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.

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No, Minimum Rents Do Not “Encourage Financial Responsibility”

by Gideon Anders
March 13, 2014

President Obama’s 2015 Budget seeks to impose a $50 per month minimum rent on tenants living in USDA Rural Development (RD) financed Section 515 Rural Rental Housing and Section 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing.

This will only impact extremely low-income households with adjusted annual incomes of less than $2,000. These are the absolute poorest households residing in RD housing. They typically do not have a regular source of income. RD indicates this requirement will affect about 42,000, or 10 percent, of the households living in RD rental housing…

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Keeping Rural Seniors in Their Homes

Through my work researching housing for rural seniors, two things have become evident: first, rural America is older than the nation overall, and second, aging in place is the best option for seniors. “Aging in place” refers to older adults living independently in their current residences or communities for as long as possible. The vast majority of rural seniors own their own homes, so this often means remaining there; it can also be accomplished, however, by moving to a more manageable dwelling (such as a smaller apartment).

Numerous reports have proposed that aging in place… Read more

From Food to Housing: Sacrificing Quality for Quantity in the Colonias

From Food to Housing: Sacrificing Quality for Quantity in the Colonias

In November, theWashington Postpublished an article entitled“Too Much of Too Little”about recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, in Hidalgo County, Texas, one of the fastest growing and poorest places in the nation. The article highlighted families who are forced to choose between affordable yet unhealthy foods that keep their families fed throughout the month or healthy options that are less affordable and may not feed a family for as long. Low-income Americans dependent upon SNAP are often forced to shop “quantity over quality” in order to stretch paltry food budgets throughout the month. As a result, more and more people who do not have enough food to eat are facing obesity and diabetes at alarming rates.

Read the complete Blog post at Rooflines

Rural Lending Improves; Costs Still Higher

Rural Lending Improves; Costs Still Higher

by Keith Wiley

After declining by more than half from 2003 to 2011, the number of rural mortgage applications increased by 19% last year. And the number of actual mortgage loans issued rose 27% from the previous year, according to data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HDMA).

Of the loan applications reported through HMDA in 2012, approximately 2.4 million, or 16%, were for mortgage loans in rural or small town communities.

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Understanding Rural Homelessness

Understanding Rural Homelessness

by Eric Oberdorfer

understanding-homelessnessRural homelessness differs from urban and suburban homelessness. The image of an individual sleeping on the street, clearly visible to those passing by, is much less frequent in rural America.

Literal homelessness, or the condition of living on the street or in a shelter, does exist in rural America, but due to the geographic vastness of most of these areas and a lack of centralized services and resources, it is much more infrequent.

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When a Housing Advocate's Work Hits Home

When a Housing Advocate’s Work Hits Home

By Leslie Strauss

It’s been a very long time since I saw the movie “Dr. Zhivago,” but I can remember clearly the noisy crowd the doctor finds in his family mansion when he comes home from war. The family is being forced to share their home with a dozen other families, each occupying one room.

I would hate to live that way. But on a policy level it makes some sense, well, without the overcrowding. If we divided the available space in U.S. homes by the number of people, wouldn’t there be an appropriate number of square feet per person?

Sure, forcing people to share their space would make everyone a little uncomfortable, but wouldn’t that be better than having some people live without electricity or pay more than half their income for housing every month? Just temporarily, until we find a way to provide decent, affordable, separate living spaces for everyone.

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Battling Metropollyanna

rflns_metropollyannaBattling Metropollyanna

Can’t find affordable housing where you live? Just move to wherever the housing is. Rural Americans have long been told to “move to town” to improve their housing situations.

The late Clay Cochran, one of the founders of the modern rural housing movement, called this Metropollyanna: the belief that eventually everyone will move to the city and live happily ever after.

It is not uncommon to hear politicians, pundits, and policymakers question the value of social services and public spending in rural parts of the United States where populations are small and resources are limited. This idea came up a couple of months ago in a LinkedIn discussionabout a Rooflines post titled “What Does the Push for Transit Oriented Development Mean for Rural Areas?” One commenter responded: “It means people will have to live in more population-concentrated, urban-proximate areas.”

Needless to say, rural housing supporters disagree.

Read the complete Blog post at Rooflines

Rural Housing Budget Disappointing, But Not Surprising

Rural Housing Budget Disappointing, But Not Surprising

by Leslie Strauss, HAC

budget-screen-shotUnfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the Obama administration’s rural housing budget continues trends that were evident in the last several budget requests.

The guiding principle seems to be, as it is for “safety net” programs generally, reducing spending rather than meeting needs.

The USDA’s flagship rural housing efforts have long been direct loan programs: Section 502 for homebuyers and Section 515 for those who provide rental housing. Like past Obama administration budgets, the FY14 request emphasizes USDA’s loan guarantees rather than direct lending. The guarantee programs—Section 502 guaranteed for homebuyers and Section 538 for rental housing—are “budget neutral” because participants pay fees that cover the programs’ costs. They carry higher interest rates, however, and therefore serve residents with somewhat higher income levels than those using the direct loan programs.

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Reuters Rural Housing Article Draws Wrong Conclusions

Reuters Rural Housing Article Draws Wrong Conclusions

by Leslie Strauss

“Special Report: A rural housing program city slickers just love,” published by Reuters on March 18, 2013, relies on some questionable methodology and draws dubious conclusions.

The article focuses on USDA’s mortgage guarantee program, one of many administered by USDA. The department also makes mortgage loans itself, and assists homeowners who cannot afford to repair serious housing problems, homebuyers who help build their own homes, and tenants who cannot afford to rent decent apartments.

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