The Housing Assistance Council is an independent, non-partisan and regularly responds to Congressional committees, Member offices, federal agencies, and policy advocacy coalitions with the research and information needed to make informed policy decisions. Our research work, Rural Data Portal, and Veterans Data Central all provide valuable, educational context to frame the rural policy conversation. If you want to know how a new program or policy could impact America’s small towns and rural places, please don’t hesitate to contact us at policy@ruralhome.org.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC’s Statement on the End of the CDC’s Eviction Moratorium

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is concerned by the Supreme Court’s decision ending the national eviction moratorium. Without federal protection, hundreds of thousands of families now face the threat of eviction. Across America, many of these families will lose their homes.

“This pandemic and the unprecedented job loss it caused have exacerbated the housing challenges that rural communities have faced for a long time,” stated HAC CEO David Lipsetz. Millions of tenants, homeowners, and landlords across the country have fallen behind on rent and mortgage payments. Rural residents including Native Americans and farmworkers are among the Americans hardest hit by the pandemic and its housing impacts.

The end of the eviction moratorium is particularly troubling because housing loss poses serious dangers for renters’ health, as well as their finances. Eviction increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission and falls hardest on people of color, who are most likely to be evicted. Plus, renters with eviction records find it much harder to rent decent housing in the future since landlords often screen applicants with prior evictions.

Assistance to help cover rent, utilities, mortgages, and other costs is available from the federal government, states, and county or city governments. HAC has compiled links to resources for tenants, homeowners, and landlords on our website: ruralhome.org.

HAC works to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home. We will continue to serve rural communities with dedication and compassion, just as we have for the last 50 years.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Agrees with HUD Fair Housing Rule

HAC has submitted a comment letter supporting HUD’s proposed cancellation of a fair housing regulation issued by the Trump administration in September 2020. This rule governs fair housing violation claims based on policies or actions with “disparate impacts” on categories of people protected by the Fair Housing Act.

The 2020 HUD rule, which would have made it more difficult to prove a disparate impact claim, never went into effect. A federal judge issued an injunction that left a 2013 disparate impact regulation in place while a lawsuit against the 2020 version was underway.

In June 2021, HUD proposed to reinstate the 2013 rule. HAC – along with thousands of others – supports that action.

As HAC’s comments pointed out:

Fair access to housing is essential. Research shows that decent, affordable housing improves residents’ physical and mental health, their ability to hold jobs, their children’s performance in school. Children’s life chances are deeply impacted by the neighborhoods where they grow up. Enforcing the Fair Housing Act against discrimination, both intended and incidental, helps our nation move towards inclusive and equitable rural, urban and suburban communities, where all residents can thrive.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Recommends FHFA and the GSEs Prioritize Addressing Inequity

HAC submitted comments in response to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Request for Input on the Enterprises’ 2022-2024 Duty to Serve Underserved Markets Plans. Through the Duty to Serve mandate, the Enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are tasked with increasing liquidity and investment capital in three traditionally underserved markets: Rural Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Affordable Housing Preservation. HAC’s comment noted that secondary housing market policy is and has historically been part of a system that is delivering vastly different outcomes for people depending on where they are born – and this inequity must be addressed by more ambitious Duty to Serve investment and purchase goals.

Key Takeaways from HAC’s Comments

  • Be Ambitious

    More ambitious purchase and investment goals are needed as we enter the next phase of Duty to Serve.

  • Prioritize Equity

    Racial and geographic equity should be core to the Duty to Serve mission.

  • Encourage Partnership

    Strong rural partnerships are essential to Duty to Serve’s success.

  • Measure Success

    More transparent data is needed for stakeholders to truly understand and evaluate the success of Duty to Serve.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Supports USDA’s Interest in Racial Justice, Equity, and Underserved Communities

Federal policy and programs benefit some areas of the United States while harming others. HAC was pleased to see the Administration’s Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, published on President Biden’s first day in office. In Section 2 of that Order, we were glad to see “persons who live in rural areas” included in the list of groups who need to be granted “consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment.” Further, we were glad to see “geographic communities” a category that should be considered when determining an “underserved community.”

On this basis, HAC supports USDA’s efforts to advance justice and equity for communities underserved by USDA itself and by others. HAC’s comments submitted in response to USDA’s request for information on Identifying Barriers in USDA Programs and Services; Advancing Racial Justice and Equity and Support for Underserved Communities at USDA address actions that are necessary in several areas. Building capacity, improving access to capital, increasing flexibility, and engaging with stakeholders are among the subjects addressed in HAC’s comments.

In a similar vein, HAC also recently commented on an administration request for input on equity across all federal agencies.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Supports Fair Housing Rule

HAC has submitted comments strongly supporting HUD’s decision to replace a fair housing regulation it issued in 2020. The new interim final rule is a positive step in a years-long process to require states, localities, and public housing agencies that receive HUD funds to “affirmatively further fair housing” (AFFH). As HAC’s comments note, working towards equality is essential. It is inherently the right thing to do – and it is crucial because research shows children’s life chances are deeply impacted by the neighborhoods where they grow up. Taking active steps to eliminate discrimination and segregation in homes and neighborhoods through enforcement of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirement leads to inclusive and equitable rural, urban and suburban communities, where all residents can thrive.

The interim final rule does not mandate any specific fair housing planning mechanism for recipients of HUD funds. HUD plans to request comments on that subject through a separate notice.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Recommends Federal Actions for Rural Equity

HAC submitted comments in response to an Office of Management and Budget request for input on whether federal agency policies and actions equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities, including rural residents. Noting that rural and persistently poor places have historically been and continue to be underserved by federal programs, HAC recommended a focus on capacity building, access to capital, and proactive and deliberate tailoring of federal programs to produce lasting rural equity.

Key Takeaways from HAC’s Comments

 

  • Rural Inclusion

    HAC is thrilled to see rural and persistently poor places included explicitly in the Executive Order on equity that President Biden released on his first day in office, and that is the basis for this OMB effort.

  • Historic Disinvestment

    Rural and persistently poor places have historically been and continue to be underserved by federal programs.

  • Focus on Equity

    We need federal focus on capacity building, access to capital, and proactive and deliberate tailoring of federal programs to produce lasting rural equity.

Policy News from the Administration

Biden’s USDA Housing Budget Proposes Increases in Section 502 Mortgages and Rental Preservation

The Biden administration’s first full budget request, covering the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2021, would maintain this year’s spending levels on rural housing programs and make available more loans for rural homebuyers. The Section 502 direct loan program, though which USDA makes loans directly to first-time purchasers, would be raised from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. The Section 502 guarantee program, which guarantees mortgages made by banks, would increase from $24 billion to $30 billion.

Fiscal year 2022 funding for most rural housing programs would remain at the same levels as in fiscal year 2021, with modest increases for self-help housing, rental assistance, and rental vouchers. The budget also indicates that the American Jobs Plan – the administration’s infrastructure proposal – would provide an additional $2 billion in rural housing spending. It does not give any details about how that money would be used.

The budget proposes to eliminate some protections for Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA). It would delete a requirement that recaptured RA be reused for rehab, preservation, or RA, and it would eliminate longstanding provisions requiring a 12-month delay before recapturing unused RA from Section 514/516 farmworker housing and mandating that farmworker housing RA be reused in other farmworker housing if possible. Language that allows recaptured RA to be used for “current needs” would be left in place.

Also deleted would be a provision from FY20 and FY21 appropriations that allows owners to request RA renewals for 20-year periods, subject to annual appropriations, which fund RA contracts for one year at a time.

The Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) program, the Section 542 voucher program, and both farmworker housing programs would be shifted to new places in the budgetary scheme, an administrative move that would not alter the functioning of any of these programs.

The administration’s budget is the first step in the annual appropriations process. Each house of Congress will now craft its own proposal and differences will be worked out in the months to come.

USDA Rural Dev. Prog.

(dollars in millions)

FY20 Final Approp. FY21 Final Approp. Amer. Rescue Plan Act FY 22 Admin. Budget
502 Single Fam. Direct $1,000 $1,000 $656.6 $1,500
502 Single Family Guar. 24,000 24,000 30,000
504 VLI Repair Loans 28 28 18.3a 28
504 VLI Repair Grants 30 30 30
515 Rental Hsg. Direct Lns. 40 40 40
514 Farm Labor Hsg. Lns. 28 28 28
516 Farm Labor Hsg. Grts. 10 10 10
521 Rental Assistance 1,375 1,410 100 1,450
523 Self-Help TA 31 31 32
533 Hsg. Prsrv. Grants 15 15 15
538 Rental Hsg. Guar. 230 230 230
Rental Prsrv. Demo. (MPR) 28 28 32
542 Rural Hsg. Vouchers 32 40 45
Rental Prsrv. TA 1 2 0
Rural Cmnty. Dev’t Init. 4 6 6

a The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $39 million in budget authority to refinance Section 502 direct loans and Section 504 loans for homeowners impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. USDA expects this funding to generate $656.6 million in Section 502 direct loans and $18.3 million in Section 504 loans.

 

Policy News from Congress

Congressional Hearing Addresses Refinancing for Rural Homeowners

On May 6, 2021 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a virtual hearing on the Biden administration’s plans for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development mission area, which covers housing, community facilities, utilities and business. Broadband internet connection was the subject raised most often by members of the subcommittee.

Justin Maxson, the Deputy Under Secretary for RD, delivered written testimony and a prepared statement based on the FY22 budget “blueprint” released by the administration on April 9, which does not include any specifics on USDA’s housing programs.

AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT FUNDS

Some details about the $39 million appropriated for USDA’s single-family direct loan programs in the American Rescue Plan Act, the most recent coronavirus relief package, were provided by Chad Parker, Acting Administrator of the Rural Housing Service. He said the funds will be used to refinance loans to existing USDA borrowers who have been under forbearance during the pandemic.

USDA expects to issue guidance to its staff later in May and then to begin accepting applications for these refinances in late May or early June. USDA anticipates the dollar value of these loans will be about $650 million for Section 502 direct mortgages and $18.8 million for Section 504 home repair loans, Parker said. The $39 million figure in the statute refers to budget authority, the amount it will actually cost the government to provide the new loans. The American Rescue Plan Act also appropriated $100 million to provide Section 521 Rental Assistance for tenants who do not already receive it. USDA has already issued guidance for field staff regarding these funds.

RENTAL PRESERVATION AND OTHER HOUSING TOPICS

Responding to a question from Bishop, Parker reported that USDA has 171 shovel-ready projects in line to receive FY21 funding under the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization Program. In the longer term, he said, it will be important to address the past underfunding of the multifamily programs and to provide Section 521 Rental Assistance for currently unassisted tenants.

Bishop also asked about options for relieving the “subsidy recapture” burden when a homeowner with a Section 502 direct loan sells their home and is then required to repay the subsidy provided through the low-interest USDA mortgage. USDA would welcome a change in that requirement, Parker replied, but it is imposed by statute and would have to be removed by Congress. He noted that the recaptured subsidy is used for the program, so eliminating the recapture requirement would increase the program’s cost.

USDA STAFFING AND LOCAL CAPACITY

Maxson’s testimony emphasized the need to increase Rural Development’s staffing. RD’s “portfolio is currently more than twice as large as it was 10 years ago with a staff that is 30% smaller,” his written statement asserted. In addition, within three years a third of RD’s professional staff will be eligible for retirement.

Bishop noted that local community capacity is also important to ensure full use of USDA’s resources, and Maxson agreed.

Maxson referred several times to what he called the “StrikeForce 2.0” initiative, for example telling Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) that effort would help coordinate among federal agencies in order to meet the needs of the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border. The budget blueprint describes StrikeForce as “a renewed and expanded initiative to leverage USDA’s extensive network of offices to help people in high poverty communities tap into Federal resources.” The original StrikeForce initiative was launched during the Obama Administration and was used in several states.

Appearing with Maxson and Parker, and responding to questions about their agencies, were Karama Neal, Administrator of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and Christopher McLean, Acting Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service.

Policy News from the Administration

Biden Budget Outline Calls for More HUD Funding and Expanded Rural StrikeForce

April 9, 2021 – The Biden Administration’s first budget request, released today, outlines priorities including increases in some Department of Housing and Urban Development programs but does not mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural housing programs. A more detailed budget will be issued later this spring.

The Administration proposes to increase funding above current levels for the Rural e-Connectivity broadband program, rural water and wastewater programs and USDA’s civil rights office. It also:

Partners with Rural Leaders to Grow Rural Economies and Tackle Rural Poverty. The discretionary request provides $32 million for a renewed and expanded initiative to leverage USDA’s extensive network of offices to help people in high poverty communities tap into Federal resources, referred to as the “Strikeforce” initiative. USDA will coordinate with other Federal agencies on an all-of-Government approach to connect rural stakeholders with Federal programs and resources.

The StrikeForce initiative, which was used in several states, was launched during the Obama Administration.

Rural development is also mentioned in a paragraph about Community Development Financial Institutions:

Invests in American Communities and Small Businesses. To support and empower the Nation’s most vulnerable communities, including many rural communities, the discretionary request provides $330 million, an increase of 22.2 percent above the 2021 enacted level for annual appropriations, to support expanding the role of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which offer loans to start-ups and small businesses to promote the production of affordable housing and community revitalization projects. This investment builds on an unprecedented level of support for the CDFI industry in 2021, including more than $3 billion in direct funding, $9 billion for investments in CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions, and provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 encouraging CDFI participation in the $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative.

HUD funds requested in the budget document include:

  • 200,000 new vouchers;
  • $1.9 billion for the HOME program, an increase of $500 million over FY21 funding;
  • support for an additional 100,000 homeless households;
  • $800 million for modernization and rehabilitation of HUD-supported housing;
  • $3.2 billion for public housing modernization;
  • $180 million to support 2,000 units of new permanently affordable housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities;
  • $900 million for Native American housing;
  • $3.8 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program,  including “a targeted increase of $295 million to incentivize communities to direct formula funds toward the modernization and rehabilitation of public infrastructure and facilities in historically underfunded and marginalized communities facing persistent poverty”;
  • $400 million, a $40 million increase, for prevention of lead and other hazards; and
  • $85 million for fair housing.

The HUD section of the document states that, “The discretionary request supports access to homeownership for underserved borrowers through the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) mortgage insurance programs.”

Policy News from the Administration

Updated – Infrastructure Proposal Includes Housing, Broadband and a new Rural Partnership Program

UPDATED March 31, 2021, 6:00 pm – The Biden administration released a sweeping infrastructure proposal today that includes both housing and rural economic development. Titled “The American Jobs Plan,” the proposal includes a wide array of subjects.

Rural, tribal and underserved areas are mentioned repeatedly in the White House’s fact sheet summarizing the plan, including in the housing section. HAC supports the inclusion of increased rural housing resources in the infrastructure plan, especially around USDA multifamily preservation and capacity building.

HOUSING

Acknowledging the severe shortage of affordable housing options in the United States, the White House would invest $213 billion to produce, preserve and retrofit affordable homes, including 500,000 for low- and middle-income homebuyers. The summary does not indicate how most of these funds would be divided among existing and new programs, except for $40 billion for public housing capital needs.

The proposal would:

  • “Produce, preserve, and retrofit more than a million affordable, resilient, accessible, energy efficient, and electrified housing units. Through targeted tax credits, formula funding, grants, and project-based rental assistance, President Biden’s plan will extend affordable housing rental opportunities to underserved communities nationwide, including rural and tribal areas.
  • “Build and rehabilitate more than 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income homebuyers. President Biden is calling on Congress to take immediate steps to spur the construction and rehabilitation of homes for underserved communities. Specifically, he is calling on Congress to pass the innovative, bipartisan Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA). Offering $20 billion worth of NHIA tax credits over the next five years will result in approximately 500,000 homes built or rehabilitated, creating a pathway for more families to buy a home and start building wealth.
  • “Eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies. For decades, exclusionary zoning laws – like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing – have inflated housing and construction costs and locked families out of areas with more opportunities. President Biden is calling on Congress to enact an innovative, new competitive grant program that awards flexible and attractive funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate such needless barriers to producing affordable housing.
  • “Address longstanding public housing capital needs. Years of disinvestment have left our public housing in disrepair. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing system in America. This funding will address critical life-safety concerns, mitigate imminent hazards to residents, and undertake energy efficiency measures which will significantly reduce ongoing operating expenses. These improvements will disproportionately benefit women, people of color, and people with disabilities.
  • “Put union building trade workers to work upgrading homes and businesses to save families money. President Biden’s plan will upgrade homes through block grant programs, the Weatherization Assistance Program, and by extending and expanding home and commercial efficiency tax credits. President Biden’s plan also will establish a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment into distributed energy resources; retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. These investments have a particular focus on disadvantaged communities that have not yet benefited from clean energy investments.”
RURAL PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM

The administration proposes a new $5 billion Rural Partnership Program “to help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development. This program will empower rural regions by supporting locally-led planning and capacity building efforts, and providing flexible funding to meet critical needs.”

BROADBAND

The proposal calls for building high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach everyone in the country. It would prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and co-operatives because those providers feel “less pressure to turn profits and [have] a commitment to serving entire communities.” It would set aside funds for broadband infrastructure on tribal lands and would consult tribal nations in program administration.

RACIAL JUSTICE

The White House summary refers in several places to racial equity and the need to remedy past discrimination. It notes, for example, that low-income people and people of color are more likely than others to be affected by natural disasters and more likely to lack broadband internet access. It “targets 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities.”

WATER AND WASTEWATER

The plan intends to “upgrade and modernize America’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems, tackle new contaminants, and support clean water infrastructure across rural America. Aging water systems threaten public health in thousands of communities nationwide. President Biden will modernize these systems by scaling up existing, successful programs, including by providing $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. President Biden’s plan also provides $10 billion in funding to monitor and remediate PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water and to invest in rural small water systems and household well and wastewater systems, including drainage fields.”