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Policy News from the Administration

HAC CEO Statement on Biden-Harris Housing Supply Action Plan

by David Lipsetz

The Biden-Harris Administration released a Housing Supply Action Plan on May 16 that can bring the cost of housing back in line with families’ incomes. This is particularly important in small towns where incomes remain stubbornly low, while the cost of buying or renting a place to live is soaring. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) applauds the Administration for designing and including several provisions specifically with rural markets in mind.

The Plan includes administrative and legislative proposals to improve existing housing finance mechanisms. It establishes new housing production programs. It calls for changes to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit that will attract private investment in affordable rental housing. It provides grants—such as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program—to states, cities and towns to do what locals know will be best for their local housing market.  It calls on Congress to establish a Housing Supply Fund and incentivize zoning reform to accelerate the building of more housing across the Nation.

Critically, the Administration proposes reforms that prioritize homeowners living in the homes that they own. This is a welcome change for rural Americans who need high-quality affordable homes in which to live far more than they need high-priced vacation homes. For rental housing, the Administration focuses investment on small-scale 2–4-unit buildings instead of high-rise apartment complexes. It calls for new rentals where few are being built and recognizes the urgency of preserving affordable rentals that already exist. And for the first time in decades, an Administration released a housing plan that calls for improved financing for manufactured housing, an important resource in rural places.

The shortage of affordable housing in rural America is a serious issue. Rental units are being lost at an alarming rate. Single-family homes are significantly older than elsewhere in the Nation. The Administration’s framework recognizes the unique need for affordable housing and proposes solutions built to work in small town and rural America.

Many of the Administration’s actions just announced reflect HAC’s policy priorities. But it remains critical that these actions be complemented by initiatives to address another essential factor in improving housing for rural Americans—building the capacity of local organizations to improve their own communities. Because rural places often have small and part-time local governments, they often find it particularly difficult to navigate the complexities of federal programs and modern housing finance, and to compete for government resources. Philanthropy has not stepped in to address this inequity built into our systems, instead concentrating its resources in already-prosperous high-cost regions. Targeted capacity building through federal investments in training and technical assistance is how most local organizations build skills, tap information, and gain the wherewithal to do what they know needs to be done.

Rural communities hold vast potential to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life for all Americans. Access to quality, affordable housing is key to jumpstarting that potential. Building and preserving homes creates jobs, improves education and health outcomes, and provides much-needed financial and physical stability to families in need. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to ensure that these initiatives move us closer to the day when every American has access to a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home.

Policy News from Congress

HAC Supports a Variety of Rural and Tribal Housing Funding Priorities

HAC’s Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Priorities

As the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 appropriations process gets underway, HAC is supporting a variety of rural and tribal housing funding priorities. This year, we saw the most robust Administration’s Budget for rural housing in recent memory, and we are hopeful that this will contribute to some momentum in the appropriations process. Among others, HAC supports the following rural housing funding priorities. (This list is not exhaustive and for Rural Housing Service programs not specifically mentioned, HAC supports the funding levels in the Administration’s FY23 Budget.)

USDA Multifamily Preservation:
  • $1 billion for USDA’s Multifamily Housing Preservation & Revitalization Demonstration (MPR) program
    • The cost to preserve the current USDA rental portfolio over the next 30 years is estimated to be over $30 billion. MPR is USDA’s most effective, and many times only feasible preservation funding tool. Applications have, however, been closed for four years as the Agency works through its waiting list, which is projected to take another four years.
  • $200 million for USDA Section 515, including new construction
    • This funding would allow for new construction to resume and is expected to be accompanied by a commensurate increase in Section 521 rental assistance to cover new units.
  • $350 million above the level needed for renewals to extend USDA Section 521 rental assistance to currently unassisted households
    • This funding would allow for the extension of rental assistance to cover all currently unassisted units. An estimated 67,000 households in USDA rental housing do not receive rental assistance from USDA, HUD or state sources (not including those that were covered by the American Rescue Plan). With an average annual income of only $13,500, these households are uniformly low income and often very or extremely low income. The vast majority also pay more than 30% of their income for rent. Providing this assistance will not only help families in need, but also shore up the finances of many developments, encouraging preservation.
  • $2 million for USDA Multifamily Housing Transfer & Prepayment Technical Assistance Grants
    • HAC is seeking to ensure that these funds support both transformational preservation research and the provision of technical assistance to improve transaction-level preservation deal flow.
  • $3 million for USDA’s Multifamily Housing Preservation Revolving Loan Fund Demonstration Program (PRLF)
    • PRLF was funded through appropriations for several years between 2005 and 2011 and provided loan capital to private non-profit organizations and state and local housing finance agencies to provide revolving loans for preservation.
Capacity Building:
  • $12 million for the Rural Community Development Initiative at USDA
    • The Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) is the sole capacity building resource provided through USDA’s Rural Development, and facilitates community development efforts in rural areas. Grants are competitively awarded to nonprofit housing and community development organizations, low-income rural communities and federally recognized tribes in order to support housing, community facilities, and economic development projects in rural areas.
  • $10 million for the Rural Capacity Building Program at HUD
    • The Rural Capacity Building Program (RCB) is a powerful and flexible program funded by HUD to build capacity of nonprofits and tribes to undertake affordable housing and community development activities in rural areas. Participating organizations are offered a suite of services for a comprehensive, customized approach of technical assistance, training, information products and resources, and low-cost rural housing development loans.
Rural & Tribal Homeownership:
  • $20 million for the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program at HUD
    • Created in 1996, the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) is a small but unique program that helps low-income families achieve homeownership through sweat equity. Competitively awarded SHOP funds from HUD go to a network of local nonprofits, distributed via intermediaries. SHOP funds can be used to acquire land, purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties, and improve the infrastructure of homes for lower-income homeowners. Often these are some of the most difficult items for local nonprofits to finance. Families invest a minimum of 100 hours of sweat equity into the construction of their homes, but many families invest much more — often in excess of 500 hours.
  • $50 million for the Section 502 Single Family Housing Direct Loan Relending Program for Native Americans
    • In 2018, the USDA and two Native community development financial institutions (Native CDFIs) in South Dakota implemented a successful $2 million demonstration which sought to improve the deployment rate of the 502 direct program in Native communities in South Dakota. The pilot made Native CDFIs eligible borrowers under the 502 direct loan program and enabled them to relend to qualified families for the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of affordable housing on trust land. Through this demonstration, the two Native CDFIs in partnership with USDA made nearly double the number of loans on these two reservations than USDA deployed on its own on the same two reservations during the previous ten years. The President’s FY 2023 Budget request includes funding for the continuation and expansion of the Native American 502 home loan relending program as part of the existing USDA 502 single family housing direct loan program.

How the Major Party Platforms Approach Housing

by Leslie Strauss

The major political party platforms take different approaches to federal housing assistance and related topics. The Republican and Democratic platforms adopted at the parties’ conventions in July are couched in strikingly different ways, consistent with the conventions’ tones. For example, while the Republican paper states, “We must scale back the federal role in the housing market, promote responsibility on the part of borrowers and lenders, and avoid future taxpayer bailouts,” the Democratic one asserts, “We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units . . . [to] help address the affordable housing crisis . . . [and] create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.”

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