Homeownership, and the stability that comes with it, is a key goal for many members of the United States military service. Seventy-five percent of military members and their families say that owning a home is one of their top priorities after returning from service, and 88% of veterans say that owning a home makes them feel safer, according to a 2013 Century 21 Real Estate survey of 437 military members and their spouses.
Financial institutions can do more to help military families achieve and maintain the dream of homeownership. For example, many active-duty service members are unaware of the housing-related protections to which they are entitled under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Under the SCRA, certain financial obligations can be relieved, postponed or suspended when military members are called upon to serve their nation. These protections can help people who might otherwise fall behind on their mortgages. But some military families do not know they are eligible for these benefits, while others are uncertain about the steps required to apply for them.
To address this issue, some of the nation's major financial services companies and the White House are announcing a voluntary industry effort to help service members and their families stay in their homes. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Ocwen Financial Corp. and Quicken Loans have pledged to bolster the protections outlined in the SCRA and improve communication about the process that eligible service members must take to avail themselves of the benefits.
Going forward, these companies will regularly match their lists of mortgage holders with the Department of Defense's human resources information source to determine the active duty status of military customers. They will proactively reach out to eligible service members to inform them of their protections and the steps they can take to activate those protections. They will also standardize procedures for allowing eligible service members to take advantage of their benefits.
This is just one of the steps that financial institutions can take to help military members. Over the past two years, banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America have partnered with nonprofits to donate an estimated 5,500 homes to veterans and military families, as outlined in a report by the Financial Services Roundtable's Housing Policy Council and the HOPE NOW Alliance.
We urge more financial services institutions to join the effort to support the home donation program by following the framework outlined in the report. The total number of donated homes, which include distressed and real estate owned properties, could double to nearly 11,000 over the next year with participation from additional banks.
Helping military families achieve long-term housing stability provides a financial foundation that empowers our nation's heroes to revitalize the communities in which they live. We encourage more banks, mortgage lenders, financial services institutions and the government to join these efforts.
Tim Pawlenty is president and chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable and served two terms as Governor of Minnesota. John Dalton is president of the FSR's Housing Policy Council and was the 70th Secretary of the Navy.