Housing Rescue Clears Congress and Goes to White House

Housing Trust Fund, $20 Million for Vermont, Veterans Aid in Package

WASHINGTON, July 26 - In a rare weekend session, the Senate today approved and sent to President Bush a massive housing rescue bill intended to help hundreds of thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure. The vote was 72 to 13.

The measure creates an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, an idea first introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) seven years ago. Also Senators Patrick Leahy and Sanders added a provision that will pump some $20 million to Vermont communities. Another Sanders proposal to help disabled veterans retrofit their homes is part of the package.

As a House member in 2001, Sanders first introduced legislation to create a trust fund to help build affordable homes and rental housing. The measure the Senate passed today would create a dedicated fund to build, repair or rehabilitate affordable rental units and assist first-time homebuyers. The funds would be distributed to states and local communities. "This provision will play a significant role in building affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people, as well as the disabled," Sanders said.

The sweeping legislation also would help communities ease the harmful effects of foreclosures and delinquencies. Under the provision by Leahy and Sanders, Vermont would receive almost $20 million of $3.92 billion in supplemental Community Development Block Grants. "Vermont cities and towns will be able to provide immediate assistance to the struggling middle class trying to hold onto their homes and revitalize neighborhoods in communities hit hard by foreclosures," Sanders said.

Another $57 million is allotted nationwide for federal grants to help disabled veterans adapt their homes. "With so many service members coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with disabilities, it is absolutely imperative that we make sure they have as normal a life as possible and that certainly includes adapting their homes to meet their needs," Sanders said of the provision he offered.

The president had threatened to veto the bill, but he backtracked earlier this week and now says he will quickly sign the measure that combines tax relief for homeowners, a new regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and a $300 billion program to avert foreclosures.

The Senate completed action on the housing package amid fresh evidence that the mortgage crisis is worsening. The number of households facing foreclosure more than doubled in the second quarter of this year compared to one year ago, according to data released Friday. Nationwide, foreclosure actions involved 739,714 homes in April, May and June. In Vermont, public radio reported that the 443 home foreclosures during past three months represented a 65 percent increase over the same period last year.