Jennifer Emerling / There Is More Work To Be Done

Rural Platform

Help Develop a Rural Housing Platform

HAC is working with rural communities across the country to develop a Rural Housing Platform that is being shared with the incoming Obama Administration and Congress. As of January 2, 2009, HAC has developed one-page papers on 11 separate issues. The papers are available here in a single document that contains all 11, or in individual documents:

Those who attended the HAC National Rural Housing Conference 2008 had the opportunity to discuss and to blog about the platform. Due to technological problems, HAC is not yet able to post the blog on its website. We invite you to email your comments to Leslie Strauss at HAC,, and we will post them here so the discussion can continue.

Please help us by sending your comments and recommendations on three major issues impacting rural affordable housing development:

  1. What measures need to be taken to ensure that USDA’s housing programs remain accessible to rural communities?
  2. Given reduced philanthropic and government resources, what opportunities exist to help increase nonprofit sustainability?
  3. How can vulnerable populations (e.g., homeless, Native American) be effectively served in the current economic environment?

Comments posted to date:

(The Failure of Rural America to Access the Grant Process)

At first glance it could be perceived that the opportunities for Rural America to receive grants are many and varied. From healthcare to housing to education to childcare to infrastructure to livestock to farm aide, you name it and it can not only be found but found in abundance. But the truth is that very few of these grants, in proportion to those that are offered, are accessed by Rural America. There are a lot of well held beliefs for this apathetic behavior toward free aide by Rural America. Some of them are that Rural America is distrustful of strangers; that they distrust the federal government; they like the way that they live and; they are resistant to change. For the record, I was born in Rural America in a share croppers’ shanty. Most of my family and friends live in Rural America and I can say with out a doubt that these are not the beliefs of poor Rural America. But it certainly can be and on most occasions are the beliefs of large property owners, local politicians and middle class and above residents in Rural America. Those who are fine with things just the way they are. This population, all though relatively small in numbers, represent most of the almost insurmountable resistance to the aide that Rural America so direly need. The rest of the resistance is caused by systemic measures that appear to be fair and reasonable to those who accept their advantages and opportunities as the norm for all.

There are four major obstacles to Rural America accessing grants and other opportunities available to them: (1) lack of knowledge; (2) lack of resources; (3) Inability to access resources and; (4) the lack of support from local politicians, agencies, banks and power brokers:

  • Lack of Knowledge – Federal Agencies are quick to tell you that any grants and other opportunities that they have can be found on their web site. This is what they call freedom of information. But most people in Rural America do not have a computer and those that have one have limited skills in its application. There are no radio or television programs informing the community of what grants and/or opportunities are available for them, even though this would be the best way to get information to the Rural Community.
  • Lack of Resources – Even if someone gains the information about a grant and/or opportunity available to their community, there is still the question of who will research and write the proposal. Rural America is not a haven for grant writers and/or program consultants.
  • Inability to Access Resources – Grant writers in Rural America are generally employed by the Educational Systems, Healthcare Systems, County/Town and local Agencies. Seldom if ever will one of these entities donate the use of these persons for the general use of the community and if you seek their assistance outside their employment, they request their money in advance. The problem with this is that if the community had the money, they would not be seeking a grant.
  • Lack of Support from Local Politicians, Agencies, Banks and Power Brokers – the refusal of local politicians, agencies, banks and power brokers to support something that they did not initiate, can not benefit from and/or control is the single greatest reason for the inability of Rural Communities to apply for and/or successfully complete Federally funded grants and other opportunities. If Rural America is fortunate enough to obtain a grant it is not unusual for them to either be unable to fulfill the requirements of the grant opportunity and/or fail to sustain it for more than three years. The unspoken rule is what the powers that be can not control they will destroy.

Lee Walter Jenkins
December 19, 2008

I think it is critical to find new ways to measure and describe housing problems in rural areas. For instance, in our state the data used to justify the distribution of Neighborhood Stabilization Program monies had little to say about rural areas. The data was unreliable if it existed at all. Other data sources, like RealtyTrac, favored urban areas by counting one foreclosure multiple times. Fast forward to December 2008 when the 3-year estimates were released from the census. In our county of over 80,000 the margin of error on even basic data like household income had a margin of error of 10-20% (although I don’t doubt those numbers will become more reliable in coming years.) If we are going to have anything to say about rural housing then we need new ways to measure and express need because we are at a huge disadvantage statistically when compared with urban areas.

Alan Trunnell’s comments (below) add a lot to the discussion – rural areas are where the greatest opportunities for creative thinking on affordable housing exist. We have discussed things like community land trusts, working with local farmers to put a small set of affordable housing on unused land (and give them an additional monthly income), and combining neighborhood housing redevelopment with small scale cottage industry. There is funding at the state level for more creative, outside-the-box initiatives like this but it is not nearly enough and rarely funds personnel. Federal support could play an important role here, at the very least it could help in providing seed monies that counties or nonprofits could then match.

Finally, it seems obvious to me that there should be some reward/incentive for providing comprehensive planning for the related areas of affordable housing, poverty, and homelessness. It is tough to distinguish where one of these issues ends and the other begins.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment, I think everyone here has had something to add to this discussion.
Tim Emmert
Moore County (NC) Community Development
December 18, 2008

In Arizona this administration has consolidated its offices into the metropolitan areas Phoenix, Green Valley (closer to Tucson), therefore there is no intake opportunities other than non-profit housing entities. We will need to build capacity of non-profit counseling agencies in rural areas, by increasing the 502 direct loan funding allocations, and go back to the 525 packing fees paid to non-profits for taking applications and counseling rural residents on their best mortgage options particularly the USDA loan programs.

Additionally, something has to be done in the form of acquisition of existing properties to allow for first-time rural residents to buy these homes, as opposed to investors purchasing them and then renting them or reselling them for higher prices. Other than subsequent 502 loans which of course many of these foreclosed properties are not financed through USDA. There is a glut of foreclosed properties in rural areas, and there aren’t the type of rural housing programs throughout rural Arizona that we once thought we had. What is going on is that the USDA Guarantee Program was increased and the expense of the 502 direct loan program, and we’ll be seeing more of these foreclosure as well, what then?
Thank You,
Frank J. Martinez
Community Equity
December 16, 2008

I am a housing counselor for Community Action Partnership in Lewiston Idaho. I am spending a considerable amount of time on foreclosure prevention counseling. I wish the new administration would greatly expand the USDA RD RHS 502 Home loan program so owners who can only afford subsidized payments would be able to refinance their current conventional loans into USDA loans. I wish they would also include urban areas. This would certainly prevent a lot of foreclosures. Many of the people I am working with have lost jobs or become disabled — including seniors who do not have the equity for reverse mortgages.
December 10, 2008

As the Executive Director of non-profits located in southern West Virginia, I want to speak to serving vulnerable populations. I know without the assistance of non-profits in our area there would be little housing development. Private developers cannot overcome the issues of lack of infrastructure and low appraisal values for housing in our poverty stricken area. The need to support the capacity building of non-profit organizations is a way to serve vulnerable populations.
Sharon Walden, Executive Director of SAFE
McDowell County, WV
December 3, 2008

As the only founding director of HAC, I am extremely proud of the job the HAC staff has done with this conference and with its mission over the years. We started with about three million dollars and no staff with knowledge of rual housing. Now our assets are about go million dollars and we have assisted poor people in building anout 60 million self help housing. WE have been doing subprime lending for almost 40 years without major defaults. CongraduLATIONS HAC. I may not get there with you but I know you will worl your self out of A MISSION.
December 3, 2008

I think we should urge the new administration to think outside of the traditional silos in which federal programs normally operate. For example, lack of public infrastructure is one of the major challenges in developing affordable housing in rural areas. If communities applying for federal infrastructure funding were given financial incentives to direct those funds to affordable housing developments that would make an enormous difference. Climate change legislation might offer some possibilities such as directing money from the sale of carbon credits to energy efficiency improvements and even alternative energy in affordable housing.
Polly Nichol
December 4, 2008

I wonder how well we approach rural community viability. I have some concerns that while we strive to provide affordable rural housing are we considering rural community sustainability;job creation, telecommunications, small farms, coops, and maybe outside the box enterprise that supports the growth of the rural village. thanks for allowing me to comment,
Alan Trunnell
December 4, 2008

I would like for the new administration to consider revising the program’s implementation policies/regulations ..most of the times the people that creates the regulations for the programs are so unaware of the issues because they are no longer relate to the poor..and the results are programs that nobody qualifies for..We need to consider the people that really works directly with the low income families in the process of developing the programs in order to successfully implement them.
San Juana Gonzales, Uvalde, Texas
December 4, 2008

1. Enact the Section 515 revitalization program;
2. Create a resident voucher program that protect residents and operates similar to the HUD enhanced voucher program.
3. Limit the guaranteed loan program and create mechanisms to protect borrowers against foreclosrue.
4. increase the RD staff and bring servicing back to the local offices.
December 4, 2008


To add an entry, email your comment to Leslie Strauss at HAC,, and it will be posted here.

The latest draft (January 2, 2009) of HAC’s “Affordable Rural Housing Issues and Recommendations” paper is available here.


Posted: December 8, 2008
Last updated: January 2, 2009