homeowner families in their states and districts, and to highlight the importance of volunteerism. Today, homeownership is at an all time high of 68.4 percent. However, statistics show that less than half of all African Americans and Hispanic Americans are home owners. Tennessee follows this national trend, and continues to show a historical gap in homeownership rates for minority populations. Congress and the Administration have been working together to help organizations like Habitat for Humanity close the homeownership gap. The American Dream Down Payment Act of 2003, which was signed into law in December, will help about 40,000 families a year with their down payment and closing costs, and further strengthen America's housing market. Additionally, Congress and the Administration appropriated $27 million this year for SHOP — the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. In this grant program, homebuyers contribute significant amounts of volunteer labor to the construction or rehabilitation of a property. Tennessee has received more than $4 million in SHOP grants over the last seven years, which has helped to complete 286 homes. With the house in its early stages, Frist and Alexander participated in the framing, which included nailing together 2X4s to develop the outline of the structure. Frist is an honorary co-chair of the Bring IT Home Campaign, sponsored by One Economy Corporation, which pledged a two-year public policy campaign to wire new housing developments for low and middle income families for high speed internet access. Bring IT Home is part of empowering families and maximizing the benefits of homeownership, namely education.