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ALEXANDRIA, Va.-It is apparent that NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson and Board Member Debbie Matz come from different worlds. Johnson was raised on a farm in a rural town in Iowa, while Matz grew up in a New York City housing project. Johnson is a Republican who uses the title `chairman.’ Matz is a Democrat who goes by Ms. Matz. At some point the two sides had to clash and election season seems the appropriate time for the presidential appointees. A recent spate of press releases from both sides at the agency regarding homeownership could not be more contradictory in how they view the data. Johnson’s press release, supporting President George W. Bush’s campaign, stated, “In 2003, the number of homeowners increased by 1.7 million as the number of renters declined in the United States by over one million families.” Johnson patted credit unions on their collective backs for contributing to this success. According to a release from Matz’ office, “For millions of hard-working people across the nation, homeownership is no longer the American dream; it has become a mirage. It’s a vision that’s always out of reach. Many renters are struggling to get closer, but never seem to get there.” She continued, “While the national homeownership rate is a record 70%, the homeownership rate for low-to-moderate families has fallen to a lower level than in 1978: only 56%.” In 1978, the level of homeownership among low-to moderate-income families was 62%, according to the Center of Housing Policy, the research arm of the National Housing Conference, a non-partisan coalition of affordable housing experts from public and private sectors. The NHC study found 18.7 million working families in America, defined as those households earning more than the full-time equivalent of the minimum wage, but less than 120% of the local median income. The working families’ homeownership rate is just 56% as opposed to the national rate of nearly 70%. Closing this gap could add 2.5 million more homeowners. The study concluded that “working families with children, in particular, are increasingly struggling to make ends meet… The reduction in homeownership among working families with children occurred at the same time that their number, and their relative importance, were on the rise.” However, Special Assistant to the NCUA Chairman and Director of External Affairs Nick Owens stressed that these numbers were focused on families with children. “Homeownership has never been as high as it is today. Minority homeownership has never been as high as it is today,” he stated. “Sure we have more to do but the record still stands.” Total minority homeownership, Owens explained, is at a record high 51%. Specifically, Hispanic homeownership is steadily increasing to 47.4%. He highlighted an article in Hispanic Business, which demonstrated that Hispanics are increasingly using home equity to start new businesses. One of President George W. Bush’s goals, which Johnson often quotes, is to increase minority homeownership by 5.5 million by the end of the decade. Matz pointed out that home prices have risen over three times faster than income in the last four years. In fact, Owens said between 1999 and 2003, home prices were up 32.3%, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight Repeat Sales Price Index. At the same time household income grew about 6.1%, nearly five times as much. But that is why so many families want to become homeowners, to grow their wealth. By the same token, Owens argued housing affordability has bee “excellent” for a number of years. He cited data from The Realtors index showing that the median family income has been more than enough-130% to 140% of what is needed to purchase the median-priced home. This has been bolstered by the historically low interest rate environment of most of the past two years. Each board member stated that homeownership is not a new item on their agenda. Matz pointed out that she has been working with the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, and currently serves as its vice chair, for some time. She also has included affordable mortgages in her Partnering and Leadership Successes workshops. “Homeownership is a very significant issue and something I’ve felt very strongly about since day one,” Matz told Credit Union Times. “Credit union are and will continue to be part of the solution,” she said. But credit unions need to work harder. “Seventy percent of credit unions make mortgages, but it’s only a thin veneer. They’re not digging down deep,” Matz said. The NCUA Board member pointed out that only 2% of all mortgages are made by credit unions. Of Johnson’s recent release on homeownership, she said, “The more people jumping on the bandwagon the better.” However, Owens emphasized that Johnson is not a newcomer to this bandwagon. NCUA is a Blueprint partner with the White House’s Initiative to Increase Minority Homeownership and increasing homeownership is a key “building block” in the Access Across America program. Owens pointed out that in September 2002, Johnson visited the Colonias region in El Paso, Texas as part of an Access Across America empowerment event on housing. “If you ask low- to moderate-income families across America who have achieved homeownership.and see the smiles on the faces of those people in their new homes.the smiles on those faces speak volumes,” Owens commented. Neither candidate is new to the political arena either. Johnson is a former state senator and co-chair of Iowa’s Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. Matz was a Clinton appointee at the Department of Agriculture and recommended by then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to the NCUA Board. President Bush nominated both. While both have been working the homeownership issue, just about six weeks out from the presidential election, this appears to be the first time there has been a clash between the two. “There is no question this is a bipartisan board,” Owens said. “Sure, philosophies may be different at times.” He described the board members as working in “harmony” despite their differing political views and the empty third board seat. Owens concluded, “I don’t see where having a bipartisan board has impacted the agency at all.” Board Member Matz declined to discuss the politics of NCUA’s seventh floor. [email protected]

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