Policy

When a congressional office wants data on rural housing conditions or a federal agency forgets that urban techniques don’t work in rural areas . . . when a coalition of housing organizations needs rural knowledge or a coalition of rural organizations needs housing information . . . when a state government wonders how to meet its rural constituents’ housing needs . . . the Housing Assistance Council speaks out. Through comments on regulations, testimony before congressional committees, partnerships with coalitions, and the like, HAC promotes a strong, effective, and supportive governmental role in rural affordable housing. On this page you will find information about HAC’s policy activities.

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.”

Redefining Nonmetro - What does OMB's Changes to the MSA Definition Mean

OMB Needs to Hear from You on This Important Issue!

The Housing Assistance Council encourages rural communities and organizations to respond to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) proposal to redefine Metropolitan Statistical Areas. HAC offers this DRAFT language and information to help develop your response to this proposed action. HAC encourages you to customize your response to OMB to reflect you and your community’s position on this issue.

Comments are due to OMB by Friday March 19, 2021

Submit Comments to: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/OMB-2021-0001-0001


Watch HAC’s webinar, Redefining “Nonmetro”: What Does the Proposed Metropolitan Area Definition Change Mean for Rural America, to learn more.