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Coming Together for a Common Cause

by Eric Oberdorfer

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since the last HAC Rural Housing Conference. As rural housers, we have faced our share of challenges recently. Congress is deadlocked, funding for needed federal housing programs remains historically low, and the stock of safe, high-quality, affordable housing in rural America continues to decline, leaving too many low-income families and individuals without sufficient housing options.

These past years have seen the support and resources necessary for our network threatened, and we have had to fight to maintain our work. These challenges make coming together for our common cause even more important in 2014. The rural housing network has a proud history of empowering individuals and families, improving lives, and making lasting impacts across rural America. However, for a number of years, we have been in a defensive posture. It is time for us to shift away from this and go on the offensive. To do this we mustretool our collective talents, rebuild the innovative spirit that got us where we are, and renew our passion for the mission that guides us.

Retool, Rebuild, Renew is the theme of our conference this year. Although this theme could describe the construction or rehab of housing, the theme is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about a housing movement – these actions are more critical to our work than ever before.

Rural communities desperately need affordable housing to combat serious challenges that have developed over the past few years. The United States’ economy fell into one of the most severe economic recessions in a half century. Our country’s rapidly aging population will have significant impacts on our current housing stock. Poverty rates in rural America have grown. Further compounding these issues is the continued downsizing of federal programs that support the development of housing in rural communities, programs that are needed now more than ever. Luckily, rural housers are a resourceful group and have met these issues head-on by learning new skills, forging new partnerships, and considering new approaches. It is time we come together to share our successes and determine strategies to ensure our continued ability to provide our communities with safe, affordable housing.

Fostering the development of new skills and partnerships is a key part of the National Rural Housing Conference. More than just a collection of workshops and plenaries, the Conference is about coming together to share our collective experiences, build our expertise, and gain a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and why. It is a space that encourages networking and the sharing of ideas between people who know firsthand the challenges the housing movement faces. It provides an opportunity to gain new tools that can help us succeed in the current environment of housing and community development.

Although the landscape for affordable housing has changed dramatically since the first National Rural Housing Conference 45 years ago, one thing remains as true as ever – individuals, families, and communities need to have high-quality affordable housing in order to thrive. To respond to the needs of rural communities we must first come together. The National Rural Housing Conference gives us the chance to gain new tools, learn from each other, and, most importantly, renew our commitment to affordable housing.

The HAC Rural Housing Conference will be held December 3-5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Registration is currently open.