The Silent (And Invisible) Farmworker Housing Crisis

by Lance George and Leslie Strauss

“Rural America’s Silent Housing Crisis,” an article in The Atlantic magazine’s February edition, describes the overlooked plight of rural families who struggle to obtain quality housing they can afford. The article does not look specifically at the housing problems of farmworkers – a crisis that deserves attention because it is not only silent, but often invisible.

Because of the nature of their employment and working conditions, farmworkers’ housing options are often substantially different from the overall market in terms of cost and quality. Most farmworkers find housing through the private market. But rental housing is not as plentiful in rural places as it is in most cities. Additionally, landlords typically ask for a security deposit, a credit check, and a long-term commitment, requirements that often conflict with the unique conditions of the farm labor industry…

Read the full post on Harvesting Justice

Rural Housing: An Election Day Post-Mortem

by Joe Belden

For those of us in the rural housing silo, the most significant November 4 result may be a fairly ho-hum and fully expected re-election in Eastern Kentucky. In the nation’s most rural Congressional district, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) ran against the same Democratic opponent he defeated in 2012 with 78 percent of the vote. Congressman Rogers’s re-election is actually great news for rural housing.

Read the complete blog post at Rooflines.

The Daily Yonder – Rural Mortgage Activity Declines

by Keith Wiley, Research Associate at the Housing Assistance Council

Rural mortgage markets continue to struggle in the aftermath of the national housing crisis.

The number of home loans in rural areas declined by 14.1% between 2012 and 2013, according to the most recent Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data. The drop-off in lending is largely related to refinance activity. Gradually increasing interest rates and tighter underwriting criteria have slowed mortgage refinancing nationally, as well as in rural communities. Refinance lending in rural and small town communities declined by 23% in 2013 from 2012 levels.

Rural home purchase lending, on the other hand, increased by 2.3% from 2012. After reaching a 10-year low in 2011, rural home purchase loans increased for the past two years to 440,489 in 2013.

While these trends suggest an improvement in home sales, rural and small town home purchase loans remain 52% below the pre-recession levels of 2006. Home purchase loans continue to make up a smaller portion (35%) compared to refinance loans (57%) of all rural lending activity.

Read the full story at The Daily Yonder

Is the Housing Crisis Over in Rural America?

by Lance George

In 2008 the U.S. economy fell off a cliff. Depending on your perspective it either slipped or was pushed from that precipice by the housing markets. In 2009 and 2010, when the crisis was arguably at its worst, the Housing Assistance Council began receiving frequent inquiries from the press and others asking, “How is the housing crisis affecting rural America?” We simply had no answer. Mortgage and foreclosure data were virtually nonexistent for most rural areas.

After six years and some hindsight, we are asking some questions ourselves. Is the crisis over? And what are the lingering effects? These seemingly basic inquiries still prove challenging, particularly from the rural perspective. So we sought assistance from four affordable housing experts to help answer these questions.

Read the complete blog post at Rooflines.

From Cargo Shipping to Home Sweet Home?

Livable buildings can be created from shipping containers, the big rectangular corrugated metal things stacked at docks by giant cranes. There are large and impressive shipping container homes in numerous countries. Containers can be used for affordable housing too; for example, in Washington, DC an apartment building for students is being constructed from containers. And single containers can make affordable single-family homes. Kentucky Habitat for Humanity is constructing a prototype in Upton, a town of 680 an hour south of Louisville.

What does a container house look like? Most photos online show corrugated, painted exteriors. The interiors vary widely depending on the size of the container(s) used and how many containers are combined.

Read the complete blog post at Rooflines.

Shared Equity for Rural Homebuyers

How have shared equity housing models created positive impacts on the supply of affordable housing?

by Mike Feinberg

Shared equity models are often locally (neighborhood) based. The homes financed may carry resale restrictions on value appreciation and may only be sold to an income-eligible purchaser. These models may not be conducive to rural areas with vast geographies and limited markets.

Read the complete blog post on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s site.

Congress Agrees: Collaborative, Comprehensive Care Needed For Rural Vets

by Eric Oberdorfer

DSC_0019Rural America has a strong history of protecting our country. In fact, as highlighted in a recent report on rural veterans, veterans are more prevalent in rural America, comprising 11.4 percent of the rural population compared to 9.6 percent of the nation overall. However, providing needed services to veterans in rural America can often be more challenging due to the spread out nature of rural areas. These challenges were discussed in depth at a recent symposium held at the US Capitol.

Attended by Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, each member of Congress noted the responsibility we share to ensure the well-being of our veterans, regardless of where they may live. It was encouraging to hear elected members of Congress discuss and acknowledge the challenges that exist in providing services to veterans in rural America.

Read the complete blog post at Rooflines.

Coming Together for Rural Veterans: HAC’s Serving Veterans in Rural America Symposium

Sponsored by The Home Depot Foundationby Eric Oberdorfer

Rural America has a strong history of protecting our country. In fact, veterans are more prevalent in rural America, comprising 11.4 percent of the rural population compared to 9.6 percent of the nation overall. However, providing needed services to veterans in rural America can often be more challenging due to the spread out nature of rural areas. Aiming to draw attention to the housing needs of rural veterans, The Home Depot Foundation and the Housing Assistance Council convened Serving Veterans in Rural America: A Symposium on April 9th, 2014. Moises Loza of HAC and Heather Pritchard of The Home Depot Foundation welcomed the attendees.

HAC was honored to have Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Representative Tammy Duckworth of Illinois as opening speakers. Each member of Congress noted the responsibility we share to ensure the well-being of our veterans, regardless of where they may live. It was encouraging to hear elected members of Congress discuss and acknowledge the challenges that exist in providing services to veterans in rural America.

Symposium Materials

From Service to Shelter

Power Point Presentations

Photos from the Symposium

#RuralVeterans Storify

Attendees also heard from Gina Capra, Director of the Office of Rural Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); Tony Hernandez, Administrator of the USDA Rural Housing Service; Keith Kelly, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Services at the Department of Labor (DoL); and Ann Oliva, Director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs. Each agreed that to best serve our veterans, federal agencies must collaborate. HUD, VA, DoL, and USDA must look for ways to work together within their respective programs that will best meet the comprehensive needs of our veterans. This includes housing, employment, and physical and mental health services.

Rep. Tammy DuckworthRep. Tammy Duckworth prepares her remarksFortunately, the elected members of Congress were united on this front as well. Representative Duckworth discussed the importance of partnerships to ensure veterans in tribal lands received supports. Senator Isakson noted the potential benefits of providing vouchers to rural veterans so that they may access local health care providers if distances to VA medical facilities are too great. He also noted the unsettling rise of suicides within the veteran population and the need to ensure that mental health services are available and accessible.

Another theme that emerged from the Symposium was the obligation to acknowledge the differences that exist between rural America and urban or suburban parts of the country. Agencies agreed that there is a need to change the way outreach and resources are provided to rural areas, especially for homeless veterans. Better data on rural veterans is critical to achieve this goal, and the uniqueness of rural America must be taken into account during data collection and service provision. The panel noted how important it is to remember that issues common to all veterans, like transportation needs, health care needs, unemployment, and housing concerns, are exacerbated in rural areas. Furthermore, the lack of internet in some rural areas can significantly complicate VA or other federal application processes.

The issue of veteran homelessness was also brought up frequently throughout the symposium. Although programs like HUD-VASH, which combine HUD housing vouchers with case-management and clinical services provided by the VA, have been credited in lowering veteran homelessness by 24 percent since 2009, there is still more work to do. This is especially true in regard to female veterans with children, who are more likely to become homeless than their male counterparts. Shockingly, caring for their children can complicate efforts to seek treatment and housing services, as many supportive housing developments are unable to house families. Representative Duckworth stated that it breaks her heart to see these individuals, who gave so much to protect our country, having to choose between a home or her family.

Heather Pritchard and Sen. Johnny IsaksonHeather Pritchard of The Home Depot Foundation and Sen. Johnny IsaksonThanks to the tireless work of housing providers in rural America, these issues are being addressed. The Symposium ended with a panel, moderated by Mark Williams of The American Legion, that showcased programs and initiatives that house veterans in rural America. Retha Patton of Eastern Eight CDC, Rita Markley of the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), and Kenn Sassorossi of Housing Vermont shared inspiring success stories about providing needed housing to veterans within their rural communities in Tennessee and Vermont. These stories included family housing options with support services for homeless veterans. Heather Pritchard also discussed The Home Depot Foundation’s efforts in providing needed funding and assistance to organizations that house rural veterans. These programs and initiatives all highlight the importance of partnership and collaboration to successfully house veterans in need.

As Senator Sanders noted, the costs of war are greater than we know, and we must continue to meet the needs of our veterans when they return home. Although there is work to be done, it is always encouraging to know that elected leaders, government employees, and local organizations remain committed to this goal. Wednesday’s Symposium was a wonderful reminder of this, and an important reminder to thank our veterans whenever possible.

Analysis: Rural Housing Programs in Decline

by Mike Feinberg & Joe Belden

Housing programs in USDA Rural Development appear to be on a glide path to elimination, says this analysis from advocates at the Housing Assistance Council. The Obama administration’s proposed budget for next year continues the downward funding trend.

Federal spending on affordable rural housing programs has been on a downward trend for a number of years that threatens to continue until the programs eventually fade away. The Obama administration seems to be seeking just such a fade out, thinking that housing groups will not notice. This has been underway quietly as the federal budget gets tighter and many worthy programs are cut. Sequestration and across-the-board cuts resulted in steep reductions in FY 2013.

Read the full blog post at The Daily Yonder

Rural Rental Assistance Needs USDA’s Support to Survive

by Leslie Strauss

The cost of USDA’s Section 521 Rental Assistance program isgrowing every year. After afunding crisis hit the program inSeptember, Congress increased its funding for fiscal year 2014, giving USDA time to reduce program costs, cut program spending, or work a little magic.

Magic seems unlikely. And some possibilities are clearly unpalatable. No one wants tenants to lose their homes because their aid ends and their rents increase. No one wants landlords to leave the affordable housing business because they can’t afford to operate with reduced income. No one wants funds to be shifted away from other rural housing programs to meet Rental Assistance needs. Fortunately, there are other options.

Read the complete post at Rooflines