Conference program now available

The HAC Rural Housing Conference is only 12 days away! Get a preview of what to expect at the conference by downloading the newly released Conference Program. Review the conference activities ahead of time and make sure to download the HAC Trainings App so you can access a more expansive and dynamic program.

Discussion Paper, Next Generation


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby Matt Huerta, Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley, CA, and Karen Jacobson, Randolph County Housing Authority and Highland Community Builders, WV


Public and private investment is increasingly being focused in urban or suburban neighborhoods while rural areas continue to have high needs for infrastructure support in housing and other basic services. It can be exceedingly challenging to compete for talent with our urban counterparts. Meanwhile, our current workforce is aging and many rural areas are experiencing a “brain drain” of college educated residents. The young professionals that we have been fortunate enough to recruit can be equally challenging to retain. Rural housing professionals typically work across many disciplines and program areas in order to develop their projects and programs. Within a few short years, rural housing professionals have acquired unique but transferrable skillsets. These could include developing financial pro formas, managing projects, navigating land use entitlements, leading community engagements, and many other highly specialized and valuable skills. It is important for rural housing organizations to retain these competencies for as long as possible. How do we recruit, nurture, and maintain rural housing professionals, particularly in an environment that seems hostile to our mission?

Issues and Challenges

Most, if not all, rural housing organizations aspire to have workforces that reflect the diverse populations within the communities they serve.

This is critical to maintain credibility and program impact. Many rural groups continue to experience challenges in recruiting and retaining talented staff who may be drawn to positions in urban areas because of the potential for higher earnings, a perception that “rural work” is less important or innovative, and better access to training programs or networking opportunities. Once young professionals acquire some initial work experience or complete their advanced degrees, what will incentivize them to stay at a community organization focused on rural housing?

Discussion Questions
  • What specific challenges is your organization experiencing with recruiting or retaining younger professionals?
  • What is your organization doing to address this critical issue?
  • What are some examples of model recruitment tactics or training programs that can be replicated?
  • Are there community-wide efforts that rural housing groups can join or initiate that would help address this challenge? Housing organizations are not the only employers that are affected by “rural brain drain.”
  • What role might a local college, community college, or university play in solving this issue?

Discussion Paper, Adaptation


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby Lenora Jarvis-Mackey, River City Community Development Corporation, NC


In these tough economic times, rural housing nonprofits cannot simply continue to do what we have done in the past and hope things will get better. Nonprofit organizations, like for-profit companies, are facing a rapidly changing environment. Funders want more for less and private organizations are competing on what was traditionally seen as nonprofit territory. Sustainability is a constant worry.

Historically, nonprofits gauged our success by keeping good records on the number of people we served; the impact on poverty reduction; facilitating or building safe decent and affordable housing; and our advocacy for clean water, sanitary sewer, the provision of livable wage jobs and many other issues not properly addressed by the private sector or by state and federal government agencies. In today’s environment, however, cataloguing success is not enough to ensure continued funding for a nonprofit. Funders are more selective. Track records are important but are not ultimately determinative to long term funding and survival of a nonprofit.

Even with positive track records, nonprofits must remain keenly aware of the need for continued innovation and creativity to sustain our business models and to continue to provide services for our beneficiaries. “Operating like a nonprofit” has somehow evolved into a perception of being overworked, underfunded, and tax exempt. To stay alive and relevant we must operate more like traditional businesses and become more quantumly responsible to survive.

Harold Barnes, president of the Center for Quantum Leadership, defines “quantum responsibility in business” as:

The active process of the business, the leadership and employees holding themselves accountable to each other for the direction and success of the organization. This accountability will lead to the exponential positive growth of the organization and will encourage and facilitate innovation, creativity and productivity such that all segments of the organization will have the opportunity and tools to make a significant leap forward.

Issues and Challenges

Ensuring nonprofit survival and ongoing viability presents an array of issues and challenges. To keep nonprofits functional, nonprofit leaders must appreciate and value the best of what is, as well as envisioning what might be and how to get there. We must read the signs that predict imminent changes in economic trends and make decisions before circumstances are out of control. Useful techniques may come from many sources, including for-profit entities.

Discussion Questions
  • When and how often should we evaluate our organizations?
  • How do we systematically discover what gives life to a nonprofit?
  • When is a nonprofit most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable of serving its customers?
  • How can nonprofits best innovate, adapt, and create the kinds of organizations that are sustainable into the future?
  • How do we go about implementation of quantum responsibility?

Discussion Paper, Outreach and TA


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby Stan Keasling, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, CA, and Blair Sebastian, New York State Rural Housing Coalition


Nonprofits, local governments, and tribal governments are working individually and collectively to improve the quality of housing and community infrastructure in rural areas. The technical assistance (TA) needs of rural groups vary widely and often require very different approaches. Rural communities’ TA needs may also differ substantially from the TA needs found in more urbanized places. What are the needs, and where are opportunities and methods, or approaches, to improve the outreach to these entities and the effectiveness of TA delivery in rural America?

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Over the past few years there have been significant changes to the resources available for the rural technical assistance delivery system. HUD has introduced the Community Compass (formerly OneCPD) system of technical assistance, and Congress has required new competitions for Rural Capacity Building and NAHASDA TA funding. In addition, USDA is still considering the utility of the intermediaries in the Section 502 packaging demonstration, and planning for a community facilities support system. These changes have meant that the intermediaries and other TA providers are often trying to suggest new strategies to the funding agencies in order to enhance their competitiveness, rather than pursuing outreach and TA practices that have been successful in the past.

While some federal initiatives have focused on providing technical assistance to rural and tribal communities, the approach has not been well synchronized. Rural and tribal communities generally must find and request TA themselves. Much of the available TA is provided through programs that are ‘siloed’, not coordinated. In addition – aside from the former Rural Housing and Economic Development and Rural Innovation Fund, Rural Capacity Building TA, and NAHASDA TA – HUD-funded TA is most often delivered to formula grantees. Assistance from USDA is also requested through specific programs such as Self-Help Technical and Management Assistance, and not all USDA programs have a TA component.

Given the vast number of rural and tribal entities and the lack of direct federal department/agency contact with many smaller communities, mechanisms are needed to allow them to identify and secure technical resources in the most appropriate manner for them. TA providers are interested in prioritizing the greatest needs of rural and tribal communities and identifying the best methods of delivering that assistance to ensure that the array of federal technical resources are directly available to the local jurisdictions, organizations, businesses, and families.

Discussion Questions
  • What technical assistance services do rural housing and community development organizations need to be more productive?
  • What are the best ways to inform local rural organizations about available TA?
  • What are the challenges facing local and tribal governments in trying to manage federal funds and design effective strategies for community development?
  • What support do the state grantees, including PJs, need to be more effective at administering federal pass through funds and coordinating with federal agencies to maximize impact?
  • What processes should be used to identify needs at the local level in rural America?
  • Are there changes federal departments/agencies should consider making to their system of identifying TA needs and allocating resources to local rural and tribal efforts?

Discussion Paper, USDA


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby Tom Collishaw, Self Help Enterprises, CA, and Selvin McGahee, Florida Non-Profit Housing, FL


USDA budgets and allocations for major housing production programs have trended downward since the late 1970s. In recent years, even the agency’s physical presence in rural America has lessened dramatically. Historic core housing production programs have been cut so much that, for example, Section 515 Rural Rental Housing has been reduced to little more than a maintenance and repair effort. Single-family direct lending through the Section 502 mortgage program has likewise been a dwindling resource. It feels as if the current administration, given the choice, would focus entirely on mortgage insurance (502 guaranteed loans) and maintenance efforts (Rental Assistance) and call it “Rural Housing.” The current level of funding for USDA’s housing programs is due largely to the efforts of rural housing advocates from throughout the country and their lobbyists going directly to Congress.

Given this sobering reality, rural housing development organizations have adapted by accessing a broader range of assistance, ranging from Low Income Housing Tax Credits and federal HUD programs such as HOME, FHA and CDBG, to non-governmental resources such as LISC, Enterprise, and NeighborWorks®, and a variety of state and local programs. Many of these sources have also been cut or depleted, most notably HUD allocations, intensifying the resource-deprived and competitive environment for rural housing providers.

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

With dwindling resources as a backdrop, a central question is whether rural housing organizations should continue to focus their primary federal advocacy efforts on USDA or expand them to include other agencies. Are there opportunities being missed, for instance, with the Affordable Care Act? There is a growing movement around health (both individual and community environmental health) and its relationship to housing, which may create new avenues to resources and relationships. How would we preserve a dedicated slice of this pie for rural communities?

On the non-governmental front, there is increasing evidence that “impact investing” is a largely untapped resource for nonprofit housing organizations, who might benefit from favorable lending rates in return for providing investors with social impacts they believe in. Also, the world of social media and crowdsourcing has opened up new possibilities for fundraising.

Discussion Questions
  • Are USDA programs worth fighting for or are they a lost cause in the long run?
  • What other federal agencies or programs should rural housers pursue as partners?
  • Are there examples of collaboration with other community health or improvement efforts that have been useful in expanding resources for rural housing?
  • What other tactics have been successful?

Discussion Paper, Partnerships


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby David Haney, Wyoming CD Authority, and Marcia Erickson, GROW South Dakota


Resources for community and economic development – both human capital and dollars – continue to dwindle across rural America. As rural housing organizations seek ways to continue their work, one strategy that seems to have promise is creation of effective partnerships. Those engaged in rural housing development need to be appropriately partnering and aligning with those who focus on other elements such as telecommunications, transportation, education, and healthcare. When various parties can reach consensus about the most important priorities, the multiple voices of conflicting interests can speak more clearly and with greater impact.

Regionalization also has considerable merit. Gathering a number of small diverse rural communities together into a louder and more consistent voice can increase impact. Best practices can be shared or integrated.

Affiliated organizations may consider merging to reduce redundancy. For example, consolidation of core operating functions can cut costs.

Issues and Challenges

Partnerships may be very formal or informal or can be as simple as sharing, but they are not always easy. Numerous issues may arise. For example, frequently participants lay claim to their own specialty or territory, making it extremely difficult to create a successful consensus or collaboration. In addition, one partner may bring greater financial or leadership resources to a collaboration that creates an imbalance of power. It can be challenging to break down traditional silos that exist between organizations and to move beyond an “us vs. them” mentality. For partnerships to be effective, each partner organization must understand not only its own strengths, but the strengths of the associated organizations as well.

Regionalization can be an effective way to partner, although it requires significant effort on the part of all organizations involved. Effective partnerships must maintain mutual trust and respect. This requires any imbalances, including those in financial or leadership resources, to be addressed. Organizations must work together to effectively prioritize needs and goals so that they may share accountability, an effort that can be challenging if the partners do not share core missions and goals.

Discussion Questions
  • What capacity building is needed? What role can HAC play in furthering constructive partnerships?
  • How do we prioritize needs, while still maintaining an inventory of future issues, to avoid missing key priorities?
  • Can you identify best practices from your region or community?
  • Are there trends at the state or federal level that are promoting collaboration, partnerships, or mergers?

Discussion Paper, Policy


Continue the Discussion on LinkedInContinue the Discussionby Joe Myer, NCALL Research, DE


Rural areas are often at a disadvantage when addressing housing and community development needs because they experience lower median incomes than cities and suburbs, more substandard housing, substantial affordability gaps, less housing infrastructure and capacity, and minimal access to resources, financing, and capital. Also, politically, rural areas can be viewed as less important because of their smaller, more dispersed populations. Yet their needs are often greater or different, and affordable housing can be more difficult and sometimes more costly to deliver because of the above conditions. USDA has been the primary source of rural housing assistance for decades; however, in recent years the agency has not made its housing programs a priority, and budgets and attention have suffered. Each year Congress has had to save Section 502 direct, self-help housing, farm labor housing, and other programs. Meanwhile financing for new rental construction and rental assistance has disappeared, at a time when affordable rentals are in demand. USDA’s fine, well-proven, and cost-effective housing programs are at risk from year to year. In addition, HUD pays attention to rural only sporadically.

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Given the disparity between needs and resources, it has become increasingly difficult to ensure that adequate state and federal resources are allocated for rural housing and community development. Yet affordable housing, and particularly rural housing, competes with many varied interests for local, state, and national attention and resources.

To assure adequate, sustainable resources for ongoing program operations and housing financing, decision and lawmakers and federal and state agencies must understand the needs of rural communities, yet too often they do not.

The annual fight for funding of USDA’s housing programs does not address the need for longer-term stability for developers and service providers to deliver programs and products.

Discussion Questions
  • How can we as practitioners and advocates communicate better with policy makers?
  • What are the themes we should use to resonate with policymakers at state and national levels?
  • How can we invest sufficiently in advocacy and public policy to be sure rural housing has a voice that is heard at state and national levels?
  • Are there new models of advocacy and public policy that could be employed? If so, what?

Discussion Topics, HAC National Rural Housing Conference 2014

Conversation is one of the best things about HAC’s Rural Housing Conference. Every two years the Conference offers a unique opportunity for discussion among hundreds of rural housers from across the U.S. who are not often in the same place at the same time. Many exchanges are informal, during meals or in the halls between workshops. Others are more structured, and in 2014 HAC will provide an opportunity for facilitated discussions on six topics. HAC asked expert rural housing practitioners to write two-page papers on each of these subjects. On the second day of the conference, attendees will choose among these topics and participate in discussions during a working lunch. Each discussion group will report its thoughts and recommendations to the conference as a whole.

PDF containing all six papers

You do not need to attend the conference to contribute your thoughts! The discussions are beginning now on LinkedIn.

Coming Together for a Common Cause

by Eric Oberdorfer

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since the last HAC Rural Housing Conference. As rural housers, we have faced our share of challenges recently. Congress is deadlocked, funding for needed federal housing programs remains historically low, and the stock of safe, high-quality, affordable housing in rural America continues to decline, leaving too many low-income families and individuals without sufficient housing options.

These past years have seen the support and resources necessary for our network threatened, and we have had to fight to maintain our work. These challenges make coming together for our common cause even more important in 2014. The rural housing network has a proud history of empowering individuals and families, improving lives, and making lasting impacts across rural America. However, for a number of years, we have been in a defensive posture. It is time for us to shift away from this and go on the offensive. To do this we mustretool our collective talents, rebuild the innovative spirit that got us where we are, and renew our passion for the mission that guides us.

Retool, Rebuild, Renew is the theme of our conference this year. Although this theme could describe the construction or rehab of housing, the theme is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about a housing movement – these actions are more critical to our work than ever before.

Rural communities desperately need affordable housing to combat serious challenges that have developed over the past few years. The United States’ economy fell into one of the most severe economic recessions in a half century. Our country’s rapidly aging population will have significant impacts on our current housing stock. Poverty rates in rural America have grown. Further compounding these issues is the continued downsizing of federal programs that support the development of housing in rural communities, programs that are needed now more than ever. Luckily, rural housers are a resourceful group and have met these issues head-on by learning new skills, forging new partnerships, and considering new approaches. It is time we come together to share our successes and determine strategies to ensure our continued ability to provide our communities with safe, affordable housing.

Fostering the development of new skills and partnerships is a key part of the National Rural Housing Conference. More than just a collection of workshops and plenaries, the Conference is about coming together to share our collective experiences, build our expertise, and gain a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and why. It is a space that encourages networking and the sharing of ideas between people who know firsthand the challenges the housing movement faces. It provides an opportunity to gain new tools that can help us succeed in the current environment of housing and community development.

Although the landscape for affordable housing has changed dramatically since the first National Rural Housing Conference 45 years ago, one thing remains as true as ever – individuals, families, and communities need to have high-quality affordable housing in order to thrive. To respond to the needs of rural communities we must first come together. The National Rural Housing Conference gives us the chance to gain new tools, learn from each other, and, most importantly, renew our commitment to affordable housing.

The HAC Rural Housing Conference will be held December 3-5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Registration is currently open.

Registration is now open for the HAC Rural Housing Conference

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The biennial HAC Rural Housing Conference brings together stakeholders in the field of rural affordable housing from local nonprofits, federal agencies, Congress, state and local governments, and other industry leaders for two-and-a-half days of training, discussion, and networking.

The Conference features nearly 40 workshops where participants will learn best practices for housing development, organizational management, resource development, and innovative approaches to housing and community development. The Conference also includes a pre-Conference day, packed with gatherings for coalitions, association, and working groups.

For rural nonprofits, the Conference provides an excellent opportunity to network and improve connections to federal agencies and national nonprofit organizations. For many of the attendees, this conference represents their sole opportunity during the year to connect with these important policy makers and experts.

Retool, Rebuild, Renew

This year’s conference theme is Retool, Rebuild, Renew. Although these verbs could describe the construction or rehab of housing, the theme is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about our movement. The rural housing network has a proud history of accomplishment and has empowered, improved, and made lasting impacts across rural America. However, for a number of years, we have been in a defensive posture-the support and resources necessary for our network have been threatened. It is past time to shift from a reactive to a proactive posture. It is time go on the offensive and retool our collective talents, rebuild the innovative spirit that got us where we are, and renew our passion for the mission that guides us. HAC’s Rural Housing Conference will help get us back on track to expand the accomplishments of the past.

For more information on the HAC Rural Housing Conference, visit HAC’s registration portal.

Conference app

Discussion Topics and Papers