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BUSH uses radio speech to promote home ownership programs

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) _ President Bush pledged his administration's best efforts Saturday to help more people realize the dream of home ownership and called on Americans to ``put hammer to nail'' in voluntary efforts to meet that goal.

Bush said that while the home ownership rate has reached 68 percent for many Americans, it remains at under 50 percent for blacks and Hispanics.

``These numbers are troubling because home ownership lies at the heart of the American Dream,'' the president said in his weekly radio address. ``It is a key to upward mobility for low- and middle-income Americans.''

Bush commented as he settled in for a weekend of relaxation at his Texas ranch before heading to Europe for a weeklong series of meetings with world leaders on such potentially contentious issues as missile defense and global warming.

Bush, who earlier this week joined in as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer to help build a house in Tampa, Fla., used the radio address to sketch an affordable housing solution based on government and private efforts.

On the government side, the president said he is seeking a $2 billion increase in the annual budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help revitalize communities in urban and rural America.

He said the American Dream Downpayment Fund will provide $200 million in downpayment assistance to help 130,000 low-income families buy homes. And he said a new program will allow people who receive low-income rental assistance to combine a year's worth of payments and use the money for a downpayment on a house or to make monthly payments on a new mortgage.

``We're also proposing a $1.7 billion tax credit to support the rehabilitation or new construction of up to 100,000 homes over a 5-year period,'' Bush said. And he asserted that the $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill he signed into law this week will make money available for use in buying a new home or paying the mortgage on an existing home.

``Government can play a helpful role but so must many others,'' the president said. ``My administration is dedicated to helping the private sector organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, that build homes and lift lives.''

He made a direct pitch for volunteer assistance.

``If you have an opportunity to help Habitat for Humanity, or other organizations working to make the American Dream a reality for more families, I hope you do so,'' he said.

``Government funding can help,'' Bush said. ``But Habitat relies on volunteers to accomplish the bulk of its mission.

``And I can tell you, from personal experience, there's no better way to feel like you're making a difference than to put hammer to nail and help people realize their dreams.''

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