HAC Names Jonathan Harwitz Director of Policy

Housing Assistance Council Names Jonathan Harwitz Director of Policy

Contact: Dan Stern
(202) 842-8600
dan@ruralhome.org

Housing Assistance Council Names Jonathan Harwitz Director of Policy

Jonathan will manage HAC’s policy initiatives.

Washington, DC, March 1, 2022 – The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is pleased to announce the hiring of Jonathan Harwitz as HAC’s new Director of Policy. He brings years of experience working with policymakers on affordable housing issues. Jonathan will spearhead and expand HAC’s place as the national source for independent, non-partisan policy solutions for rural housing and community development.

Jonathan joins HAC from his role as Director of Housing Community Development and Insurance Policy for the House Financial Services Committee.  Prior to that he served as Managing Director of Federal Policy and Government Affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, a large national Community Development Financial Institution.  Earlier in his career, Jonathan served as: Deputy Chief of Staff for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; Counsel to the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee; Professional Staff to the Housing and Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and in various policy-related positions at the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Prior to entering the field of federal policy, he clerked for two federal District Court judges and was a lawyer in private practice.

Jonathan was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. He earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors from Yale College, and a JD from Harvard Law School. He currently resides near Washington, DC with his wife and kids.

“Federal policy has an important and lasting impact on rural places,” said HAC CEO David Lipsetz. “We are incredibly excited to have Jonathan join the HAC team and help us make the case for equitable investment in rural areas across the country.”

For the last 50 years, HAC has been the voice for the poorest of the poor in the most rural places. HAC’s policy priorities are focused on the importance of capacity building, access to capital, and geographic equity in federal policymaking – with a specific lens on persistently poor and high-needs regions like the Mississippi Delta, rural Appalachia, farmworker communities, the Southwest border colonias and Indian Country. Our independent and non-partisan policy work ensures the most vulnerable rural populations have improved access to safe and affordable housing opportunities.

To learn more about HAC’s policy work, visit https://ruralhome.org/our-work/policy/.

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Rural Recap – Working Towards Equity

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) was born of the Civil Rights Movement. It still shapes our work and inspires our mission. By helping build healthy affordable homes, we are making real the American promises of freedom, equality, and justice. In the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Indian Country, border colonias, farmworker communities, and small towns across America, we help local organizations see a positive vision for their future and literally build it brick by brick, shingle by shingle.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has named Black Health and Wellness as the theme of the 2022 Black History Month. This month, we lifted up stories about Black leaders like Joe Debro and Gordon Parks who contributed to the health and wealth of rural communities. We’re committed to combatting rural poverty and the inequity that has plagued America for hundreds of years. While we cannot undo generations of harm, a just America demands that we help build a future where everyone has a healthy place to call home.

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.

Achieving a Vision of a Prosperous Rural America

I love the National Rural Housing Conference because it never fails to inspire me. This year was no different. Over three days, we reconnected as an industry, learned together, and began to work through some of the most challenging questions facing our communities. Thank you for being a part of this extraordinary conference.

We can only achieve an ambitious vision by working together.

This year was our 20th biennial conference and celebrated HAC’s 50th Anniversary. With such big round numbers, we launched a Vision 2071 campaign to guide the work of rural housing over the next 50 years. HAC started the conversation with a vision for everyone in Rural America to have a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home and strive for a Rural America where people feel connected to their communities.

We are inviting everyone to help form the vision and help put it into action. HAC is committed to expanding our work and raising funds to support more rural housing providers, but we can’t do it alone. We can only achieve an ambitious vision by working together.

We would love to count you as a supporter of our work. Please consider contributing to the work at www.vision2071.org and include HAC in your end-of-year giving. You can donate here or by contacting jennifer@ruralhome.org. Together, we can make this vision of rural America a reality by 2071.

While the Conference and Vision 2071 have us looking to the future, I don’t want to forget to celebrate the wins of our recent past. 2021 was one heck of a year. I am proud that the HAC community leveraged over $14 million in HAC loan funds to build and maintain 720 affordable rural homes. Plus, more than 50 housing organizations recognized a need in their communities and came to HAC for technical assistance to address that need. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together in 2022.

Celebrating 50 Years of Working for Rural America

This year marks HAC’s 50th anniversary, and we’re observing the occasion by asking ourselves what we hope to see happen in the next fifty years. My hope is no less than everyone in the country has access to a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. For that hope to come true in rural America, we need to hang on to the great places we have today, while building significantly more quality homes in equitable and prosperous communities.

We have a strong network of allies like you across rural America. For 50 years you have informed and influenced HAC’s work. We want to know – what is your hope for rural America in the next 50 years?

My hope is no less than everyone in the country has access to a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home.

I’d also love to see you at the National Rural Housing Conference in December. It’s our big gathering, where we all reconnect with partners and policy-makers, funders and friends. We will learn from expert local practitioners and reimagine together how to build communities that will withstand the challenges of the next 50 years. Registration is open! Visit our conference page to learn more and to register.

I’d also love to see you at the National Rural Housing Conference in December. Its our big gathering, where we all reconnect with partners and policy-makers, funders and friends. We will learn from expert local practitioners, and reimagine together how to rebuild communities that will withstand the challenges of the next 50 years.

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.

Introducing HAC’s Rural Recap

Welcome to the first issue of HAC’s Rural Recap! We’ll be sending it every other month to keep you updated on our work in small towns and rural places across America. I also hope it will share our vision for a rural America in which everyone has a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of HAC News, which provides a concise summary of national news on rural and housing issues. This includes funding opportunities, national program and policy updates, findings from recent research reports, and much more, all informed by the expertise of HAC’s staff.

Don’t worry, we will continue to publish HAC News every two weeks.

Rural Recap will allow us to go beyond the news to highlight the work of our organization and its partners. We will share what we are seeing, reading, and doing in short recaps with links to more information.

I’d also love to hear from you. Let me know what you think of this format and send your recaps to hac@ruralhome.org HAC is lucky to be a part of a wonderful community of professionals focused on helping those in need. You inspire our work.

HAC’s 2020 Annual Report

HAC would like to present its Annual Report for the year 2020.

A Message from HAC President and CEO, David Lipsetz

2020 was a year like none other. In hundreds of rural places, like Bastrop, Louisiana and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Housing Assistance Council helped local partners address housing challenges caused by COVID-19, and more so by living in a system that lets the place you live and the color of your skin determine how much you can access the freedom and wealth this great country has to offer.

This was not the 2020 we wanted, but it was a year in which HAC gave its all to address the challenges before us.

The year started with HAC on a roll. We had just overhauled our loan fund, modernized our financial management system, and we moved all of our computing to the cloud.

We were hiring new HACsters, growing and establishing a new division for Policy, nearly doubling our grant funding for training and technical assistance, and talking to a dozen investors about investing in HAC to increase the size and reach of our lending for families that need an affordable home.

And then it was March.

Businesses and schools were shutting down as COVID arrived. Supply chains for goods and services were breaking down. The impact of the pandemic was climbing fast.

At first, rural places seemed less at risk. Then the rates of infection in rural places took off. It wasn’t long before people in small towns were getting sick at rates above the rest of the country.

In response, HAC moved its operations entirely online. We shifted all of our technical assistance for rural organizations to COVID response and business continuity. We gathered up and sent out information that small towns needed to respond in the face of the pandemic.

We offered every group that was building affordable housing with a loan from HAC an opportunity to defer mortgage payments until conditions improved.

Because good rural data is always hard to find, we provided detailed maps and reports to federal official—and the press—on an almost daily basis. We were tracking the devastating impact of the pandemic as it raced across small towns in this country. It was a story we had to tell in real time if we expect the response and recovery to include all Americans.

And then, of course, came May.

Civil unrest was everywhere in 2020. Protestors taking to the streets to call out police violence and systemic racism. HAC has this wonderful 50-year record of working to dismantle racist housing policy. Though further from the headlines, there were protests in Whitefish, Cairo, Selma, Harlan, Taylorville, and countless other small towns that know racism and the injustice it brings MUST be rooted out of every corner of the country.

Throughout all that 2020 had in store for us, we saw resilience. We saw rural groups overcome broadband deserts to deliver homebuyer education via Zoom, and construction crews splitting into shifts staying socially distanced while keeping projects on schedule. In 2020, HAC originated nearly $9 million in mortgages to local groups that were, against all odds, finding ways to keep building affordable homes for families in need.

In this past year of extraordinary hardship, I am really proud of the job HAC’s done. We didn’t struggle to keep up—we rose to the occasion. We expanded our impact. We deepened our commitment to equitable and just outcomes. We maintained our momentum, strengthened our financial position, expanded our staff, and kept our programs on an upward trajectory. We are redoubling our partnerships with the rural communities where we live, work, and invest our capital. I am proud of it. I am inspired by all of the work my colleagues at HAC and partners in small towns around the country have done this year. And, of course, we couldn’t build homes and community in rural America without the generosity of our supporters. Thank you for your commitment to rural communities and to people in need.

So, here we are celebrating HAC’s 50th anniversary in the year to come, 2021. And while it may take all of us another 50 years working together to make sure EVERY American in EVERY small town has a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home, I think 2020, with all its ups and downs, has brought us another step closer to that goal.

So, thanks for your partnership, thanks for your support for the Housing Assistance Council this year. Let’s keep at it in the year to come.