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.

Rural Prosperity Report Cover

Building Better Fundamentals for Rural Progress: Good Data, Fairer Media Practices, and Stronger Local Organizations

David Lipsetz
Katharine Ferguson

Sector-specific solutions dominate rural policy. We often hear about rural health, rural water, rural housing, broadband, agriculture.  These are pieces of something bigger: rural communities. What would it look like to consider the needs and priorities of rural communities in an integrated and holistic way?  To start: building better fundamentals for rural progress with good data, fairer media practices and stronger local organizations.  Also foundational: a deep and sustained commitment to cross-sector collaboration among national and regional rural-focused organizations.

Since its modest beginnings with a $2 million War on Poverty grant in 1971, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has been able to successfully fund rural affordable housing, inform sound policy on rural housing programs, build capacity for local housing providers, and become the nation’s foremost source of information on rural housing. The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (Aspen CSG) is the outgrowth of a rural policy program and state policy program that, finding case studies and policy papers were insufficient to effect local change, shifted its attention to helping equip, convene and inspire local leaders through peer-to-peer engagement. Today, Aspen CSG supports leaders as they work to build more prosperous regions and advance those living on the economic margins—with approximately 75 percent of its work in rural America. With somewhat differing subject matter expertise and organizational strengths, HAC and Aspen CSG are not natural organizational partners, but we discovered we are each asking the same question: “What does it take for rural communities to thrive?” Above all, our shared concern about geographic inequality and our shared commitment to advancing equity and opportunity, especially in rural and tribal communities, brings us together.

And so, over the past two years, Aspen CSG and HAC, with support from the Ford Foundation, have organized three discreet projects to lay some groundwork for a more cohesive and connected rural development field. Each was designed to provide a foundational understanding of a fundamental challenge that obscures the nation’s understanding of and attention to rural issues and progress. The end result: three reports that set the stage for future work on improving rural data collection and use, bringing to light truer narratives about the realities and diversities of rural America, and investment in the tools and resources rural-serving organizations need to do right by the communities they serve—especially in the midst of COVID-19 response and recovery.

    1. In Search of “Good” Rural Data

      Data that actually represents the needs of rural communities is imperative to provide evidence that will shape better policies and practices that advance prosperity and equity. This new report scans existing data sources that measure rural prosperity and unveils how these sources too often fail to provide sufficient or accurate data needed to design and improve economic development and investment in rural communities. The researchers interviewed rural practitioners, conducted a data scan of important go-to data sets, and uncovered key inadequacies in existing data sources that hamper analysis important to devising better economic development and investment in rural communities. The report explains these shortcomings, makes note of what is “good” in rural data, and outlines a number of strategies that can produce better data, such as new data collection methodologies, better data integration and alternate sources.
    2.  Revealing Rural Realities: What Fuels Inaccurate and Incomplete Coverage of Rural Issues? 

      More than two-thirds of the nation’s 3,143 counties are rural. So are the vast majority of the thousands of incorporated places. Moreover, nearly all the 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. have significant presence in rural regions of the country. And nearly 20 percent of our nation’s total population lives “rural” full-time, not counting growing numbers of part-time rural dwellers. Reporting on the lived experiences of the people who live in rural and tribal communities is thus a journalistic imperative; it should be done in a way that is true to the lived experiences of people in rural regions and in Indian Country. This second report explores how rural people and places show up in national media. It draws from interviews with local and national journalists, media editors, and people who live and work in rural America. along with a scan of both print and social media. The findings demonstrate a gulf: How rural people think and talk about their own communities differs widely from what national outlets typically report and cover. The report includes recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of representative and nuanced stories about rural America in national and regional media.

    3. Ground Truth from Rural Practitioners: Findings from a survey of U.S. rural practitioners 

      Local and regional rural-serving organizations shape and strengthen the fabric of their communities. But what kinds of organizations work in rural places? On what range of topics do they work? What expertise and resources do they have – and what do they need?  Based on the findings from a survey of over 350 rural-serving organizations in 45 states, this research brief begins to provide policymakers, funders and other well-meaning folks who want to do right by rural with information on the inner workings of rural-serving organizations. The goal: policy, investments and partnerships that are better tuned to rural realities and the self-identified strengths, expertise and needs of rural-serving organizations.

Economic recovery in rural areas will require surfacing pernicious structural and cultural issues, embedded over decades, and evident in the disparities COVID-19 has laid bare. That excavation process starts with better rural data. Better data and information is essential to rural-serving organization’s ability to assess what is working and what is not, to recognize the assets their communities have as well as the inequities in local outcomes; and to determine how to deploy their assets in ways that result in more resilient and fair communities where everyone belongs. While today’s available data indicates rural distress – and reporting about rural and tribal communities should acknowledge this – the media can be true to the complexity of reporting on rural and tribal communities by also showcasing assets, diversity, innovation, natural beauty, cultural richness and opportunity.

We often talk about the need for collaboration in community; collaboration is needed among national rural-focused organizations too. Three additional national organizations partnered in our work – the Urban Institute with data expertise, and Hattaway Communications and the Center for Rural Strategies on communications. In addition, a host of on-the-ground rural practitioners made important contributions to all three projects. We are grateful that, as a result, the byproducts of this project include new and stronger relationships among these organizations and practitioners; though we have different areas of expertise, we have an overarching shared interest in advancing rural and urban America together. Improved lines of communication, better understanding of organizational strengths, and new ways to share intellectual property may not sound glamorous, but they are the building blocks of collaboration. And so, through this project and other new, joint endeavors, we will continue to walk the talk and do the sometimes-cumbersome but often-productive work of collaboration.

As we reflect on what we set out to accomplish with this initial collaboration, we have three hopes.  First, we hope the three documents we’ve produced will be picked up and prove useful to those who seek to better understand rural realities. Second, we hope to spark curiosity and prompt important conversations about how we collect data and tell stories, and how what we know (or don’t) about the actors at work in rural regions influence the understanding – or misunderstanding – of rural people and  places, let alone our perceptions of what’s possible. And finally, we hope that the commitment to collaboration that was at the heart of this effort will continue, mirrored and multiplied across the many organizations that are invested in fostering a more inclusive, more prosperous rural America.

 

Don’t leave rural America behind on Giving Tuesday

by David Lipsetz, HAC CEO

At the best of times, rural communities face challenges with access to quality affordable housing, health care, broadband, and other services that make up the social safety net. When the Great Recession hit, rural places were left out of the recovery.

As I recently wrote in an op-ed for the The Hill, COVID-19 is hitting rural communities just as many of them start to recover from the Great Recession.

Giving Tuesday NOW

For nearly 50 years, HAC has been working in hard-to-serve rural communities, providing technical assistance and training and vital capital to support the housing needs of these communities. Our research, publications, and policy work is tailored for rural places.

COVID-19 makes HAC’s delivery of technical assistance, capital and information more important than ever. Few of the nation’s rural, small and emerging nonprofit housing developers have the resources necessary to manage through a prolonged crisis. In communities with already limited resources, the long-terms effects on health and safety will be felt well-beyond this crisis.

In response, HAC is serving more than 325 rural housing organizations through our lending, technical assistance, training, and grant activities. HAC staff is providing group and one-on-one remote consultation to rural housing organizations, including help creating the necessary workplans and protocols that will help them weather the crisis.

Launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, #GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world. On Tuesday, May 5th , HAC will participate in #GivingTuesdayNOW to help raise awareness for the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having in rural America. We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday May 5th by sharing our social media posts (we’ll be using the hashtags #GivingTuesdayNOW and #RememberRural), sharing the stories of COVID-19’s impacts on your community, or supporting HAC’s critical work in some of America’s most underserved communities.

Thank you for your continued partnership and support for HAC and the many communities we serve. I hope you and yours are staying safe and I look forward to the next time we can all meet in-person.

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Good rural data—including reliable sources of housing data—is essential

Right now, prosperity may feel very distant to rural communities. Yet as we look towards recovery from COVID-19, we will need better information on rural businesses, industries, and workers, as well as the resources they need like education, childcare, and affordable homes.

A new report, “In Search of Good Data: Measuring Rural Prosperity,” shines a light on the data needed to address these issues. This research, conducted by the Urban Institute in collaboration with the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, includes a scan of 22 data sets and a series of interviews with researchers and practitioners who use data in rural areas.

How “good” data is lacking

Rural America is not the monolith that many think it to be. The geography that covers 97% of United States land is as diverse in its economic industries and social infrastructure as it is in landscapes. Yet in many cases “rural” is defined by what is left over when suburban and metropolitan geographies are outlined. More remote communities that face additional challenges will continue to feature in rural data sets, while the prosperity in some growing rural communities will be aggregated into nearby metropolitan areas.

Measures of entrepreneurship, volunteerism, local government capacity, retirement communities, agricultural employment, and social capital are all important in rural areas, but these can be tricky to measure and are non-standard measures of prosperity, so often overlooked.

“For rural prosperity… community outcomes are a little bit different. These are things like school-readiness scores community-wide or housing affordability, such as how many households are paying more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs, and the rate of health insurance coverage.”
-Rural practitioner

The small numbers inherent to rural areas also challenge data collection. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) is based on a sample of the total population; although new data is released every year, this sampling is an aggregate of five years; this affects the accuracy of data and can create a high margin of error in remote areas with low population.  Despite these flaws, the ACS is still the go-to-source, used by practitioners and researchers alike and often used in combination with other data sources to understand rural realities.

Housing data for low-income rural populations

ACS data is used to distribute rural housing guaranteed loans, direct loans, and loans for businesses and facilities—about $30 billion of which is set aside for rural areas. Yet given the significant challenges in the ACS of accurately describing rural realities, many community development practitioners expressed their concern. Better rural data is crucial for these public programs, including affordable housing loans from U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Housing Assistance Council has long been working to address the shortcomings of rural data for rural housing developers nationwide. HAC’s rural and small-town tract definition has incorporates housing density, commuting codes, and a rural character measure. The Rural Data Portal, as well as the Veterans Data Portal, employ this definition in a user-friendly format for improved data access.

HAC has also consistently advanced housing policy research for persistent poverty counties—areas where poverty rates have remained high for three decades or more, and where data collection tends to be most sparse. Native American lands pose a challenge to data collection not only because of their relative remoteness, but because their boundaries do not match the boundaries of counties, census tracts, or even states – the geographies that are used in common data sets. Native communities, as well as the colonias in the southwest and the Mississippi Delta are also among the rural communities whose historical distrust of data-collecting institutions makes accurate reports difficult.

We need to get better

The efforts of one organization alone, however, cannot address the significant issues with rural data collection, dissemination, and use. Here are some next steps based on the research findings:

  • Increase sample size and encourage community engagement around survey response
  • Create partnerships between owners of data sets, governments, and researchers
  • Collect independent data when data sets are inadequate
  • Think carefully about rural definitions to assure they reflect rural realities

Data is essential to understanding demographics, housing costs, poverty, housing finance, and financial well-being. This report familiarizes us with the limitations of commonly used data sets and identifying shortcomings that could be addressed through new methods. More work is needed, but if we are to promote rural prosperity in a new age, rural realities must be a part of the picture.

Analysis: Rural America’s Lower Census Response May Be Due to Covid-19

This article first appeared in The Daily Yonder

By Lance George, HAC Director of Research and Information

The pandemic caused the Census Bureau to cancel its plans to hand-deliver announcements to households that are hard to reach by U.S. mail. That probably explains some of rural America’s low response rates to the Census so far.

As noted in numerous press reports and the Daily Yonder, a little less than half of U.S. households have completed their 2020 Census forms, but response rates are markedly lower in rural communities.

Low response rates in rural America are likely due to a combination of factors, some of which have been well documented (mistrust of government, lack of awareness, poor internet connectivity, indifference, etc.). But response rates for remote rural communities may be “artificially” low by the simple fact that many rural households have not received their census forms and have had no opportunity to participate.

For 2020, the U.S Census Bureau incorporated a “Type of Enumeration Area,” or TEA, for the process of delivering invitations to complete the decennial census questionnaire.  Approximately 95 percent of U.S. households were classified as “Self-Response.” Those households will receive the invitation to participate via standard mail delivery. Most of the Self Response households received Census invitations from mid-March through early April.

But approximately 5 percent of U.S. households were classified as “Update-Leave.” For those households, mail delivery information was less certain. In these communities, the census forms were to be hand delivered to improve response rates. Update/Leave communities were scheduled to have their census forms hand delivered March 15 – April 17. However, the Census Bureau suspended all field operations, including Update/Leave areas, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Update/Leave areas contain roughly 5 million households, they are largely located in remote rural places and make up a substantial portion of some communities and regions. A Census Bureau map shows their planned contact strategy and Update/Leave areas in different parts of the country.

Steven Romalewski at City University of New York (CUNY) is mapping Update/Leave areas (shown in yellow in the map at the top of the story) along with response rates on his HTC 2020 website.

According to the Census Bureau’s latest guidance, delivery of notices to Update/Leave areas will now take place June 13-July 9. But the Census Bureau also encourages households to respond online now—even without an invitation. All respondents have to do is provide an address.

Yes, rural communities need to do a better job of participating in the Census. But some of our nation’s most rural areas – those often with the greatest needs – haven’t had a chance to be counted yet. Like many elements of our society, getting a good result requires a little more work and patience in rural communities. In this instance we need to be vigilant and work harder. While well touted, the importance of participating in Census 2020 cannot be overstated.

Lance George is the director of research and information at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC). HAC is a national nonprofit that helps build homes and communities across rural America.

Don’t leave rural America behind in coronavirus recovery

This piece originally appeared in The Hill 

By David Lipsetz, HAC CEO

Coronavirus is spreading fast in small-town America. As COVID-19 began to ravage densely populated metro areas, some hoped the distance inherent to rural communities would act as a shield against the same fate. Now that the pandemic has reached nearly every county and most rural places across the nation, we see how wrong that hope was. Even the New York Times has started running headlines that read, “This Is Going to Kill Small-Town America.”

The shortage of hospitals, doctors and health care workers and nearly no access to testing, has led to significant underreporting of rural cases. That may explain why some governors have hesitated on quarantines and Congress passed three emergency spending bills without a clear focus on rural programs and needs. For instance, as the stay-at-home orders started to pile up, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service programs, which serve more than half a million rural Americans, received no supplemental funding in the CARES Act.

The maps showing coronavirus hotspots are chilling. We knew going into this pandemic that the place a person is born is a powerful predictor of how we live and die. We also knew that federal programs, policy and spending contribute heavily to which communities thrive while others wane. Suburbs do not spring naturally from the earth, complete with Amazon deliveries, organic supermarkets and broadband for home-office quarantine. Nor do rural places decline into poverty unless the infrastructure is in disrepair; the family farms, shops and markets are squeezed out; and the internet is too slow to Zoom into work.

Much has been written about rural America’s decline in the last decade. Rural communities were by-and-large left behind in the recovery following the Great Recession. Rural incomes stagnated, community banks closed and access to capital dried up, young people were forced to leave for proverbial greener pastures, and rural capacity and services dwindled. Some may think of poverty as an urban issue, but 86 percent of persistent poverty counties – those with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher over the past 30 years – are rural.

My organization works to improve housing in rural places. The demand for quality affordable places to live has never been more apparent. Nor has it ever been easier to see how housing is inextricably connected to health outcomes. Rural families struggle with the same housing issues that plague the nation. Unfortunately, rural homes are also older and in need of more repair and rural incomes are lower and less stable. Public programs, philanthropy and private markets have all failed to keep up with the need. USDA rural housing programs have suffered from funding cuts and bipartisan neglect for decades; foundations grant less than 8 percent of their funds in rural places; and rural America has suffered disproportionately from private industry closures of health clinicsmanufacturing facilitiesnewspapers and bank branches.

While the pandemic is laying bare the inequality built into the geography of America, we don’t have to live like this going forward. Among the things that could help, Congress can address the critical and immediate needs of rural residents in the next round of coronavirus stimulus funding, including the need for increased rural housing assistance and funding to preserve rural rental properties. Public and philanthropic investments can help establish local housing and community development organizations in small towns like those we see operating in other areas of the country in this time of need. Healthcare providers, banks and other industries can maintain a presence in small towns.

Vulnerable and underserved populations are feeling the impacts of coronavirus deeply, and unless proactive and deliberate steps are taken to bolster rural communities, they are at risk of seeing a repeat of the lasting damage done by the Great Recession.

David Lipsetz is the CEO of the Housing Assistance Council. He has previously worked at both HUD and USDA, and the Housing Assistance Council is a grantee in several HUD and USDA programs.

Feeling grateful this holiday season

And looking forward to an even better 2020

A Message from HAC CEO David Lipsetz

Happy Holidays from your friends at HAC

2019 has been an incredible year for HAC, the communities that we serve, and rural America. That is in no small part due to the support and partnership of people like you. Thank you for joining us in this work.

The public spotlight on affordable housing and rural conditions continues to grow. Press coverage of an “affordability crisis” appears regularly in mainstream media. Congress is holding hearings and polls show that the general public considers it to be an important issue. And for the first time in memory, candidates for president are issuing detailed housing and rural development policy statements. HAC is translating the increased attention into action by partnering with national organizations and local practitioners to address the issues facing rural communities, while finding new ways to work together with local governments, community banks, community health providers, small business and more to better represent the broader needs of rural development.

Among the exciting events of 2019 was our launch of the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in which HAC helps rural communities engage in design thinking, creative placemaking, and leverage arts and culture to drive economic revitalization. We ran our first “CIRD Learning Cohort Summit” in the fall with 34 community leaders from 23 small towns based in 18 different states. We gathered in Thomas, West Virginia (pop. 660) to allow rural practitioners to focus on rural-specific issues with their rural peers in a rural setting. In the process, CIRD is expanding HAC’s capacity in community development and elevating our role in arts and creative placemaking.

2019 was a busy year for our Loan Fund. We opened wide for new business and made $9 million in new loans to support the development of decent, safe, affordable homes throughout rural America. We also built a pipeline of new activity that should bring over $16 million in additional capital investments over the next few years.

We also spent the year focusing our Training and Technical Assistance activities on its transformative work with small and emerging rural housing organizations to build capacity to serve their communities. One of my favorite examples has been our working with Magnolia CDC in Opelousas, LA to become a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO). A CHDO designation will help Magnolia access funding opportunities like the Community Development Block Grant and serve more of their community.

As always, HAC’s Research and Information division is on the cutting edge when it comes to issues impacting rural America. We worked along the southern border to establish Colonias Investment Areas that help target opportunities for mortgage finance and community development. We analyzed the extent to which limited broadband access, food insecurity and natural disasters impacted rural prosperity. And in 2019, we influenced the debate on Community Reinvestment Act reform by analyzing how an expanded CRA could stem the tide of rural bank closures and expand access to mortgage credit in the nation’s most persistently poor places.

Looking ahead, 2020 will no doubt be another exciting year for HAC. We will see you at our biennial National Rural Housing Conference, send you the decennial update of our flagship publication Taking Stockand partner with you for vibrant, resilient and prosperous rural places. Thanks again for a great 2019. We wouldn’t be here without you.

New Leadership for Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design Brings Broad Reach

by David Lipsetz

Children in front of a mural - Photo: [bc]

The National Endowment for the Arts has selected the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) as its partner for the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD), one of the Arts Endowment’s leadership initiatives. As HAC’s CEO, I couldn’t be more excited.

CIRD‘s goal is to enhance the quality of life and economic viability of rural America through planning, design, and creative placemaking. It offers communities access to the resources they need to convert their own good ideas into reality. The program awards competitive funding to small towns and rural and tribal communities to host multi-day community design workshops. With support from a wide range of design, planning, and creative placemaking professionals, the workshops bring together residents and local leaders from non-profits, community organizations, and government to develop actionable solutions to the community’s pressing design challenges. Following the workshop, the community receives additional support through webinars, web-based resources, and customized follow-up support.

HAC CEO David Lipsetz tours housing projects on the Pine Ridge reservation

If you are familiar with CIRD, but haven’t worked with HAC before, you might be wondering why a housing organization was chosen. Let me tell you a bit about us and hopefully it becomes clear. HAC’s mission is to build homes and communities across rural America. We’ve been doing so for nearly 50 years and have worked with over 10,000 rural communities.

HAC is attuned to rural life. We appreciate that every small town is unique. We understand that projects succeed or fail on the strength of local leadership and engagement. We see our job as building the capacity of local organizations to thrive well after we are gone. We know housing, but in rural places you never have the luxury of working with only one of the tools of community development. You must be able to wear many hats, and over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection.

I’m eager to watch CIRD’s core mission carried out through HAC. I’m equally eager to watch the interaction—both locally and nationally—of rural housing and community development practitioners working alongside designers and planners. CIRD will maintain its competitive funding for small and tribal communities to host multi-day design workshops. We will leverage our 50-state reach and capacity building network to bring peer learning and design-rooted capacity building to an additional 20 communities, and couple it with support for navigating funding opportunities. In late May 2019, CIRD will release a Request for Applications, inviting communities to apply for the program. Join CIRD’s mailing list to stay abreast.

If you are reading this post, you probably already know of rural and tribal communities that are trendsetters in design and creative placemaking. They often want to continue turning their community-rooted design ideas into reality. They want steady funding streams, coupled with the know-how to access such. They want to exchange ideas and break bread with their rural peers, gaining hands-on exposure to best practices. And they want to engage with the country’s best designers, including architects, planners, and other experts with a rural bent. They need a repository for what works and connection to a national conversation, boosting their collective capacity. HAC has been creating such connections for decades, and the National Endowment for the Arts has given HAC the resources to build even more via CIRD.

buildingcommunityWORKSHOP (bc), a nonprofit community design organization, will join HAC as a key partner in carrying out CIRD. bc is known for engaging low-income communities with award winning design and planning. bc has earned the respect of local partners in Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and beyond. Their expertise is a perfect complement to HAC’s reach and reputation for building local capacity.

CIRD - Studio in the Park

The National Endowment for the Arts and HAC have committed to furthering CIRD’s reach because CIRD works. HAC hopes to spend a decade leading CIRD in close consultation with a CIRD Steering Committee comprised of rural design leaders. Behind the National Endowment for the Arts decision to select HAC is HAC’s success with a National Endowment for the Arts-funded creative placemaking award, HAC’s groundbreaking report on Placemaking in Native American Communities, and a growing consensus among policymakers, pundits, and most recently the National Governors Association that arts, placemaking, and design are drivers of rural economic development.

NEA’s support is also allowing HAC to host bc and several design fellows and other visitors at the intersection of rural and design to collaborate. Deliberate co-locating of top designers and planners with HAC’s expertise in rural policy and programs will deepen everyone’s understanding. The idea grew out of a bc-led session at HAC’s recent National Rural Housing conferences. HAC has an ear to the ground in rural America; merging such with bc’s design bona fides and a mutual respect for rural practitioners will bring about design rooted upshot for hundreds of small towns.

Finally, HAC will put CIRD’s track record and potential to work with philanthropy and other non-government actors. Ensuring quality rural design on a scale commensurate with the need for such requires investment from business and foundations. In boosting CIRD’s funding level to reach up to 20 additional communities, the National Endowment for the Arts signaled a commitment to rural design as a driver of rural prosperity—even in a competitive funding environment. Private and public support, including Community Reinvestment Act-motivated capital toward creative and design-focused endeavors is already producing results. We are looking for several more foundations and financial institutions to join our journey.

Way back in 1971, HAC’s founders called for “foster(ing) planning” and “citizen participation in housing and community benefit” on a national scale. They were prescient in outlining the importance of locally-driven planning and citizen participation. I’m glad that the National Endowment for the Arts is trusting HAC, via CIRD and with bcWORKSHOP, to take on work that our founders knew as important, then and now.

HAC CEO David Lipsetz contributes to CDFI Connect blog

HAC: Building Capacity for Rural Communities

by David Lipsetz, CEO of the Housing Assistance Council

It was the mid-1970s. Gerald Ford was in office. CDFIs like the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) were just getting started. And Peggy Wright was growing up in Forrest City, Arkansas.

Forrest City is part of Arkansas’ long-struggling Delta region, where rich soil rarely led to riches for the largely African American population toiling in the fields. Housing conditions were dire, and indoor plumbing was hardly commonplace. Within a few years, Peggy had grown up and joined the Arkansas Delta Housing Development Corporation (ADHDC). Despite the barriers of the times, she rose to the position of housing director at ADHDC, running a “Self-Help” housing model which allows those of modest means to put forth hundreds of hours of sweat equity toward construction of their own homes.

Read the complete post on the CDFI Connect Blog.

Rural Organizations Gather in Thomas, WV to Learn Placemaking Strategies

Nineteen rural-focused housing and community development-focused practitioners including AmeriCorps volunteers, rural housing developers, West Virginia University faculty, and regional grant makers were among those trekking to Thomas and Davis, West Virginia on October 3 and 4 for a “Creative Placemaking” Peer Exchange sponsored by HAC and bcWORKSHOP. Creative placemaking leverages locally-rooted arts to build community and local economies.

HAC's Stephen Sugg discusses Creative Placemaking with peer exchange attendeesHAC’s Stephen Sugg (right) discussed the pros and cons of infill housing in rural communities with participants.

Woodlands Development Corporation—a long-time HAC partner and a national leader in linking arts and stronger rural communities—hosted the exchange. Local artists/businesspersons, elected officials, and civic leaders were among those sharing their experiences. The communities of Thomas and Davis, West Virginia have become nationally known for a strong arts scene anchored by local galleries and The Purple Fiddle, a a music venue known for showcasing homegrown talent along with high-profile artists. Woodlands helps to ensure that all income levels are part of the communities’ recent growth and uptick in housing prices.

Participants tour a thriving business during a Creative Placemaking peer exchangeLocal artists shared their story of how financing and business coaching from Woodlands Community Builders helped to create a vibrant visual and performance art scene that anchors Thomas’ economy.

The peer exchange was the culmination of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant that supported HAC and bcWORKSHOP taking on two local pilot Creative Placemaking programs while disseminating lessons learned to HAC’s national network. The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making.

WHAT is CREATIVE PLACEMAKING:

The National Endowment for the Arts calls Creative Placemaking is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place.