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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 7, 1994
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

Washington, D.C.

10:32 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, Frank. And thank you all for being here -- Mayor Kelly, Carol Casperson, Mr. Walker, Reverend Weathers, and others -- and especially to Vivian and Theron Miller. I have really looked forward to coming here today because, as Frank said so eloquently, this house, the work, the love, the concern that made it, reflects what I think we have to do as a people to rebuild the American community and to give this country back to our children and to the future.

I have cared a lot about and tried to support Habitat for Humanity for a long time. Millard and Linda Fuller are good friends of Hillary's and mine, and I received a letter from Millard this morning explaining that he couldn't be here today because he's speaking at the Kansas State Prayer Breakfast. He might have said he couldn't be here today because he's heard me give this speech so many times before -- (laughter) -- but we really owe all of this to their vision and their lifetime of commitment to service.

In the summer of 1992, on my birthday -- which is also Tipper Gore's birthday -- the Gores and Hillary and I worked on a Habitat project with President and Mrs. Carter in Georgia. It was one of the most memorable birthdays of my life.

I like Habitat because it makes the American dream of homeownership possible for good people who are working hard and doing their best and who themselves have to work to make this work. I like it because it involves giving and because it doesn't involve the government, although in a place or two, for example, down in Florida after the terrible hurricane, we're trying to do a few things which will make it possible for Habitat to do more.

We're also trying to help, as Mayor Kelly said, under the able leadership of Henry Cisneros -- the former mayor of San Antonio -- the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is working directly with Habitat affiliates all over the country to get HUD foreclosed properties into the hands of low-come buyers. When you think about how many boarded-up houses there are in America, and how many people there are living on the streets, when you think about how many boarded-up buildings there are in America and how many Vivian Millers there are out there who would give anything to have a chance to work with her friends and her neighbors and her church to get a home, it is unconscionable that we do not do more.

Secretary Cisneros is committed to carrying out this administration's mission to do more; to make it easier for local governments to make more use of the HOME program, which provides block grants for affordable housing; and to put the Federal Housing Administration back into the business of helping folks buy their first loans.

Last year, FHA had its second best year in its 60-year history, insuring more than a million mortgages including 400,000

mortgages for first-time home buyers, most of them young folks in their 20s and 30s -- an age group that still has a harder time buying a home today than it did in the previous generation. But we know that government cannot do this job alone. And I have to tell you, I was very moved by what Frank Belatti said today. I have eaten a lot of his chicken over time -- (laughter) -- I think I eat more now. And I'm glad they didn't buy that ad at the Super Bowl, aren't you? And instead they purchased this home. (Applause.)

You know, during my inauguration -- Frank ought to give himself a little more credit -- he had already decided to build 100 homes through Habitat for Humanity, but because of the spirit of the moment, which he has so eloquently recounted, he decided that he would double it and do 200 homes; and make millions of dollars in contributions to dreams for people like Vivian and Theron Miller. And it's not only the largest financial contribution in Habitat's history, it mobilized, because of that money, the volunteer efforts of young and not-so-young Habitat volunteers all across America -- people who want to give something to their country who can't afford to pay for the materials to rehab it, but are more than happy to come and roll up their sleeves and work on weekends with people like Vivian Miller to make homeownership a possibility.

So today, thanks to Habitat and to this wonderful corporation and its leader, and the people here in D.C., Vivian Miller joins the proud ranks of America's homeowners. Before you know it, she'll be complaining of all the junk mail in her mailbox, just like everybody else. (Laughter.)

Vivian, I congratulate you and your two sons, including the one who is in college and can't be here today. Congratulations to this community and all those who made it possible. I want to once again thank your pastor and your church for supporting you, and all the others who volunteered to work on this project.

I believe that Habitat has the capacity to literally revolutionize the sense of community and responsibility, caring about one another in this country. And I hope that Frank Belatti's example will be followed by business leaders throughout the country. I hope more and more people will be doing this. And I assure you that we are committed to moving these properties that can be restored and can be made living places with happy homes and happy families and stronger communities. If we can do our part, we're going to do it.

But all of you have made this possible today. This is a great day for the American spirit, and I hope all over America tonight, when people see this, they will draw renewed strength and pride and ask themselves: What can I do to make more of these things happen?

Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)

END10:38 A.M. EST