'Thanks for your service'.

Author:Sichelman, Lew


The housing industry has been stepping up in different ways to salute our nation's military. The programs run the gamut, from offering jobs in the industry to donated and renovated homes for veterans.

There's no question that the housing industry has stepped forward in a big way--perhaps bigger than most other businesses--to say thanks to members of the military and veterans for their service to our country. [paragraph] The examples--both large and small--are numerous:

* Freddie Mac, McLean, Virginia, in conjunction with local housing groups, held its second annual American Heroes Housing Fair and Open House in Jacksonville, Florida, last year, offering free homeownership counseling not only to active and retired military but also to educators, firefighters, police and other first responders. Two more similar events are planned for this year, but details have yet to be finalized.

* To raise money for the Chesty Puller House, a refuge in Saluda, Virginia, for at-risk Marines of all ranks--from privates to generals--who have contemplated suicide or are otherwise in need, Dave Biggers, chairman of a la mode, a Naples, Florida, real estate technology company, offered to match donations dollar-for-dollar from anyone who felt compelled to donate. As of this writing, Biggers has raised nearly $135,000--half out of his own pocket, according to the most recent information available at the time this article was written.

* Brint Construction Inc., a family-owned home builder operating in the Bolivar [Texas] Peninsula, designed and built the Lone Survivor Foundation's first retreat center in Crystal Beach, Texas, as space to provide therapeutic healing and educational support for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and combat wounds. The company also sponsors the Texas Frog Fest, a weeklong entertainment venue showcasing local and national artists for the benefit of the retreat center.

* Atlanta-based PulteGroup Inc., one of the country's largest homebuilders, has worked with local trades and suppliers to build brand-new houses for injured veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq. Working with Operation FINALLY HOME, an organization that provides custom-built, mortgage-free homes to America's heroes and families of fallen soldiers, Pulte has built and donated more than 60 homes since 2013 to recognize and thank returning military personnel.

* The Carrington Companies, Aliso Viejo, California, a firm that owns and operates multiple businesses that cover nearly every aspect of single-family real estate transactions, collaborates with the Gary Sinise Foundation to build customized smart homes that allow severely injured veterans to live independently. Through its Carrington Charitable Foundation, the company also has raised more than $1 million annually through various fundraising endeavors, most notably an annual golf tournament held every October, to support vets.

* Greystar Real Estate Partners, Charleston, South Carolina, one of the nation's largest apartment developers and managers, is among a number of multifamily companies involved with Homes Fit for Heroes, a program that provides apartments to wounded special operations forces warriors--SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, Joint Special Operations Command, Night Stalkers and Delta Forces--while they recover from their wounds.

* Half of Houston-based Envoy Mortgage's 900-plus employees have taken part in the company's VA Boot Camp training and certification program, an eight-module education program aimed at turning its staff into experts in lending programs from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The boot camp has been so enthusiastically received that Envoy is developing versions for real estate professionals and other professionals.

Efforts have been springing up seemingly in every corner of the real estate and housing finance business to pay tribute to the service of active members of the military, along with veterans and their families. To recognize this groundswell of initiatives, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA's) held what it called a Hall of Honors program back at its annual convention in October 2014.

Of the 17 companies recognized by that program, two--Bank of America (BofA) and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage--were named in all three of the Hall of Honor's categories, and SunTrust Mortgage, U.S. Bank and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union were named in two.

The Hall of Honors was created to acknowledge MBA member companies that have created programs serving the country's heroes in the areas of homeownership assistance, financial counseling and employment assistance. Each of the 17 companies, "through their commitment to helping the military community, has demonstrated first-class service toward recognizing the men and women who defend our nation," Bill Cosgrove, CMB, 2015 MBA chairman and chief executive officer of Union Home Mortgage Corp, said in announcing the companies being honored.

It's time to revisit what some of these marquee companies have been doing on behalf of the military in this country.

Bank of America

There is honor in service. It is toward that end that Bank of America, Charlotte, North Carolina, has been providing financial services to America's military for nearly a century.

More recently, though, BofA has been giving back on so many levels that it is hard to count them all. But since this is a mortgage publication, let's start there. After all, an important part of any commitment to support the military is making sure its members are well housed.

In 2012, the company made a public vow to make 1,000 properties available over the following three years to nonprofits that provide homes for military veterans. Working with local and national partners such as HomeStrong USA, the Military Warriors Support Foundation and the Nehemiah Community Reinvestment Fund, that goal was met more than a year ahead of schedule.

Now, four years later, just "north of 1,900 abandoned" and foreclosed houses have been handed over to Bank of America's partners, which vet the vets who ultimately receive the homes free of charge to ensure they can handle the responsibilities that go along with homeownership, says Jeff Cathey, BofA's senior military affairs executive.

The bank's employees also are heavily involved in the effort, dedicating more than 3,000 volunteer hours since the program began to help get the houses back into move-in condition. That could include any number of chores, right down to stocking the pantry with canned goods. "It's a real bonding type of moment," says Cathey.

One of the warriors who received a fresh start from Bank of America when he came home to Fernley, Nevada, was former U.S. Army Cpl. Todd Lipscomb.

When returning to his base in Iraq from patrol in 2007, his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion blew up his truck's air-conditioning unit...

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