How HAC’s Training and Technical Assistance Supports Homebuyer Education

Homeownership isn’t just part of the American Dream—it is a pathway to decent, affordable housing and one of the best opportunities families have to build wealth. For over fifty years, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has empowered rural nonprofits to better meet the housing needs of their communities. From self-help housing to sustainable design, HAC’s training and technical assistance supports a variety of homeownership programs. Because June is National Homeownership Month, join us as we explore one way HAC supports rural homeownership: helping our nonprofit partners provide homebuyer education.  

For many families, navigating the homebuying process can be a challenge. Homebuyer education prepares buyers by helping them understand the homebuying process, building their financial skills like budgeting, and teaching how to maintain their new home. In addition, many first-time homebuyer programs (including most government-funded homeownership initiatives) require that prospective buyers complete homebuyer education to qualify for assistance.  

HAC’s one-on-one technical assistance supports organizations at every stage of providing homebuyer education. “Many of the groups I work with want to offer homebuyer education because nobody else in their community is doing it,” says HAC Housing Specialist Kelly Cooney. We assist organizations with deciding which homebuyer education courses to offer, navigating of the process of becoming a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counseling agency, and even refining existing courses to better meet the needs of their clients. HAC’s Technical Assistance program also promotes peer-learning and resource-sharing by connecting our partner organizations with other like-missioned groups in their area and around the country.  

Unfortunately, many rural families travel long distances to reach the nearest class.  During the fall of 2020, HAC provided training to 14 local housing organizations, helping them convert their in-person homebuyer education courses to a virtual format. Over the course of three sessions, attendees learned best practices for online teaching, success stories from peers, and how to keep their clients engaged.  

As Elizabeth Mooney, a Housing Counselor at Community Action Commission of Fayette County, explains, “HAC has been so helpful in the transition of our homebuyer education classes during COVID. They scheduled calls to check in on the transition, offered solutions that other agencies were using, and connected me with even more resources. They even offered me a scholarship for some of the virtual trainings I attended.”  

You can request technical assistance and explore HAC’s calendar of training events. 

2021 HAC Annual Report

HAC’s 2021 Annual Report

HAC would like to present its Annual Report for the year 2021.

HAC 2021 Annual Report

A Message from HAC President & CEO and Board Chair

For 50 years, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has worked with rural communities to build a better future. As we celebrate the first half-century of HAC, we are prompted to look back on the lessons of the last 50 years. But more importantly, we are inspired to look ahead. We envision a future in which everyone in rural America will have a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. Since our ambitions are mighty, the challenge before us in 2021 was to build the launchpad for that vision. 

In many ways, 2021 was our most impactful year yet. But, we didn’t just help build 820 homes, publish 11 new research products, and train 1,894 housing professionals. We did all that in ways that set up HAC and the communities we serve for long-term success. 

In December, we hosted the National Rural Housing Conference, welcoming over 550 rural housing experts and on-the-ground professionals from across the country. With speeches from members of the President’s Cabinet, Congressional leadership, and civil rights icons, and discussions with panels of industry leaders, the conference was a platform for innovative ideas about how to harness the innovation of rural America. Through more than 40 workshops, our attendees gained the knowledge and skills they need to create meaningful, lasting change in their communities.

We also deepened our relationships with the policymakers who oversee federal rural housing programs. These relationships resulted in the inclusion of new and expanded rural programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a variety of coalitions and working groups, HAC is bringing the rural housing industry together to advocate for the programs our communities need to succeed. As HAC expands our policy work, we’ll be guided by policy priorities we crafted in 2021—priorities for both 2022 and for the next 50 years.

While we are celebrating the work HAC has done since its founding in 1971, we are laying the foundation for our next fifty years of rural success. We are building support for our ambitious vision of rural America’s future through a new campaign: Vision 2071. Through the Vision 2071 campaign, we published stories that explore what local organizations need to address their communities’ housing challenges and what role a national intermediary like HAC can play in bringing us all together. Over the next three years, HAC will raise funding and capital to help all of us achieve the vision of a rural America where everyone has a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. 

Our work in 2021 was the launchpad for achieving that goal. Thank you for supporting the Housing Assistance Council’s work this year. We’re excited for what the next 50 have in store.

Loan Fund FY 21 Impact Report

HAC Loan Fund FY 2021 Impact Report

HAC is proud to present our 2021 Loan Fund Impact Report. In fiscal year 2021 (October 2020-September 2021), we financed the construction, preservation, or rehab of 775 affordable homes. By closing 33 loans, we invested $15.9 million in rural communities and leveraged $177.6 million in additional investments. Our lending has helped hundreds of rural families find safe, healthy, and affordable places to call home. Over 40% of these families live in persistent poverty counties, where the poverty rate has been at least 20% for the last 30 years.

Loan Fund Impact Report FY 2021 by Mackenzie Webb

The Castro Family's Self-Help Housing Story

Self-Help Homeownership: What it means to Families

We are proud of the families we’ve helped achieve the dream of homeownership. This series highlights the incredible impact we’ve made thanks to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. Homeownership changes lives—it can be a gateway to financial stability and better quality of life. The four families featured here all know the difference a home can make. Congratulations to all of them for the extraordinary achievement of building a home!

The Castro Family

With the help of People’s Self-Help Housing, the Castro family built their own home in King City, California. This is their new home:

Ben Phelps

Ben Phelps built his new home in Heber, Utah, thanks to support from Self-Help Homes of Utah. Here’s how his new home has made a difference in his life:

The Root Family

Self-Help Homes of Utah also helped the Root family build their own home in Heber, Utah. Here’s what their home means to them:

The Smith Family

With the help of People’s Self-Help Housing, the Smith family built their own home in Boone County, Arkansas. This is their new home:

 

Over the last 25 years, the Housing Assistance Council has financed the construction of over 10,000 new self-help homes. Under the self-help model, homeowners help build their homes, contributing “sweat equity” instead of a traditional down payment.

Revisiting Rural: The Subdivision that Built a Community

This is the first story in Revisiting Rural, a series which explores success stories from the Housing Assistance Council’s 50 years of helping build rural communities.

Over 600 billion gallons of water flow through the Rio Grande every year. In Alamosa, Colorado, however, the river is narrow enough to skip rocks across. Alamosa lies in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley just south of the river’s headwaters. Almost 10,000 people call Alamosa home.

Since 1971, Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation (CRHDC) has served the housing needs of Alamosa and the entire San Luis Valley. But, in 1997, CRHDC had a problem: they ran out of land.

Like many rural affordable housing organizations, CRHDC operated a self-help housing program with financing from the Housing Assistance Council (HAC). Under the self-help model, new homeowners help build their homes. This “sweat equity” takes the place of a traditional cash down-payment, keeping costs low and making the home more affordable. At first, HAC helped CRHDC fund scattered-site development, forming a patchwork of affordable homes across Alamosa. But, by the late 1990s, the limited supply of available lots in city limits had been exhausted. This left CRHDC with only one viable option: building a subdivision in a previously undeveloped side of town.

A family works on their self-help home in El Milagro. Courtesy of CRHDC.

A family works on their self-help home in El Milagro. Courtesy of CRHDC.

CRHDC had never built a subdivision before, but we were eager to help them learn to solve the challenges this new type of development would pose. HAC regularly provides both loans and technical assistance to support self-help housing construction across rural America. Plus, many of our self-help loans are up to 90% forgivable if the project’s production goals are met. In 1998, we lent $300,000 to fund the subdivision’s construction—the plan called for forty homes, roads to connect them, and utilities to keep them livable. With our lending, CRHDC’s vision, and homebuyers’ hard work, a subdivision known as El Milagro was born.

Over the next four years, an empty parcel of land was built into a neighborhood. To this day Janet Lucero, CRHDC’s Director of Single-Family Development, runs into the El Milagro families all around Alamosa. They’re proud of the homes they built—that’s why Janet still gets invited to see their landscaping, remodeling, and add-ons.

HAC takes pride in helping community organizations grow their capacity to serve their neighbors. HAC partnered with CRHDC to build the capacity of their farm labor housing program while it was still in its early stages. Today, CRHDC provides similar technical assistance to other housing organizations’ farm labor programs.

El Milagro was a turning point for CRHDC. When asked where his organization would be if it weren’t for El Milagro, CRHDC’s Executive Director Arturo Alvarado said that “it’s hard to imagine CRHDC today if it weren’t for that subdivision.” The lessons learned, the results realized, and the new form of development renewed CRHDC’s capacity for impact.

HAC’s loan and the subdivision it helped build have touched far more lives than those of the 40 families who built their homes. Alamosa has grown considerably over the last two decades, with new development bringing more opportunity to the town’s residents. The El Milagro neighborhood has grown into a community. Developing affordable homes throughout Alamosa has helped the entire town. “The side of town we build on is the side that’s growing,” noted Curtis Schneider, Director of Accounting and Finance for CRHDC.    

Two completed self-help homes in El Milagro.

Two completed self-help homes in El Milagro. Courtesy of CRHDC.

In addition to economic opportunity, El Milagro has brought quality of life improvements to Alamosa. As Alvarado noted, they “build more than homes.” CRHDC builds communities where children can play, where families can grow, and where life can be lived. Over the last few years, the City of Alamosa has even invested in two new parks near CRHDC-built communities.  

HAC is proud to have been a part of El Milagro’s development. As HAC’s Director of Lending Eileen Neely laid out, “Investing in affordable homes doesn’t just help the families who live in them. It also builds the community and the capacity of groups like CRHDC. They’re a great example of the principle we see with our partners across rural America.” 

A nearly-completed lease-to-own home built by CRHDC in Alamosa.

A nearly-completed lease-to-own home built by CRHDC in Alamosa. Courtesy of CRHDC.

HAC’s and CRHDC’s work is as necessary as ever. Over the last decade, Alamosa has grown considerably, but new home construction hasn’t kept pace. A recent housing needs assessment found that Alamosa needs over 540 new affordable homes to meet current demand. This lack of affordable homes has become so drastic that CRHDC regularly works with families who’ve qualified for mortgages as high as $250,000 but who cannot find any homes for sale at that price. At the same time, rising costs for building materials have pushed CRHDC’s construction prices up 20% in the last two years alone. Amazingly, over the last decade, one in ten new homes built in the San Luis Valley were built by CRHDC.   

Today, CRHDC is still going strong. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, “we never stopped building,” Alvarado explained. Across Alamosa and the entire San Luis Valley, HAC’s and CRHDC’s impact is evident. It’s felt when self-help families thank CRHDC staff at title companies, construction suppliers, diners, and hotels. It’s there every winter when affordable housing construction continues in the snow long after others have stopped for the season. Building homes is “more than just four walls. It touches every aspect of a community,” Alvarado noted. At HAC, we believe that building affordable homes strengthens entire communities. El Milagro is proof of this principle in action. 

 

HAC to Expand Work with Community Facilities

For fifty years, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has helped build homes and communities across rural America. Now, we’re working to expand our footprint by working with more communities to develop and rehabilitate community facilities.

Community facilities—such as parks, libraries, hospitals, and childcare centers—provide public services for everyone, making neighborhoods a better place to call home. They not only cultivate a feeling of belonging; they also provide tangible benefits for residents. As HAC’s Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Shonterria Charleston, puts it, “building rural communities is about more than houses. It’s about building the places where people learn, where they grow, and where they get their healthcare.”

Thanks to two grants from the US Department of Agriculture, HAC will work with small towns, including those affecting by natural disasters, to build and rehab much-needed community facilities. In fact, HAC is hiring a Community Facilities Housing Specialist to help us do this work by providing technical assistance to rural organizations. You can learn more about the position here.

How HAC’s Loan Application Packaging Training Supports Homeownership

HAC in the News

HAC and rural CDFIs receive “massive” $353 million investment

The US Treasury announced it is investing $1.25 billion of COVID-19 relief funds in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). We are excited to announce that the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has received the maximum award: $1,826,265.

HAC will invest our $1.8 million award through our Loan Fund to support affordable housing organizations across rural America. As Eileen Neely, director of HAC’s Loan Fund explains, “$1.8 million means we can invest in more rural communities and help more low-income Americans get housed.”

Overall, the US Treasury is awarding $353 million to rural CDFIs. “This massive investment in rural CDFIs will help unlock the potential of rural communities,” said David Lipsetz, President & CEO of the Housing Assistance Council. “We are thrilled for the opportunity to expand our work for disinvested rural communities.”

Everyone deserves a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home. This award strengthens HAC’s work to make that vision a reality for rural America.

Northwest Regional Housing Authority Demonstrates Impact of Self-Help Housing

March 26, 2021 – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP). In the last quarter century, SHOP has helped tens of thousands of families achieve the dream of homeownership. The SHOP program funds the construction of self-help housing nationwide. Under the self-help model, families help build their home to earn “sweat equity” instead of making a traditional cash down-payment. This makes the new home more affordable and makes homeownership accessible to low- and very low-income households typically left out of the for-sale housing market.

Over the last 25 years, the Housing Assistance Council has received and invested over $120 million through SHOP to build 9,896 self-help homes. We lend this money to local organizations that work with families to build self-help homes across rural America. If the organization meets its targets, our loans are up to 90% forgivable, which allows the organization to provide additional homebuyer subsidies or create additional self-help units. As the only national SHOP grantee with a specific focus on rural homes, we’re proud of the difference our SHOP investments make in rural America. So, to celebrate SHOP’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to highlight the impact of one of our SHOP grantees: Northwest Regional Housing Authority (NWRHA) in Harrison, Arkansas, who we’ve partnered with since 2006.

Operating in 12 counties in northwest Arkansas, NWRHA’s self-help program has helped over 150 families in the pursuit of homeownership. Each family contributes an average of 650 hours of labor building their home. This not only keeps costs down, it provides participants with instant equity in their home and the skills to maintain it. One of the biggest challenges NWRHA faces is finding affordable, buildable lots. With rapidly rising property values, the price of a lot suitable for self-help construction in northwest Arkansas has soared to over $20,000. Luckily, our loans provide NWRHA with the capital to purchase land sooner, which keeps prices down.

To understand the impact of NWRHA’s self-help program, you could take a drive across rural Arkansas to see the dozens of homes self-help families have built. Or, you could ask Ana Castro-Beard, NWRHA’s Self-Help Specialist. She tells the story of a single father and his kids, who did not have stable housing until they came to NWRHA. After they moved into the home they built, Ana received a postcard from the family: it was a picture of their first Christmas in their new home.

Children playing in their new home

Photo courtesy of NWRHA.

Homes are more than just shelter from the elements. They’re where kids are raised, holidays are celebrated, and dinners are shared. They’re the backbone of financial stability and a gateway to economic opportunity.

In his speech before the House of Representatives supporting the bill that funded SHOP, former New York Congressman Rick Lazio promised that the new program would “boost homeownership levels…where we need it desperately.” Twenty-five years later, that dream is a reality. Thanks to the dedicated service of organizations like Northwest Regional Housing Authority, thousands of families—urban and rural—now have a safe, stable place to call home. Their home.

White Mountain Apache Housing Authority Serves its Veterans

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority (WMAHA) helps the members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe to overcome their individual housing needs. Of these, almost 500 are U.S. military veterans. Working in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation located in eastern central Arizona, WMAHA serves the 16,000 enrolled members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and strives to ensure that every tribal member has safe housing they can afford. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is proud to be a partner of WMAHA and their amazing work. In 2018, we awarded a $30,000 grant through The Home Depot Foundation‘s Veteran Housing Grants Program to WMAHA to help support their veterans. In celebration of Veterans Day and Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight just a few of the many ways the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority serves the veterans of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

Before and after of a rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

 

As many veterans know, service doesn’t end when you’re discharged. It’s a value that is carried for a lifetime. For WMAHA, service is key to the mission. The Veteran Home Rehabilitation Program serves those who have served our country. Many of the low-income Apache veterans the Housing Authority assists are in desperate need of multiple, expensive repairs to make sure their homes are safe, accessible, and livable. But without the ability to make these repairs themselves, many veterans need help.

Over the last eight years, the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has rehabilitated (or in one case built!) 19 homes for their veterans, each of which required multiple major repairs for health, safety, and accessibility. All of this was performed at no cost to the veteran or their family. Last year WMAHA was able to set a record with 5 rehabilitations.

Making sure their veterans have safe and healthy homes is a point of pride for WMAHA and for the entire White Mountain Apache community. After all, WMAHA doesn’t work alone: each rehabilitation is made possible by scores of volunteers. As the team from WMAHA explains, “the number of volunteers who come and help with demolition and construction cleanup during the projects” is a testament to the rehabilitation program’s “impact on the community.” From the Housing Authority to everyday members, including community partners, the White Mountain Apache Tribe takes care of its veterans. By taking care of those who took care of us, WMAHA is serving both its community and the broader community of veterans nationwide.

The COVID pandemic has hit many Native communities particularly hard, and tragically, the White Mountain Apache are no exception. During the pandemic, unemployment, which usually runs 80% according to WMAHA, has far surpassed that amount, and food insecurity is “at a critical level.” Many of the low-income veterans WMAHA assists don’t have a way to pick up food from the local food bank, so the Housing Authority is starting to deliver the food boxes itself. Not content to just help house their veterans, WMAHA is committed to improving their quality of life.

Caring for veterans extends outside the home, too. For WMAHA, ensuring their veterans have access to the Veterans Affairs benefits they deserve is a critical mission. With 1.67 million acres, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is large and rural. This creates challenges for many of the Tribe’s low-income veterans. Many of the nearest VA hospitals are hundreds of miles away, which makes even getting to routine appointments incredibly difficult. This distance makes it so challenging to receive disability ratings, see specialists, and make necessary appointments that, according to Barb Connerley, a consultant who works with WMAHA, “many of the veterans…do not know what VA benefits are available to them.”

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has created a solution to help connect their veterans to the VA medical care they earned through their service. Since 2017, the White Mountain Apache Tribe Department of Transportation has operated Fort Apache Connection Transit (FACT), a 2-route bus system serving 12 stops across the Reservation. While this system doesn’t provide access to the nearest VA hospitals, the Housing Authority recently began repurposing one of their buses to transport veterans to their VA appointments. Multiple times a month, WMAHA will be providing veterans with a bus ride to their appointments and back home. They even take the time to help the veterans complete their paperwork to file for VA benefits.

For the trip, WMAHA provides their veterans with water, snacks, masks, and COVID safety information. They hope that this program can also serve as a teaching event, helping their veterans learn more about COVID safety as well as how to access their VA benefits. The program’s strength is its ingenuity—bringing together transit, healthcare, and informational services—in solving a critical problem for the Tribe’s veterans. Thanks to the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority, veterans living on reservation now have access to the critical VA healthcare they’ve earned through their service.

Many veterans return from their service to find it difficult to access the resources of their communities, including housing. Tragically, Native communities are overrepresented among persistent poverty counties, making these resources even harder to access. The Housing Assistance Council is committed to helping build community resources for housing where they’re needed most. Partners like WMAHA help us give back to our veterans and uplift Native communities. As Barb Connerley puts it, the Tribe’s veterans “have a proud tradition of military service and sacrifice.” The work of the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority pays respect to that service and sacrifice through service, care, and ingenuity of its own.