Hurricane Laura Disaster Guide

Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm in early morning n August 27, 2020. HAC offers the following guide as a source of information for individuals and families dealing with direct housing loss and damage from the storm. For more information, please see HAC’s report: Picking up the Pieces: Restoring Rural Housing and Communities After a Disaster and Disaster Response for Rural Communities Guide.

If your house is inaccessible or currently uninhabitable, emergency, transient housing will likely be made available to provide immediate shelter for those in need. Organizations and resources available to assist with emergency transient housing in previous similar disasters include the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Church World Service, Mennonite Disaster Service, and state- and city-run emergency shelters aimed at housing victims of Hurricane. If you are in need of emergency, transient housing, you can text SHELTER and your Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find where the shelter closest to you is located.

FEMA makes available temporary assistance funding available for residents of counties affected by hurricanes. Temporary assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. To see if you are eligible for funding, you can apply online at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/ or call FEMA’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA(3362). When applying, make sure to have a pen and paper as well as the following information: your social security number, current and pre-disaster address, a telephone number where you can be contacted, insurance information, total household income, a routing and account number from your bank if you are interested in having disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account, and a description of your losses that were caused by the disaster.

Tips

Please keep in mind the following safety protocols for hurricanes and flooding:

  • Only call 911 if you have an immediate need for medical attention or evacuation assistance.
  • If you can’t get through to 911 on first try, keep calling.
  • DO NOT DRIVE through high water and DO NOT DRIVE AROUND BARRICADES! Just 2 feet of water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • DO NOT WALK through flood waters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down. 4
  • If your home floods, STAY THERE. You are safer at home than trying to navigate flooded streets on foot.
  • If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is NOT MOVING, abandon the car and move to higher ground. Do not leave the car and enter MOVING water.
  • STAY AWAY from streams, rivers, and creeks during heavy rainfall. These areas can flood quickly and with little warning.
  • MOVE important items – especially important documents like insurance policies – to the highest possible floor. This will help protect them from flood damage.
  • DISCONNECT electrical appliances and do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water. You could be electrocuted.

This flooding event is a reminder that all residents in this area should carry flood insurance. Contact your insurance agent for more information about purchasing flood insurance or visit the National Flood Insurance Program at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program or call 1-888-379-9531. Please keep in mind that new insurance policies take 30 days to go into effect.

If your home has experienced damage, remember to check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundations cracks, missing support beams, or other damage. It may be safest to ask a building inspector of contractor to check the structure before you enter. Do not force jammed doors open, as they may be providing needed support to the rest of the home. Sniff for gas to ensure there are no natural or propane gas leaks. If you do have a propane tank system, make sure to turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system before you use it again. Check floors and ceilings to ensure they are not sagging from water damage. This can be especially hazardous. Take photographs of any damage as you may need them for insurance claims or FEMA claims later on.

Resources

Apply for FEMA Assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. FEMA Disaster Assistance Helpline answers questions about the help offered by FEMA, how to apply for assistance, or the information in your account.

Toll-free helpline: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362)
For hearing impaired callers only:
1-800-462-7585 (TTY)
1-800-621-3362 (Video Relay Service)
Operators are multilingual and calls are answered seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET

American Red Cross Disaster Service: For referrals and updates on Red Cross shelter services in your area, locate a local Red Cross office through: https://www.redcross.org/find-help or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)
The Red Cross helps disaster victims by providing safe shelter, hot meals, essential relief supplies, emotional support and health services like first aid. Trained Red Cross workers often meet one-on-one with families to develop individual plans and identify available resources to help aid recovery.

STATE HOUSING AGENCIES

Arkansas
Arkansas Development Finance Authority
P.O. Box 8023
Little Rock, AR 72203-8023
Phone: (501) 682-5900
Fax: (501) 682-5939
https://www.arkansas.gov/adfa

Louisiana
Louisiana Housing Corporation
2415 Quail Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
Phone: (225) 763-8700
Fax: (225) 763-8710
https://www.lhc.la.gov

Mississippi
Mississippi Home Corporation
735 Riverside Drive
Jackson, MS 39202-1166
Phone: (601) 718-4642
Fax: (601) 718-4643
https://www.mshomecorp.com

Missouri
Missouri Housing Development Commission
920 Main Street, Suite 1400
Kansas City, MO 64105-2017
Phone: (816) 759-6600
Fax: (816) 759-6638
https://www.mhdc.com

Oklahoma
Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency
100 NW 63rd Street, Suite 200
Oklahoma City, OK 73116-8250
Phone: (405) 848-1144
Fax: (405) 419-9211
https://www.ohfa.org

Tennessee
Tennessee Housing Development Agency
502 Deaderick Street, Third Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: (615) 815-2200
Fax: (615) 564-2700
https://www.thda.org

Texas
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
221 E 11th Street
Austin, TX 78701-2410
Phone: (512) 475-3800
Fax: (512) 469-9606
https://www.tdhca.state.tx.us

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT STATE FIELD OFFICES

Arkansas
Little Rock Field Office
425 West Capitol Avenue
Suite 1000
Little Rock, AR 72201-3488
Phone: (501) 918-5700
Director: Wanda C. Merritt

Louisiana
Hale Boggs Federal Building
500 Poydras Street
9th Floor
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 671-3001
Director: Bam Gressett

Mississippi
Dr. A. H. McCoy Federal Building
100 West Capitol Street
Room 910
Jackson, MS 39269-1096
Phone: (601) 965-4757
Director: Jerrie G. Magruder

Missouri
St. Louis Field Office
1222 Spruce Street
Suite 3.203
St. Louis, MO 63103-2836
Phone: (314) 418-5400
Director: James Heard

Oklahoma
Tulsa Field Office
110 West 7th Street
Suite 1110
Tulsa, OK 74119
Phone: (918) 292-8900
Director: Sharon Gordon-Ribeiro

Tennessee
John J. Duncan Federal Building
710 Locust Street, SW 3rd Floor
Knoxville, TN 37902-2526
Phone: (865) 545-4370

Memphis Field Office
200 Jefferson Avenue
Suite 300
Memphis, TN 38103-2389
Phone: (615) 515-8510
Director: Sernorma L. Mitchell

Texas
Houston Field Office
1301 Fannin Street
Suite 2200
Houston, TX 77002
Phone: (713) 718-3199
Director: Edward L. Pringle

USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT STATE OFFICES

Arkansas
David Branscum, State Director
Federal Building
700 West Capitol Avenue, Room 3416
Little Rock, AR 72201-3225
Voice: (501) 301-3200
Fax: (855) 747-7793
www.rd.usda.gov/ar

Louisiana
Roy Holleman, State Director
3727 Government Street
Alexandria, LA 71302
Voice: (318) 473-7920
Fax: (844) 325-6949
www.rd.usda.gov/la

Mississippi
John G. Campbell, State Director
Federal Building, Suite 831
100 West Capitol Street
Jackson, MS 39269
Voice: (601) 965-4316
Fax: (601) 965-4088
www.rd.usda.gov/ms

Missouri
Jeff Case, State Director
601 Business Loop 70 West
Parkade Center, Suite 235
Columbia, MO 65203
Voice: (573) 876-0976
Fax: (855) 830-0684
www.rd.usda.gov/mo

Oklahoma
Lee Denney, State Director
100 USDA, Suite 108
Stillwater, OK  74074-2654
Voice: (405) 742-1000
Fax: (405) 742-1005
www.rd.usda.gov/ok

Tennessee
Jim Tracy, State Director
441 Donelson Pike, Suite 310
Nashville, TN  37214
Voice: (615) 783-1300
Fax: (855) 776-7057
www.rd.usda.gov/tn

Texas
Edd Hargett, State Director
Federal Building, Suite 102
101 South Main Temple, TX 76501
Voice: (254) 742-9700
Fax: (844) 496-8123
www.rd.usda.gov/tx

STATE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCIES

Region 4 (Mississippi and Tennessee)
Federal Emergency Management Agency
3003 Chamblee Tucker Road
Atlanta, GA 30341
Main Number: 770-220-5200
Fax Number: 770-220-5230

Region 6 (Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas)
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FRC 800 North Loop 288
Denton, TX 76209-3698
Regional Office Main Number: 940-898-5399
Louisiana Recovery Office Main Number: 225-242-6000

Region 7 (Missouri)
Federal Emergency Agency
221 Ward Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64114
Main Number: 816-283-7061

Rural Unemployment Rate Still in Double Digits

To access an interactive version of this map visit: https://arcg.is/1maDDW

The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that rural labor markets are still suffering economic fallout from the COVID-19 health crisis. The May jobs numbers revealed a seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 11.0 percent for counties outside of metropolitan areas. The revised rural unemployment rate for April was 13.6 percent. Across the nation over 2.8 million rural workers were unemployed in May. Like the health crisis itself, rates of unemployment varied by county, but most rural communities still have unprecedented unemployment rates.

Potential Unemployment Ramifications for Rural Housing

Unemployment Rate Outside of Metropolitan Areas - 2019-2020

Jobs and employment conditions have traditionally been a bellwether and leading indicator for housing trends. While the unemployment caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented and unpredictable, such high jobless rates signal the potential for serious concerns across the housing spectrum. Many Americans have been buoyed by large scale federal unemployment benefits and economic stimulus. But most of those resources are slated to end later this summer. If rural unemployment rates remain anywhere near these historic levels, the collateral impacts to almost all sectors of the housing market could be substantial – notably the ability of unemployed households to make rent and mortgage payments.

To view the full interactive Story Map please visit: https://arcg.is/WGm4r

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.

 

Building homes together in America’s “most rural state”

As part of National Homeownership Month, we’ll be highlighting stories from across our network participating in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP). HAC provides loan funds to self-help housing providers to help low- and moderate-income families achieve their dreams of homeownership. The homebuyer family must contribute a significant amount of sweat-equity towards the construction of the dwelling. Loan funds are awarded through a competitive application process. If the organization meets certain requirements, up to 90% of the SHOP loan may be forgiven. The forgivable portion may become a grant for the group to establish its own revolving loan fund for future site acquisition and development of self-help housing or to provide direct subsidies to participating homebuyer families.

Community Concepts staff and supporters celebrate the completion of news self-help units in 2019

Community Concepts staff and supporters celebrate the completion of news self-help units in 2019

Following the 2010 Census, Maine was dubbed “the most rural state” with 61.3% of its residents living in rural communities. Homeownership is common among Mainers, with 71.5% of all units being owner-occupied. Though poverty rates in Maine are lower than the national average (13.5% vs. 15.1%), the state has higher rates of residents receiving income through Social Security, Supplemental Social Security, and Public Assistance making it challenging for many to qualify for a mortgage.

Community Concepts, Inc., based in Lewiston, Maine, got its start in 1965 as part of federal legislation that created a network of Community Action Agencies. Community Concept’s programming focuses on the “whole family”, addressing the needs of parents and their children with programs like Head Start, fuel assistance, weatherization programs, and self-help homeownership. In 1991, HAC provided a planning grant to Community Concepts to help initiate the self-help homeownership program at the organization. “Since that first grant, we’ve completed 350 self-help home ownership opportunity, including new construction and a purchase/repair program we added 10 years ago,” shared Sandy Albert, Director of Housing Improvement Services.

The organization sees a lot of overlap in the clients it serves and that is intentional. “We have family development coaches that are working with families,” says Albert. If a family of renters comes to the agency looking for help with fuel assistance the coach will also ask if they’re interested in becoming a homeowner. The coach will then refer the family to other programs in the organization that can help them pursue homeownership or, if necessary, help build their credit.

One of those families, the Hoyts, achieved their dream in May 2012. Working together with five other families, the Hoyts learned valuable construction skills as they worked on their home. Through their sweat-equity, each family saved as much as $20,000 on the cost of their home. In a letter shared by Community Concepts, Eric Hoyt wrote “This is not a house that you’re building it’s a home, and it’s a heartfelt build. With a lot of meaning that goes into it. There is a lot of hours and tears and fears but through them all when you walk through the door and you say look at what we have. When you look at what you and your team has accomplished it makes it that much more a home.”

Albert credits the program’s success and impact to Community Concept’s partnership with HAC. “Without the funding through SHOP, many of our buyers would not qualify even with the sweat-equity,” said Albert “those families wouldn’t be where they are today.”

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.

Census 2020 Logo

Respond to the 2020 Census

The 2020 Census is happening now and HAC encourages everyone living in the United States to respond. The Census is supposed to count every resident. The numbers are used to determine how billions of dollars of assistance are distributed, as well as how representation in Congress is divided. If you don’t respond, or if the Census misses you, your community gets fewer resources.

The 2020 Census does not ask about citizenship or documentation. It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share any of your information with any other government agencies, including law enforcement or immigration.

You can complete your questionnaire online, by phone, or by mail. Click here for information from the U.S. Census Bureau about the Census and how to respond.

You can complete the census online or by phone in 13 different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese.

The Census Bureau also offers webpages and guides in 59 non-English languages, including American Sign Language, as well as guides in Braille and large print. Click here to learn more.

Maria Chavira cooks tortillas, eggs, and beans inside her home

Rental Affordability Crisis Continues

Almost 40 percent of rural renters in the U.S. were cost burdened in 2018, according to a new report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. That means each of these 750,000 households paid more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities.

The report, America’s Rental Housing 2020, provides data on rental housing costs, households, housing stock and housing challenges.

Nationwide, the number of cost-burdened renters fell from 2014 to 2017 but rose again in 2018. Among geographic and income categories, the only decline in cost-burden rates from 2011 to 2018 was a 0.9 percent drop for nonmetro renters with incomes of $30,000-44,999. Housing affordability continues, however, to be a problem for more rural renters than any other housing concern.

Harvard’s analysis shows that, despite slowing demand and the continued strength of new construction, U.S. rental markets remain extremely tight. Vacancy rates are at decades-long lows, pushing up rents far faster than incomes. Both the number and share of cost-burdened renters are again on the rise, especially among middle-income households. These conditions reflect fundamental market changes since the recession, including an influx of higher-income households, constraints on new supply and substantial losses of low-cost rentals. With only limited federal support, state and local agencies are doing what they can to expand the affordable housing supply. What is needed, however, the researchers conclude, is a comprehensive response from all levels of government to address the scale of the nation’s rental affordability crisis.

The report notes that, in rural America, rental housing issues include not only cost burden but also a limited supply of rentals, substandard housing conditions and (citing HAC’s research) the loss of affordable rentals supported by USDA’s Section 515 program. In most U.S. regions the proportion of physically inadequate units is higher in nonmetro places than in metropolitan areas, as shown in tables accompanying the report. That difference is especially dramatic in the South, where 12.3 percent of nonmetro rental units are inadequate, compared to 7.9 percent in metro regions. Nationwide, while 11.7 percent of all rental units are in nonmetro places, a disproportionately high 14.8 percent of inadequate units are there.

Native American and Hispanic renters in rural areas are more likely than others to live in substandard housing, JCHS reports. For example, 14 percent of Native American renters in rural areas live in overcrowded rental units.

JCHS defined rural areas as nonmetropolitan places. The data would differ, at least slightly, if a different definition of rural was used.

Interactive data and graphics and the written report are available online.

Posted 2/6/2020

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.