With the holiday season upon us, we would like to take a moment to reflect on 2020. We have mourned the loss of family and friends to COVID-19, celebrated the focus on racial justice and longed for a more civil society. Our organization, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), has strived to respond to the challenges. We know every American needs a safe, stable and affordable home like never before.
HAC’s focus is on the small towns and rural regions that are least equipped to respond to the current crisis. That is why we are working overtime with our allies and local partners to respond to the overwhelming demand for housing and community development. We are inspired by our partners’ daily acts of courage in the offices and on the construction sites that produce homes for people in need. And to our sponsors and supporters, we are grateful that you have joined us in this work.
Like many of you, HAC has pivoted to meet this moment. HAC’s biennial National Rural Housing Conference is one of the most powerful tools we have for training and sustaining rural housing allies. While COVID may have forced us to push the conference back to 2021, last week we hosted our first ever virtual symposium—Recovery Through Resiliency. It was a resounding success. Over 600 rural housing developers, government officials, community members, and housing advocates registered to attend. Hundreds of different people joined in every one of the panels that highlighted our work and the work of our industry. Attendees explored how the communities we all serve can move forward together from this trying moment. All in all, this symposium was an excellent chance for HAC to come together with our partners and the rural development community.
2020 was also a very busy year for our Loan Fund. With $11 million lent this year, our Loan Fund has increased lending by 22%. This included an increase in loans made to BIPOC-led housing developers. Across rural America, our financing is supporting safe, healthy, and affordable housing. The Loan Fund has also raised more than $4 million in lending capital, expanding our lending capacity for years to come.
Our work to build capacity in rural communities has also ramped up. Since March, HAC staff has moved our operations on-line to deliver hundreds of hours of training to rural housing organizations. We helped rural organizations navigate CARES Act programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and supported strategies to weather the current crisis. We also helped dozens of local organizations develop their own tailored business continuity plans to respond to natural and man-made disasters. Rural resiliency became our mantra so that even after this crisis passes, our partners will be prepared for the next.
Through the Citizens Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) we’ve helped rural communities use creative placemaking to come together while the pandemic keeps so many of us apart. This summer CIRD hosted its first hybrid virtual and socially distant in-person workshop to restore the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a historic Black church in Athens, Ohio. Working with community members, CIRD designers developed a plan to breathe life back into the historic building and, by extension, the entire community.
Our Research and Information division has long been a prominent voice on the issues affecting rural America, and 2020 was no exception. In addition to analyzing the impacts of the pandemic on rural places, R&I delved into rural population change, the impacts of aging rural populations, how tax policy affects Section 515 preservation, and much more. In fact, this summer’s issue of Rural Voices focused on rural aging, exploring housing’s place in broader strategies to care for seniors as well as solutions to the challenged faced by aging rural populations. Our latest issue of Rural Voices engages with rural design, showcasing the power the arts have in uplifting rural communities.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2021. Next year, we celebrate HAC’s 50th anniversary. It’ll be a time for us to reflect on how far we’ve come in the last half century. More importantly, it will be an opportunity to highlight what must be done in the next 50 to eliminate rural poverty and housing needs. With a new administration, HAC is working to establish a seat at the table for rural issues from day one. Our flagship publication Taking Stock will analyze what the latest Census tells us about rural America. And, the full HAC conference will resume next December for us all to come together as an industry and as rural communities.
Our many partners and supporters deserve so much of the credit for our success. As we continue to grow in 2021, we hope you’ll consider making a gift to HAC and help us make rural communities even stronger, more vibrant, and more resilient. Thank you for all your help this year.