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I believe in the American Dream. You work hard, pay your bills, save some money along the way. You should also be able to buy a home. The dream isn’t just for middle- and upper-income families, but for people of modest means, too. I’m familiar with that. My mother was a single parent. We weren’t poor by any means, but we had to be careful with our money. She worked hard, paid for everything in cash, saved for necessities (and a few luxuries) and owned her own home in El Paso’s farming community. It wasn’t a mansion, but it was our mansion. Mom always kept it meticulously clean, neat and in good repair. It was home, and we loved it. I guess that’s why I’m a steadfast advocate of affordable housing. I understand what having a home means-pride, confidence and knowing you can stand on your own two feet. One of the common misconceptions in the financial community I’ve run into over my career at the credit union is, “The lower the income a borrower has, the less creditworthy they are.” Don’t believe it. Wealth and creditworthiness don’t always go hand in hand. A large percentage of GECU’s 289,000 members come from lower-income neighborhoods in El Paso. They’re proud, hard-working people who take their obligations seriously. Many are first or second generation Americans wanting a better life for their families. When they’re ready to buy a home, they’ll come to GECU because a friend, family member or co-worker referred them to us. They’ve heard we’re willing to work with first-time homebuyers of modest means, and we do. We’ll go that extra mile to help them buy their home. In turn, we’ll have forged a strong, loyal relationship that will continue for generations to come. We aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary-it’s who we are. Since 1957, GECU has been making affordable home loans, always mindful of the impact it has on our total membership. We’re the stewards of our members’ money and have an obligation to lend their money wisely. Year-to-date 2009, GECU holds 1,935 loans totaling $132.7 million in our mortgage portfolio. In 2000, GECU’s dedication to making mortgages in underserved areas helped lead to the establishment of El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO. CUSO, a coalition of area eight credit unions, focused on helping low-income families become first time homeowners by offering financial education programs, counseling services for first-time homebuyers, help with the loan approval process, risk-priced mortgages and proactive outreach efforts in underserved communities. Since November 2001, 7,600 families and individuals have attended financial workshops, and 320 low-income families have moved into homes with mortgage loans totaling $28 million. This represents significant inroads in an extremely low-income market long underserved by virtue of our proximity to the Texas-Mexico border. Many families fall well below the median household income, having little or no credit and unable to save for a down payment. Working with them to achieve homeownership is a comprehensive, careful process (sometimes taking up to two years) to ensure their success, not failure. Financial education workshops, including homebuyers’ seminars, helping them establish and repair their credit and securing community second financing, if they qualify, are key components of that process. The last thing we want is for families to purchase homes, no matter how modest, they can’t afford. What’s important it that we’ve helped 320 El Paso families become first-time homeowners. Folks want to buy homes. They want to borrow. But they’re afraid they won’t qualify. At GECU, we believe if a member has a good job and good credit, with proper financial counseling and quality underwriting, we can help them succeed. It’s in their best interest, our best interest and the best interest of the community. It’s just a matter of doing good business. Good loans for good people for good reasons-people helping people. It’s about helping our members achieve the American Dream.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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