The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

‘Thank You for Your Service’ -- Housing Industry Helps Vets

Of the thousands of complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), gripes regarding debt collections from the military community numbered twice the rate of the general population.

That’s rather surprising when you consider that servicemen and women, veterans and their families are covered not only by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which applies to everyone, but also by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The latter postpones or suspends certain civil obligations to enable servicemembers to devote their full attention to their military duties.

That the CFPB has fielded nearly 20,000 complaints from servicemembers is dastardly news, indeed. But there’s also good news from the financial field – especially from the housing industry -- when it comes to the military.

Here’s a peek at just some of the “thank you for your service” efforts being taken on behalf of the military:

-- Army Sgt. Matthew White and his two dogs, Nike and Toffee, recently received the keys to a new mortgage-free, fully furnished home in Dumfries, Virginia. The house was donated by PulteGroup’s Built to Honor program, which gives new homes to wounded veterans and their families across the country. (White was injured while on a foot patrol during his second deployment to Afghanistan.) Pulte has given away dozens of houses under the program.

More than 50 national and local contractors, trade partners and Pulte employees donated time, money and resources to build the 1,800-square-foot townhouse. The home’s furniture was donated by TV personality Rachael Ray.

-- Bank of America has given more than 2,000 abandoned and foreclosed houses to such nonprofit partners as HomeStrong USA and the Military Warriors Support Foundation, which vet the eventual recipients to make sure they can handle the responsibilities of homeownership. The bank’s employees volunteer thousands of hours to help put the houses into move-in condition, including stocking the pantries with canned goods.

-- SunTrust honored vets on the Thursday before Memorial Day last year. At exactly 11 a.m., the bank’s 35,000 employees stopped what they were doing for a moment of silence to honor the fallen -- even if a teller or loan officer was with a customer. And in many cases, customers bowed their heads right along.

-- In conjunction with local groups, Freddie Mac -- the giant quasi-government secondary market institution that helps keep the mortgage money flowing -- offers free homeownership counseling during American Heroes Housing Fairs and Open Houses throughout the country. Counseling is open to both active and retired military, as well as educators, firefighters, police and other first responders.

-- The Chesty Puller House in Saluda County, Virginia, is intended to be a refuge for at-risk Marines of all ranks, from privates to generals, before they reach the point of considering suicide. In 2015, to raise money for this cause, Dave Biggers of real estate technology firm A La Mode matched donations, dollar-for-dollar, from customers, employees and anyone else who felt compelled to donate.

-- Brint Construction, a Texas-based, family-owned homebuilder, designed and built the Lone Survivor Foundation’s first retreat center in Bolivar, Texas. The space provides therapeutic healing and educational support for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other wounds associated with combat.

-- Barbara Mills, a RE/MAX Realty One agent in Inverness, Florida, has arranged hundreds of small parties to greet individual warriors returning home from the Middle East. She also arranged a larger event for 140 National Guardsmen who arrived all at once. Each soldier or sailor is given a gift basket valued at about $450. Each basket also contains $500 or so in checks and other gifts from member of the Citrus County community.

-- Greystone Real Estate Partners of Charleston, South Carolina, is among a number of firms involved with Homes Fit for Heroes, a foundation that provides apartments to wounded special operations warriors -- SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, Night Stalkers, Delta Force members and others -- while they recover from their wounds.

These are just a few examples of how real estate folks try to give back. There are too many others to list here. But we salute all of them, as well as the warriors they are helping.