Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for that wonderful, warm welcome. And thank you, Otis, for your kind words of introduction. It is a pleasure to be with you at Willow Oaks today, and it is good to be back in Greensboro. As you know, I'm from just down the road in Salisbury, so in many ways this is like being home for me.
It is indeed a privilege to be in the company of so many outstanding public servants, community and state leaders, housing officials, and most importantly, the residents of this beautiful new community! I could not think of a better way to start off my weekend than to spend time with the good people of Guilford County.
This past week I traveled around Western North Carolina—I've been in 15 counties and, I met with lots of good folks along the way and talked with them about the issues on their minds. I know many of you have similar concerns about our homeland security, about the economy and energy costs. You should know that we in Congress are hard at work on these and many other issues that face our nation, issues like homeland security. We are ensuring that we fund the war against terror, and that our brave men and women who are fighting for our freedoms have the very best equipment, training and morale. Since 2000, we have increased the number of border agents by 66 percent. In the area of tax relief, we have provided tax relief to working families and small businesses—in fact the average family of four [earning $40,000] is saving more than $2,000 each year thanks to the tax relief legislation Congress has enacted over the last five years.
And thanks in large part to this tax relief, our national economy continues to expand, with more than 5.5 million jobs created in just the last three years. I know that energy costs are eating more into the budgets of our families and businesses. Last summer, with my support Congress enacted a comprehensive energy bill that will help reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources. Just last week, the Senate passed a bill that would enhance our domestic sources of oil and natural gas. And, we are developing additional solutions—both long and short term—to improve our nation's energy security.
And speaking of energy, there truly is an amazing, positive energy among all of you gathered here today to celebrate the grand opening of Willow Oaks! With the help of a $26 million HOPE VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, this thriving, safe community has risen up from a site once overwhelmed by poverty and ridden with crime. What a dramatic turnaround—not only in the neighborhood, but also in the surrounding community—as that $26 million grant has been leveraged into $100 million in private investment! This HOPE VI housing development offers its residents job training, counseling, childcare and other critical services. So they not only have the keys to a new home, they have the keys to a better quality of life and a brighter future.
I am pleased that Willow Oaks also brings opportunity for residents to get on track to becoming homeowners—this involves financial planning, saving for a down payment and unexpected costs. I have learned that as of today 134 residents participants have completed their goals in this program, and 13 of them have already bought new homes. This is a remarkable achievement. Please join me in congratulating these folks.
A record 70 percent of Americans own their own home, and minority homeownership is also at a record high 50 percent. While this is very good news, we must continue to focus our efforts on raising minority homeownership even higher.
I simply cannot say enough about the positive effects of homeownership. Parents who own their homes provide more stable environments for their children. These children to do better in school and to become more involved in the community. These families are able to build wealth, many for the first time, thereby helping secure funds for retirement and higher education. Families who own their homes also are more likely to spend the money necessary to properly maintain the home. These positive results have a ripple effect throughout the community, including the economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, the community of Willow Oaks is the product of innovative vision, unwavering commitment and strong leadership by the Greensboro Housing Authority, our local and state leaders, and the many supporters who have turned an ambitious concept into a reality. This development is a shining example of the dramatic transformation that is possible> Gone is a dilapidated, crime-ridden neighborhood and here to stay is safe, affordable housing and a thriving, mixed income community where friends can meet, where children can play and where families can truly be at home.
As I mentioned before, this would not have been possible without the investment of a HOPE VI grant. I strongly support this program, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, I will continue to work to see that it receives the funding it needs. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the vast turnaround that HOPE VI investments has brought to so many cities in North Carolina. For example, last year, I visited Capitol Park in Raleigh. The year before the distressed housing project was torn down, the on-site police station received more than 1,500 calls, including two involving officer-related shootings. But in the year after Capitol Park was built, there were just two calls to the police—one to report a break-in, the other to turn in a man stealing out of unlocked cars. The innovative thinking that has made Capitol Park in Raleigh, and Piedmont Courts in Charlotte, and now Willow Oaks in Greensboro such resounding successes needs to be replicated by housing authorities elsewhere in North Carolina and the nation.
In the Senate, I have supported full funding for HOPE VI and have advocated for this program with the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, I recently co-sponsored the HOPE VI Improvement and Reauthorization Act to ensure the program continues to revitalize communities across our state and nation.
I will continue to work closely with housing authorities to strongly promote projects like Willow Oaks in the U.S. Senate.
Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I am so proud to be part of this celebration and to see the opportunities Willow Oaks is bringing to this community. It has been a privilege to be here today, and it is an honor to serve you in the United States Senate. May God bless each and every one of you, and may God bless this great land of the free—America!