Responses and Recommendations for the New Rural Task Force

Excerpted from The National Rural Assembly’s blog.

The following are responses and recommendations from members of the National Rural Assembly community about the Trump administration’s recent Executive Order forming a new Rural Task Force. These comments represent the diversity of rural people and places, across ages, sectors, geographies and issue areas.

“…I encourage Secretary Perdue and members of the task force to address a wide variety of rural economic and community topics as well as agriculture. Housing, health care, broadband, economic development, and many other concerns are different in rural America than in cities. I also strongly recommend that the task force actively seek direct input from all rural Americans.” – Moises Loza, Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council

Read the complete post at: https://ruralassembly.org/blog/new-rural-task-force.

It’s time to reauthorize Native American housing

Moises Loza, HAC’s Executive Director, wrote and op-ed for The Hill about the reauthorization of Native American housing programs.

Broken windows, frequent reports of black mold and bed bugs, discarded tires as makeshift roofing, and more than a dozen people crammed together in a crumbling two-bedroom home.

Such housing conditions in Indian country were uncovered last year by the Great Falls Tribune, which noted a housing shortage that “has lingered on U.S. Indian reservations for nearly a century.” As the Executive Director of an organization that has worked to address such issues since 1971, occasional reports of horrific conditions in Indian country are, sadly, not surprising. Such reports are frustrating because we know what works: sustained funding of federal housing programs that meet the unique needs of sovereign Indian nations…

Read the entire piece on The Hill’s website

Trailer in low income section of pine ridge villageTrailer in low income section of pine ridge village

Housing as Infrastructure

by Stephen Sugg,Housing Assistance Council (HAC)

We know that decent and affordable housing does great (and cost-effective) things like prevent lead poisoning, improve health outcomes, and boost student achievement in school. Rural affordable housing is an economic driver. And a lack of rural affordable housing is thwarting economic growth and job creation. Thus, HAC and our rural partners in 50 states are among the growing number of voices viewing housing as infrastructure. One rural small business developer said it best, calling intertwined issues of workforce recruitment and housing stock availability the “two biggest challenges that rural areas tend to be worried about”.

Those working in the metro DC area and other relatively affluent enclaves are accustomed to construction cranes hovering, young professionals sipping lattes that are the price of a burger and fries in a rural diner, and paying outrageous rents.

It is different in rural America. Available housing is often dilapidated, not energy-efficient, and though comparatively cheap, still unaffordable for the working poor, or most vulnerable. Grandma might have a $800 heating bill for her Jimmy Carter era manufactured home. Rural incomes are 25% less on average than non-rural, and this statistic is worse for rural areas mired in persistent poverty. But bottom line focused rural leaders know that affordable housing creates jobs—short and long term, while offering “immediate fiscal benefits” for states and localities.

Rural businesses too often struggle, with lumber catching dust at the lumber yard; building supplies hardly moving at the hardware store. Immediate economic impact would come from investment that is guaranteed to stay local, help local people, and that is “shovel ready” (and then some). It might even help stem the onslaught of rural hospital closures.

I’d challenge folks from the Trump Administration, starting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, to join a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders and my colleagues and me on a journey—perhaps over the next Congressional recess. Start in Appalachia, say rural eastern Kentucky, and ask the folks there if federal infrastructure investment in housing would be wise. Imagine out-of-work miners constructing “self-help” homes, their sweat equity again paying a dividend, along with de facto job training.

Then go north, to Pine Ridge in South Dakota, where 18 people crowding into a house is still too common, a place that Nicholas Kristof called “Poverty’s Poster Child”. Ask them about the immediate impact of improved housing conditions.

Traditional log home - between Oglala and Pine Ridge villageTraditional log home – between Oglala and Pine Ridge village

Next fly south, to the Colonias on the U.S.-Mexico border, where housing is in short supply, and modern sewage systems are too rare. In the Colonias, even modest investment does much good, as creative nonprofits are doing cutting-edge work. Going westward (or any direction, really), one could visit the homes of farmworkers, and see the substandard housing conditions of those responsible for making sure that we eat.

For those wanting some recreation with their fact finding mission, they would need not go to counties mired in persistent poverty—85% of which are rural. Rural resort towns (e.g., “tourist areas”) are filled with housing need. Those in the service industry are often part of rural America’s hidden homelessness epidemic. And make no mistake: investment in affordable rural housing plays a critical role in addressing rural America’s opioid crisis. Citylab called the opioid epidemic an “infrastructure issue”, citing the need for rural transitional housing.

In rural America, where costs are lower for construction and land, infrastructure spending targeted toward housing—preservation or new—can boost the outlook for Main Street while providing an anchor for our most vulnerable families to achieve stability, and a shot at the middle class.

Last year, over 7 million households in rural America experienced at least one major housing problem. We can do better, and political will is all that it takes.

This post is part of a series from members of the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding tying housing to infrastructure. Read the first post in the series from the National Housing Conference.

A Call for More Inclusive Community Planning, from Wonkblog

In a piece for The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Emily Badger details a story of a town in California, which is instructive to organizations working to provide affordable housing across the country.

Brisbane, California, a town outside of San Francisco, has a chance to make a big change to relieve the area’s housing crisis. A local developer would like to use a former industrial land plot to build a mixed-use project, including public parkland and over 4,000 housing units. The location is also adjacent to a regional rail line that would make commuting easier for workers with jobs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. One of the benefits of building on this currently unused space is that construction would not displace any current residents or negatively impact local traffic. However, some Brisbane officials and residents are resistant to this development for reasons that are all too familiar to affordable housing developers.

This situation reflects the realities of housing policy decisions across the country. Housing policies are generally set at the local level, which in turn provides a great deal of weight to the desires of local residents. HAC has long felt that the solutions to affordable housing start at the local level, and building local capacity should be a priority in any community development effort. In her piece, Badger argues that communities should be more inclusive in how they define “local.” Badger believes that decision making on a community level should also include commuters who spend their days in town, working, going to school, or spending money, but don’t technically live there. This would create a more inclusive community where all of the stakeholders have a say in local policy. However, she submits that local control of housing policy is a tradition that is unlikely to change in American communities.

top20-commuter-adjusted-population

How the Major Party Platforms Approach Housing

by Leslie Strauss

The major political party platforms take different approaches to federal housing assistance and related topics. The Republican and Democratic platforms adopted at the parties’ conventions in July are couched in strikingly different ways, consistent with the conventions’ tones. For example, while the Republican paper states, “We must scale back the federal role in the housing market, promote responsibility on the part of borrowers and lenders, and avoid future taxpayer bailouts,” the Democratic one asserts, “We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units . . . [to] help address the affordable housing crisis . . . [and] create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.”

Read the complete article on Rooflines

Rural Seniors Get Housing Help from USDA

HAC’s Joe Belden published a post on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health and Housing Expert Forum: Aging in Place in Rural Communities.

For older adults living in rural communities, the challenge of aging in place is often magnified. What specific programs and policies have proven successful and could be replicated?

Almost 26 percent of the nation’s seniors live in rural areas. As the baby boom generation continues to age, unique challenges will be placed on housing and supportive services for rural seniors, who experience more poverty than seniors nationally. Rural America is also aging faster than the nation overall, due to both natural population change and the continuing exodus of younger adults. Housing conditions are different for rural senior renters and homeowners. Rural seniors typically own their homes, many of them outright. While most seniors are happy with their homes, the physical changes of aging can impact the capacity to age in place successfully. Rural seniors who rent are also significantly more likely to experience problems with housing affordability than those who own.

Read the full post from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

woman-on-porch-oregonPhoto: CASA of Oregon

Rural Housing Fares Better in 2016 Budget – The Daily Yonder

From The Daily Yonder: Rural programs that were slated for cuts got a reprieve – and some increases– in last month’s budget compromise. Renters, self-help home builders, and housing agencies will benefit from these last-minute changes.

by Joe Belden

Rural programs that were slated for cuts got a reprieve – and then some – in last month’s budget compromise. Renters, self-help home builders, and housing agencies will benefit from these last-minute changes.

In a significant victory for affordable housing, the federal omnibus spending bill passed last month maintains or expands several U.S. Department of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development housing programs.

In earlier drafts of the legislation, the president and congressional leaders had proposed deep cuts in some USDA and HUD initiatives. But the final bipartisan legislation, signed into law by President Obama on December 18, maintained or expanded programs that advocates say are important for rural residents and housing agencies…

Read the complete post at The Daily Yonder.

Rural Home-Purchase Loans Grow at Faster Rate Than Urban

by Keith Wiley

The number of rural loan applications fell last year because of a big decline in refinancing. But loan applications for home purchases grew by nearly 7 percent, even higher than the national increase. Also on the rise in rural areas were higher-interest loans, which are especially common for manufactured housing purchases.

Read the Complete blog post at The Daily Yonder

by Keith Wiley

The number of rural loan applications fell last year because of a big decline in refinancing. But loan applications for home purchases grew by nearly 7 percent, even higher than the national increase. Also on the rise in rural areas were higher-interest loans, which are especially common for manufactured housing purchases.

Recently released data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) signals a changing home finance market across the nation and rural America too. The 2015 HMDA figures, which reflect calendar year 2014 mortgage lending applications, show a substantial nationwide decline in overall mortgage activity. In fact, the total number of HMDA reported loan records in 2014 was the lowest level in the past 17 years.

Read the Complete blog post at The Daily Yonder

Speak Your Piece: Sanitizing the Census – The Daily Yonder

The Census Bureau wants to cut the “flush-toilet” question from its largest survey, saying the query is an “unnecessary burden on the American Public.” But changing the definition of inadequate plumbing won’t make it go away.

by Lance George

With the recent foreclosure crisis and the rise of housing affordability problems, concerns around substandard and dilapidated homes may have waned or been pushed in to the background. Indeed, long-term efforts to improve housing conditions have resulted in dramatic reductions in the most egregious housing deficiencies. In 1970, more than 3.5 million homes in the United States were without complete plumbing facilities. In 2013, the number of homes lacking adequate plumbing declined to roughly 570,000, or less than 1 percent of the nation’s housing stock. An estimated 70 percent of these “plumbing-inadequate” homes lack a functioning flush toilet.

Read the complete post at The Daily Yonder

Ending Rural Veteran Homelessness in 2015

Ensuring that veterans have access to safe, secure housing is critical, and President Obama and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have made a significant push to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Data shows declines in the homeless veteran population across the country, including in Rural America. However, in rural areas where accurate homeless counts are more difficult, this data may not tell the whole story. Read HAC’s latest post on the Rooflines blog to learn why.

Photo: Stormi GreenerPhoto: Stormi Greener