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Libby receives $75,000 housing rehab grant

| January 25, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Fannie Mae Foundation is giving Libby $75,000 to initiate a housing rehabilitation program.

The announcement was made Thursday morning by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who last year invited the foundation on a fact-finding trip to Libby.

Fannie Mae helps expand affordable housing in America and tackles the toughest housing needs. The non-profit since 1968 has helped 63 million low- and middle-income families buy homes.

"I wanted them to see firsthand the destruction and devastation that has been inflicted on the residents and town of Libby," Baucus said from his office in Washington, D.C. "Libby has been hit hard by asbestosis. The extent of asbestos contamination in Libby, the number of people who are sick and who have died from asbestos exposure is staggering."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 1999 has been cleaning up asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby, which was mined and processed here from the 1920s to 1990. More than 200 have died from the contamination and some 2,000 suffer from related illnesses.

From the grant, $50,000 will go to the Montana Homeownership Network to put a counselor in Libby to work with homeowners facing default and foreclosures.

"They've already been contacted by a woman whose hours at work were cut and she's having trouble keeping up with her house payment," said Dan Mudd, president and chief executive officer for Fannie Mae.

The foundation also will provide a $15,000 grant to help Lincoln County complete its growth plan for Libby. A public meeting is scheduled for March.

Finally, Fannie Mae will provide its home-buyer education tool, Home Counselor Online. The free service will allow Northwestern Montana Human Resources help families through the home-buying process.

The Fannie Mae Foundation, in addition to the funding, will work with lenders and home counselors to get mortgages for senior citizens, people with disabilities and families with less than perfect credit who need improve housing.

"This is what it's all about - public/private partnerships," Baucus said. "Working together - that's the way to make things happen. And we are making things happen in Libby.

Fannie Mae came up with a plan to address Libby's major issues and to lay the foundation for future progress, Mudd said.

"We've already begun our work together," he said. "Let me emphasize, this is all just a start. There's a lot to do. It's going to take some time. We can't solve all of Libby's problems, but I'm now pretty sure we can be helpful."

"Be assured that I'm going to keep my eye on this because helping communities like Libby is exactly why Fannie Mae exists," Mudd continued.