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Housing Counseling Services Offer More than Just Counseling

While housing counselors are instrumental in helping people avoid foreclosure, they also provide invaluable resources to help families improve their lives

When someone is facing foreclosure, there is usually a credit card collector calling constantly, a family member struggling with an illness, or a heavy stress over where the next meal might be coming from. The problem that the client comes to us about is often caused by another bigger issue that they may be dealing with. This is why a housing counselor does so much more than just housing counseling.

While we have always provided assistance with housing issues through our Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors, Elder Law of Michigan has been a HUD-approved housing counseling agency since 2011. We decided to expand our programs to become a housing counseling agency so that we could do a better job of helping clients deal with the issues that may be preventing them from owning or renting a home or apartment.

The goal of the housing counseling program is to help clients achieve their goals. In regards to helping with homeownership, these goals could be to downsize to a smaller, more accessible home; own a home for the first time; or become a home owner again after going through challenges that resulted in a foreclosure of a previous home.

A housing counselor works with the client to figure out the alternatives and then allows the client to make an educated decision on how to proceed. This process is customized to each client but includes budget discussions, information on what resources are available, credit repair counseling, education on fair housing rights, and assistance with finding other housing if that is necessary. Housing counselors provide these services in an understanding, non-judgmental way.

We recognize that there are additional challenges faced by our rural clients: limited access to services and fewer housing alternatives.

These services are invaluable to someone struggling with the constant phone calls from the creditor, the overwhelming amount of incorrect information on the internet, and the fear of what to do if the family loses their home.

As a nonprofit that serves clients in suburban cities and rural counties, we recognize that there are additional challenges faced by our rural clients: limited access to services and fewer housing alternatives.

Many rural residents are perfectly fine with the fact that there aren’t many businesses nearby. In fact, that may be one of the reasons why they choose to live in the rural area. With the tight economy, nonprofits have to strategically locate where they can serve the most clients in a cost-effective manner. A large, mostly rural county in our service area has only one housing counseling agency actually located in the county. For residents on the other side of the county, that means almost an hour of travel each way to get assistance with their housing problems.

Another barrier is access to high-speed internet. Out of efficiency, many of the programs that help with foreclosure issues use a website or an online portal. While this works for those who are computer savvy and have a reliable computer with a good internet connection, several of our clients could only access these services with our help.

Making our services available by telephone means that we can try to provide as much assistance as possible without having the client drive a long distance to meet with us. There are still some issues using this method because there is not a nearby place to make copies or fax documents.

For those clients who commute into the larger cities for work, these issues can be addressed with the services available there. However, for our older, retired clients, that is not always so easy. We also discovered that some clients were not able to contact us because our office hours were the same hours that they worked. We had to make evening appointments available.
There are fewer housing options for some rural clients. In an ideal situation, our housing counselors would be able to work with the client and resolve the mortgage issue, allowing the client and their family to remain in the home. However, that is not always the case. In some cases, we have to work with the client to find alternate, affordable housing. Purchasing another home to live in is not an option at that moment due to credit issues. For many clients in this situation, we help them find an apartment that they can afford. For rural clients, rentals are not very plentiful, so relocating to another community is a reality that they must face on top of dealing with the foreclosure.

Because it is hard enough dealing with the housing issue, rural clients should definitely seek out a housing counseling agency to help. Recently, we had a client from a rural county who lost his job and was faced with foreclosure. Our housing counselor worked with him to go over his budget and determined that if he could get caught up, he would be able to afford to make future payments. They worked together by phone and through the mail to get all of his paperwork together. The client came to our office and worked with the counselor to complete an application for assistance through the Hardest Hit Fund program. After waiting several weeks, the client received notice that he was going to receive assistance and could save his home. Now, several months later, he just emailed us to say how thankful he is for the help.

Unfortunately, this is not always the outcome for our clients. Another client, a widow from a very small town in another rural county, contacted one of our other programs because she needed help buying food. After speaking with her, our benefits counselor realized that the client was also facing foreclosure. She gladly agreed to be helped by our housing counseling program. She was the victim of a fraudulent refinance scheme that took her money but never worked with her mortgage lender. Because she was not going to be able to afford the home any longer, our housing counselor worked with the client to find another place to live. After five months, the client was able to move into a subsidized housing complex in a nearby city and even recovered some of her money thanks to the legal help she received from the legal hotline.

After five months, the client was able to move into a subsidized housing complex in a nearby city and even recovered some of her money thanks to the legal help she received from the legal hotline.

Even for clients who are not able to stay in their home, the dream of homeownership is still possible. Housing counseling programs will work with the client who wants to own a home again in the future. Participating in a structured program to help with saving money and possibly rebuild credit is a good way to return to homeownership faster.

Housing counseling programs also can provide information on fair housing laws and discrimination. Whether you are looking to buy a home, take out a mortgage, or rent an apartment, you should know your rights.

Our housing counseling program, along with our other programs, does so much more than just answer questions and give referrals. Like many other housing counseling agencies, we seek to address the problems that led to the housing issue. It is this assistance that our clients find the most helpful. To find a housing counseling agency in your area, visit www.hud.gov or call 800-569-4287.

Keith L. Morris, J.D., M.P.A. is the President of Elder Law of Michigan, a private nonprofit that assists clients with legal counseling, pension counseling, benefits counseling, and housing counseling. Its new Housing Rights Center of Michigan assists clients of all ages and incomes in counties surrounding Lansing, Michigan.

HAC News: July 9, 2014

HAC News Formats. pdf

July 9, 2014
Vol. 43, No. 14

• Castro confirmed as HUD secretary • Civil rights anniversary noted • Section 514/516 preapplications due September 2 • HUD offers FY14 and FY15 HOPE VI Main Street funds • Treasury and HUD announce rental housing initiative • CRA regulators update list of distressed or underserved nonmetro middle-income geographies • New report examines rural rental housing • New York Times piece on rural poverty draws criticism • HAC calculates 8,000 USDA properties will pay off loans by 2020 • Concentration of poverty has increased, Census Bureau reports • HAC’s website redesigned

July 9, 2014
Vol. 43, No. 14 [tdborder][/tdborder]

CASTRO CONFIRMED AS HUD SECRETARY. On July 9 by a 71-26 vote the full Senate confirmed Julián Castro to replace Shaun Donovan as Secretary of HUD. The Senate has not yet voted on Donovan’s nomination as the new OMB director. (See HAC News, 5/28/14.)

CIVIL RIGHTS ANNIVERSARY NOTED. President Obama proclaimed July 2, 2014, as the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.

SECTION 514/516 PREAPPLICATIONS DUE SEPTEMBER 2. Section 514 loans and Section 516 grants can be used for new construction or purchase and substantial rehabilitation of rental housing for farmworkers. Section 521 Rental Assistance is available. The maximum award is $3 million. Contact a USDA RD state office.

HUD OFFERS FY14 AND FY15 HOPE VI MAIN STREET FUNDS. Governments of counties, cities, and townships with populations under 50,000 are eligible for grants to replace unused commercial space with affordable housing in historic or traditional central business districts. Deadline is August 18. Contact Lawrence Gnessin, HUD, lawrence .gnessin@hud.gov.

TREASURY AND HUD ANNOUNCE RENTAL HOUSING INITIATIVE. The Treasury Department’s Federal Financing Bank will finance mortgages made by Housing Finance Agencies and insured by FHA under its risk-sharing programs. Treasury is also extending the Making Home Affordable homeowner assistance program for at least one year and requesting public input by August 8 on ways to improve the private label securities market for housing finance.

CRA REGULATORS UPDATE LIST OF DISTRESSED OR UNDERSERVED NONMETRO MIDDLE-INCOME GEOGRAPHIES. The annual list identifies census tracts where bank activities will be considered as “community development” under the Community Reinvestment Act. There are slightly fewer tracts on the list in 2014 than in 2013, presumably reflecting some improvement in the economy.

NEW REPORT EXAMINES RURAL RENTAL HOUSING. Rural America’s Rental Housing Crisis: Federal Strategies to Preserve Access to Affordable Rental Housing in Rural Communities, published by the National Rural Housing Coalition, documents the successes of USDA’s rental housing programs and the challenges facing them now, including preservation and Section 521 Rental Assistance funding.

NEW YORK TIMES PIECE ON RURAL POVERTY DRAWS CRITICISM. “What’s the Matter with Eastern Kentucky?” by Annie Lowrey describes economic decline in Clay County, KY and wonders whether moving away might be residents’ best option. Tim Marema and Betsy Taylor respond with critical posts on the Daily Yonder.

HAC CALCULATES 8,000 USDA PROPERTIES WILL PAY OFF LOANS BY 2020. The oldest Section 515 and 514 loans are reaching the end of their 50-year mortgage terms. “Maturating USDA Multi-Family Housing Loans will Impact Ten-ants explains that when a Section 515 or 514 loan is paid off, some tenant benefits (such as Section 521 Rental Assistance) are terminated. Tenant protection rules apply to prepayments but not to payoffs of mature loans. HAC’s Rural Policy Note recommends that USDA ask project owners to notify tenants well in advance of payoff.

CONCENTRATION OF POVERTY HAS INCREASED, CENSUS BUREAU REPORTS. The proportion of U.S. residents living in census tracts with poverty rates of 20% or higher fell from 1990 to 2000, then increased from 18.1% in 2000 to 25.7% in 2010. While the overall U.S. population grew by 10% over the decade, the number of people in these high poverty areas increased by about 56%. Of the people living in high poverty tracts in 2010, 51.1% lived in cities at the center of metropolitan areas, 28.6% in suburbs, and 20.4% in nonmetro areas. Census’s report, Changes in Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010, includes maps and tables with data by state, race, age, and more.

HAC’S WEBSITE REDESIGNED. There’s a new look to the same great information at www.ruralhome.org.

Register now for upcoming HAC webinars:

and place-based trainings:

No, Minimum Rents Do Not “Encourage Financial Responsibility”


by Gideon Anders
March 13, 2014

President Obama’s 2015 Budget seeks to impose a $50 per month minimum rent on tenants living in USDA Rural Development (RD) financed Section 515 Rural Rental Housing and Section 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing.

This will only impact extremely low-income households with adjusted annual incomes of less than $2,000. These are the absolute poorest households residing in RD housing. They typically do not have a regular source of income. RD indicates this requirement will affect about 42,000, or 10 percent, of the households living in RD rental housing…

Read the complete blog post at Rooflines

HUD Report Finds Continued Increase in Worst Case Housing Needs

hud_worst_case_2013Nearly 8.5 million very low-income families experience worst case housing needs according to a new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report to Congress released on February 25th, 2013. HUD determines worst case housing needs by calculating the total number of very low-income renters that pay more than half of their income in rent, or reside in substandard or inadequate housing conditions (or both).

Download the research brief

Bipartisan Policy Center Report Includes Major Recommendations for Rural Housing

Housing America's Future: New Directions for National Policy

February 25, 2013. The Housing Commission of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) today released its much anticipated report entitled Housing America’s Future: A New Direction for a National Policy. In addition to major recommendations on mortgage finance reform, homeownership, rental housing, and demographic drivers, the BPC’s report devoted substantial attention to rural housing issues and priorities. Championed largely by Commission Co-Chair Kit Bond, former U.S. Senator and Governor from Missouri, the report presents four major recommendations on rural housing:

1. Support and strengthen USDA’s role in rural housing. The report specifically states that Congress should not pursue proposals to shift USDA programs to other government agencies where they will be absorbed by other federal programs, noting that USDA is well-positioned to leverage the existing resources and infrastructure of rural service providers that understand the unique conditions of local markets.

2. Extend the current definition of rural areas through the year 2020. Any area currently classified as rural for the purposes of USDA housing programs should remain so at least until after the receipt of data from the decennial census in 2020, provided the area’s population does not exceed 25,000.

3. Increase budget allocations to serve more households. The report states that additional funding for the Section 502 Direct Loan program would enable more rural households to become homeowners at relatively low cost to the federal government.

4. Dedicate resources for capacity-building and technology to strengthen USDA providers. The BPC recommends that local agencies receiving USDA funds should be incentivized to operate on compatible software to ease data and information sharing. These improvements could help USDA monitor and improve the performance of its rural housing programs.

Read the Rural Housing chapter of the report at:

https://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/BPC_Housing%20Report_web.pdf#page=110

Download the full BPC report at:

https://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/BPC_Housing%20Report_web.pdf

Founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a non-profit organization that drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation and respectful dialogue. With projects in multiple issue areas, BPC combines politically balanced policymaking with strong, proactive advocacy and outreach.

A Step Toward Addressing Native American Homelessness

A Step Toward Addressing Native American Homelessness

by Eric Oberdorfer and Leslie Strauss

shelterforce_na_blog_postHomes in Indian Country are three times more likely to be crowded than those in the United States as a whole, according to the 2010 Census. Many of the people sleeping on sofas or floors in these crowded dwellings are homeless – not living outdoors or in a car, but not living in permanent homes of their own, either. Strong kinship networks often enable people to find a place to stay and there are few shelters and service providers in places with small, spread-out populations.

Read More…

Past Recipients of HAC’s Rural Housing Service Awards

What are the Rural Housing Service Awards?

Once every two years at the HAC Rural Housing Conference, HAC acknowledges rural housing leaders whose efforts have led to improved housing in rural America. The Cochran/Collings Award for Distinguished Service in Housing for the Rural Poor honors individuals who have provided outstanding and enduring service, with national impact, for the betterment of housing conditions for the rural poor. The Skip Jason Community Service Award recognizes individuals whose efforts have improved the housing conditions of the rural poor in their communities. Below is a list of past awardees.

2018 Awardees

Skip Jason Award

Cochran/Collings Award
Henry B. González Award

2016 Awardees

Skip Jason Award

Cochran/Collings Award
Henry B. González Award

2014 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Cochran/Collings Award
  • The Honorable Christopher “Kit” Bond, U.S. Senate (Retired), Missouri
Henry B. González Award

2012 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Cochran/Collings Award
  • Shirley Sherrod, Founder, The Sherrod Institute, Albany, Georgia
Henry B. González Award
  • The Honorable Barney Frank, U.S. House of Representatives (D – Massachusetts)

2010 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Cochran/Collings Award
Henry B. González Award

2008 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Cochran/Collings Award
Henry B. González Award
  • The Honorable Geoff Davis, U.S. House of Representatives (R-Kentucky)
  • The Honorable Ed Pastor, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Arizona)

2006 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Clay Cochran Award
  • The Honorable Rubén Hinojosa, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Texas)

2004 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Clay Cochran Award
Special Recognition
  • The Honorable Artur Davis, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Alabama)
  • The Honorable Rubén Hinojosa, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Texas)
  • The Honorable Rick Renzi, U.S. House of Representatives (R-Arizona)
  • The Honorab
    le Rep. Walsh, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Harry Bowie, HAC Board of Directors
  • Art Collings, HAC Staff

2002 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
  • Lynn Luallen, Chief Executive Officer, Kentucky Housing Corporation, Frankfort, Kentucky
  • Madeleine Miller, Executive Director, Wil-Low Nonprofit Housing, Hayneville, Alabama
Clay Cochran Award

2000 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
  • Lauretta Brice Stephens, Florida Non-Profit Housing, Inc., Sebring, Florida
  • Cora Esquibel, Arizona
  • Arturo C. Gonzales, Southeastern Wisconsin Housing Corporation, Burlington, Wisconsin
  • Dana M. Jones, Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Association, Hughesville, Maryland
Clay Cochran Award
  • Eileen Fitzgerald, Washington, DC

1998 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
  • Guillermo Castaneda
  • Dwayne Yost
  • John Zippert
Clay Cochran Award
  • Arnold Sternberg

1996 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Clay Cochran Award
  • Maureen Kennedy, Former Administrator, Rural Housing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC
Special HAC 25th Anniversary Award
  • The Honorable Henry B. González (D-Texas), U.S. House of Representatives

1994 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Clay Cochran Award
  • The Honorable Eva M. Clayton, U.S. House of Representatives (D-North Carolina)
  • The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Mississippi)

1991 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
  • Bessie Swann
  • Ted Smith (posthumous award)
Clay Cochran Award

1985 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
  • James Wilcox
Clay Cochran Award
  • Art Collings

1983 Awardees

Skip Jason Award
Clay Cochran Award

1981 Awardees

Community Service Award
  • Moriah Milton, Hardwood, Louisiana
Clay Cochran Award
  • Gordon Cavanaugh, former Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council, and former Administrator, Farmers Home Administration, Washington, DC

1979 Awardee

Clay Cochran Award
  • Clay Cochran, former Executive Director, Rural America, Washington, DC
cdfi fund logo

Lending

Certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Treasury Department, the Housing Assistance Council has offered low-cost rural housing development loans for over 40 years.

HAC makes short-term loans at below market interest rates to local nonprofits, for profits and government entities developing affordable housing for low-income, rural residents. HAC’s loans enable borrowers to acquire land, pay architectural and environmental fees and cover other costs that arise before construction loans are available. HAC balances careful underwriting and meaningful collateral with flexibility and an understanding that a rural community’s best potential housing developer may begin without significant housing development experience. HAC loan funds serve various purposes:

Loans from these funds are used for a wide variety of housing development purposes, for all types of affordable and mixed income housing projects, and for both rental and ownership units.

cdfi fund logo

AERIS Rated

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Rural Voices: Volume 4 Number 3

Rural Voices: Housing in the Rural Midwest

The Summer 1999 issue of Rural Voices celebrates two events, the passing of the Housing Act of 1949 and the opening of HAC’s fourth regional office is Kansas City, MO. In some ways these events are very different, but both are part of improving housing for rural Americans.

The first event occurred in 1949. That summer, exactly 50 years ago, the Housing Act of 1949 became law and created the first of the rural housing programs we still use today. From relatively small beginnings – a Section 502 direct loan program for homeownership and a Section 504 loan and grant program for home repairs, both available only to farmers – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural housing programs have grown to a lengthy list of tools for financing better housing, and have improved the homes of many tens of thousands of rural residents. In honor of the programs’ anniversary, Rural Voices explores the passage of the 1949 Act, examines some changes over the last 50 years, and describes the historical beginnings of the popular self-help housing program.

The second event happened in late May this year. The Housing Assistance Council formally dedicated its fourth regional office. Located in Kansas City, Mo., and focused on serving the Midwest, this field office joins others in Atlanta, Ga.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Mill Valley, Calif. Housing programs in the Midwest are not a new topic for Rural Voices, but this issue does emphasize that part of the country. One article provides an overview of rural housing conditions in the Midwest, and another describes the successes achieved by one community action agency in Kansas.

More good news is provided in our View From Washington department, which describes funding increases likely to be adopted for rural housing in fiscal year 2000.

The Spring 1998 Issue of Rural Voices - Cover

Rural Voices: States Help Produce Affordable Rural Housing

The Spring 1998 issue of Rural Voices examines some of the ways states have become involved. Any one of these methods could be duplicated in states that have not yet tried them.

State funds, and state agencies administering federal funds, are essential in developing affordable rural housing This issue of Rural Voices examines some of the ways states have become involved. Any one of these methods could be duplicated in states that have not yet tried them. First, an expert on housing trust funds explains how states have used those dedicated revenue sources to improve rural housing conditions. Other articles describe efforts in Iowa and Oklahoma to make state-administered .fimds more available in rural areas. Iowa has designed a collaborative application process, now being adopted by other states as well. Oklahoma analyzed housing needs in fast-growing rural parts of the state and targeted funds to help meet those needs.

Continuing Rural Voices’ coverage of welfare reform, this issue also includes an article describing welfare reform in Minnesota, starting with a pilot program initiated by the state before changes were adopted at the federal level. The magazine’s View from Washington department examines the possibility of enacting housing legislation during 1998 before Congress adjourns for elections in the fall. As always, the HAC Facts department summarizes some of the Housing Assistance Council’s recent activities.