By Tammy Goodyear\r\nCounty Executive Director\r\nFarm Service Agency\r\nAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently kicked off National Homeownership Month by highlighting USDA\u2019s ongoing role to help people buy homes in rural areas.\r\n\u201cOwning a home helps promote stable communities and is one of the best ways American families can build wealth,\u201d Vilsack said. \u201cDuring the Obama Administration, USDA has helped more than one million rural families and individuals realize their dreams of homeownership. This year, our celebration of National Homeownership Month will recognize partnerships with some of the many organizations that have worked with us to make this achievement possible.\u201d\r\nUSDA builds strong relationships with lenders, home builders, realtors, community development organizations, non-profits and housing finance authorities to provide homeownership opportunities to very-low, low- and moderate-income individuals in rural areas.\r\nUSDA\u2019s Guaranteed Loan program, for instance, increases access to mortgage financing in rural communities by offering approved lenders a 90 percent loan guarantee to offset their risk if a borrower defaults. By partnering with approved public and private lenders, more than one million low- to moderate-income families have bought and refinanced homes in rural America through this program during the Obama Administration. The program requires no down payment from the applicant, offers a fixed interest rate, and has a 30-year loan term.\r\nThe department recently announced a series of changes that will make it faster and cheaper for rural homeowners with USDA-backed mortgages to refinance their loans and save money with a lower interest rate. The changes took effect June 2.\r\nInterested homeowners with USDA loan guarantees should contact their lender about refinance procedures. Homeowners with mortgages through USDA\u2019s Direct Loan program should contact a USDA housing specialist.\r\nIn addition to mortgage financing, USDA provides grants and loans to help rural homeowners make improvements or repairs, such as removing health and safety hazards or making accessibility modifications for people with disabilities.\r\nUSDA has invested more than $137 billion since 2009 to support rural homeownership. In 2015 alone, the Department invested $19.5 billion to help more than 148,500 rural families buy or make repairs and safety upgrades to their homes. USDA created more homeownership opportunities through seven years of the Obama Administration than during any previous seven-year period in the single-family housing program\u2019s history.\r\nUSDA employees will celebrate National Homeownership Month throughout June with events across the nation that demonstrate the commitment to provide access to affordable housing for low- and moderate-income rural residents. To learn more about USDA\u2019s observance of National Homeownership Month, please visit its Facebook page or contact a Rural Development State Office.\r\nUSDA Rural Development (@usdaRD) has helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes since 2009; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; and invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents. USDA also has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov\/results.