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.

WHAMA Property 1 Before WHAMA Property 1 After
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.”

WHAMA Property 2 Before WHAMA Property 2 Started
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.

Building homes together in America’s “most rural state”

As part of National Homeownership Month, we’ll be highlighting stories from across our network participating in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP). HAC provides loan funds to self-help housing providers to help low- and moderate-income families achieve their dreams of homeownership. The homebuyer family must contribute a significant amount of sweat-equity towards the construction of the dwelling. Loan funds are awarded through a competitive application process. If the organization meets certain requirements, up to 90% of the SHOP loan may be forgiven. The forgivable portion may become a grant for the group to establish its own revolving loan fund for future site acquisition and development of self-help housing or to provide direct subsidies to participating homebuyer families.

Community Concepts staff and supporters celebrate the completion of news self-help units in 2019

Community Concepts staff and supporters celebrate the completion of news self-help units in 2019

Following the 2010 Census, Maine was dubbed “the most rural state” with 61.3% of its residents living in rural communities. Homeownership is common among Mainers, with 71.5% of all units being owner-occupied. Though poverty rates in Maine are lower than the national average (13.5% vs. 15.1%), the state has higher rates of residents receiving income through Social Security, Supplemental Social Security, and Public Assistance making it challenging for many to qualify for a mortgage.

Community Concepts, Inc., based in Lewiston, Maine, got its start in 1965 as part of federal legislation that created a network of Community Action Agencies. Community Concept’s programming focuses on the “whole family”, addressing the needs of parents and their children with programs like Head Start, fuel assistance, weatherization programs, and self-help homeownership. In 1991, HAC provided a planning grant to Community Concepts to help initiate the self-help homeownership program at the organization. “Since that first grant, we’ve completed 350 self-help home ownership opportunity, including new construction and a purchase/repair program we added 10 years ago,” shared Sandy Albert, Director of Housing Improvement Services.

The organization sees a lot of overlap in the clients it serves and that is intentional. “We have family development coaches that are working with families,” says Albert. If a family of renters comes to the agency looking for help with fuel assistance the coach will also ask if they’re interested in becoming a homeowner. The coach will then refer the family to other programs in the organization that can help them pursue homeownership or, if necessary, help build their credit.

One of those families, the Hoyts, achieved their dream in May 2012. Working together with five other families, the Hoyts learned valuable construction skills as they worked on their home. Through their sweat-equity, each family saved as much as $20,000 on the cost of their home. In a letter shared by Community Concepts, Eric Hoyt wrote “This is not a house that you’re building it’s a home, and it’s a heartfelt build. With a lot of meaning that goes into it. There is a lot of hours and tears and fears but through them all when you walk through the door and you say look at what we have. When you look at what you and your team has accomplished it makes it that much more a home.”

Albert credits the program’s success and impact to Community Concept’s partnership with HAC. “Without the funding through SHOP, many of our buyers would not qualify even with the sweat-equity,” said Albert “those families wouldn’t be where they are today.”