National bus tour pulls into Gulfport to promote home ownership

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Saying home ownership is under attack, national realtors are fighting back. On Monday, they brought their battle plan to south Mississippi.

The National Association of Realtors says home buyers and sellers are being hit from all sides, from the high cost of insurance to limited access to affordable mortgages. So the organization is hitting the road to raise awareness about the challenges.

The "Home Ownership Matters Bus Tour" rolled into Gulfport Monday morning and parked in front of the Realtor Building on DeBuys Road.

"We're trying to go to as many places as we can in the United States to tell homeowners that home ownership still matters to them. We recognize that it's still part of the American dream, despite what the economists are saying about the national economy," said Lucien Salvant, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

The organization is trying to rally south Mississippians to convince Congress to help more families get on the road to owning a home.

"We're fighting for the mortgage interest deduction. We're trying to because Congress is looking for ways to pay for the debt and they're looking at cutting out the mortgage interest deduction and we're saying 'No,'" said Salvant.

"That's a huge reason to own a home is you get that tax deduction on your mortgage. If they take that away, then that's going to affect people's desire to own a home," said Cindy Pritchard, President of the Gulf Coast Association of Realtors.

Many South Mississippi realtors say after dealing with a housing slump for years, they've actually seen an up-tick in sales and calls from interested buyers in recent months. They credit the low interest rates, more choices, and better prices.  They say they're worried that any changes to national policy regarding housing could jeopardize that recovery.

The organization is also encouraging banks to loosen up their lending standards, like lowering the credit score and the down payment requirements.  And, it's urging Congress to renew the National Flood Insurance Program for at least five years.

"Congress has been renewing the flood insurance program at a few months at a time, or a year at a time. We're asking for a five-year renewal on this program to bring more stability to the market," said Salvant. "Lenders won't close a loan if you or I have a home that we're buying in a flood zone and we need flood insurance. If it's not available, that whole transaction is stopped dead in the water."

"Our people need to be able to afford insurance so they can enjoy the area that we live in," said Pritchard. "Having this bus here where people can see that home ownership is a possibility here on the Gulf Coast, I think, it's going to bring a tremendous amount of awareness."

The bus left Gulfport at noon.  Its next stop is Lafayette, Louisiana. The tour will make about two dozen stops before coming to an end in California in November.

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