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New Mexico State University

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NMSU partners with El Paso credit unions to provide affordable homes for families

For years, New Mexico State University has been helping hundreds of low-income families in El Paso into affordable homes, but it was not until just recently that the university found out about it.

In 1999, the NMSU College of Business put together the business plan for a potential organization to help low-income families in El Paso County find affordable housing. NMSU's business plan showed a lack of housing resources in El Paso. The plan also outlined the steps needed for the potential organization's success, including credit counseling and other methods of establishing and rehabilitating credit for potential homeowners. Two years later, El Paso Affordable Housing Credit Union Source Organization (CUSO) officially formed and began to follow the model, but by then NMSU had lost track of the plan's progress. Earlier this month, the university received a call and was surprised at the program's success.

"I think it's wonderful. It sounded to me like they really followed the proposed business plan," said Tony Popp, head of economics and international business in the College of Business. Popp helped write the original plan. "We usually don't get much response after we do these things. I think it's great they've put so many people into homes and helped them through financial planning."

NMSU's College of Business and Arrowhead Center puts together 30 or more business plans, feasibility studies and marketing plans a year for small businesses, local governments and other entities.

"We've placed 300 families into homes. We've put another couple of thousand through our financial education courses," said Larry Garcia, president of El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for NMSU's study."

Garcia stressed the importance of the elements outlined in the business plan, including family asset development, counseling families about the importance of establishing credit and paying down debt.

"One of the problems for people who can't get into housing is they don't have a savings or checking account. They have no credit. They live week to week," said Popp. "The financial counseling puts them on a track to home ownership and to organizing their future."

In addition to financial counseling, El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO recruits volunteers to help low-income families prepare their taxes. In three years, those volunteers have helped prepare more than 24,000 returns garnering more than $33 million in refunds and tax credits. Families can then use the money from their tax returns for college tuition, as a down payment on a new home or to buy a car.

The organization also has programs to help develop colonia housing projects and to assist those with disabilities.

"It's part of NMSU's land-grant mission to help enrich the lives of others in New Mexico and surrounding areas," Popp said.

In the last five years, El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO has obtained more than $2 million in grants to help families. The organization has helped those families find more than $22 million in mortgage loans and down payment assistance.