Tag Archive for: rural voices

Rural Voices: Understanding Your Market

Rural Voices: Demystifying Rural Data: Do You Know Your Market?

It’s been said that oil was the most valuable resource of the 20th Century, but in the 21st Century data is now arguably the most important resource. Quality data and research are increasingly essential to any business, including mission-oriented organizations. Data and information have proliferated due to AI and other resources, but quality data are still often more difficult to access in rural communities.

Data resources are also ever-changing with advances in technology and methodologies almost daily. Rural America is changing too. There are 60.4 million people living in rural America today. Rural communities are more diverse than ever and HAC’s recent Taking Stock report revealed several important trends across rural areas over the past five decades. Understanding demographic, economic, and housing dynamics is essential for communities, local governments, organizations, advocates, and individuals looking to expand their capacities, utilize available resources, and share information with the people they serve.

The ‘Rural Voices’ in this issue include experts, practitioners, policymakers, and community-based organizations across the nation seeking to expand access to quality data and information for rural America. They share tools, processes, and how to manage a rapidly changing information landscape. HAC hopes this issue of Rural Voices can illuminate how access to data, resources, and innovations can better enable solid decisions, strategies, and solutions for rural communities across the nation.

Rural Voices: Understanding Your Market



Everybody Counts
by Robert Santos

The Census Bureau Director shares his insights on the importance of Census data and resources that can assist local communities.


For Good (and Bad), Artificial Intelligence (AI) Is Now a Reality in Housing
by Kristen Klurfield and Emma Waters

5 Ways AI Can Help Boost Housing Supply and Affordability.

Empowering Rural Communities
by Nicole Opfer

The Housing Assistance Council’s Approach to Data Driven Decision Making.

Revitalizing Communities Through Strategic Housing Planning
by Maggie Leftwich & DeWayne Ennis

Two Rural Communities Use Data and Analysis to Inform Housing Strategies and Solutions.

Illuminating Rural and Tribal Lending Landscapes
by Jason Richardson

Insights from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data.

Using Information on Disaster Risk, Insurance, and Community Planning
by Michael Craig

Each year, thousands of communities across the country experience natural disasters and unpredictable weather.


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Rural Voices - Recovery in Rural America - Cover

Rural Voices: Recovery in Rural America: Housing Helps Address the Substance Use Disorder Crisis

In 2021, 46.3 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with substance use disorders, including 6.7 million rural residents. From December 2021 to December 2022, approximately 105,000 lives were lost due to the overdose epidemic. Many rural communities and households have been impacted by this epidemic through the loss of loved ones, incarceration, chronic homelessness, mental and behavioral health challenges, and more. In some rural communities, every household has been impacted by substance use disorders.

This issue of Rural Voices highlights innovative approaches to providing housing for residents in recovery with a cross-sector analysis of successful collaborative approaches to addressing the issues associated with substance use disorders.

Rural Voices - Recovery in Rural America - Cover



Let’s Get to Work on Fighting the Housing and Substance Use Crises
by Senator Tina Smith

Minnesota continues to make progress in supporting its rural communities.


Addressing Substance Use in Rural America
by Dave Johnson

The Fletcher Group uses an innovative housing model and ground-breaking research.

Housing Finds its Niche in Supporting SUD Recovery in Kentucky
by Tom Manning-Beavin

Frontier Housing rehabilitates and finances suitable properties to provide safe and stable homes for those in recovery.

The National Alliance for Recovery Residences Standards

NARR provides national standards for effective, safe, and quality recovery residences.

Andy’s Place: Michigan’s First Permanent Recovery Supportive Housing Development
by Bob Beck

Housing has the power to make a difference in addressing the opioid crisis.

Action on the Opioid Epidemic and Rural Affordable Housing
by Alan Morgan

Rural advocates can act on the opioid epidemic and connected housing needs.

Bringing Mental Health Support and Resources to Northeast Oklahoma
by Denise Phelps

GRAND Mental Health offers an array of services for those experiencing homelessness, mental health crisis, and drug/alcohol emergencies.

HAC’s Inaugural Affordable Housing and Recovery Cohort

HAC shares resources and builds the capacity of organizations working to address their communities’ substance use disorder crises.


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Rural Voices would like to hear what you have to say about one, or all, of these issues. Please comment on these stories by sending a tweet to #RuralVoices, discuss on the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

HAC News: September 28, 2018

HAC News Formats. pdf

September 28, 2018
Vol. 47, No. 20

HAC publishes rental housing preservation study • Housing programs funded to December 7 • Farm Bill may expire September 30 • Legislation would increase affordable housing, including rural and tribal housing • USDA extends some deadlines for rental preservation funding • Researchers look at connection between housing and health • Homeland Security to propose rule limiting admission to U.S. for noncitizens expected to use benefits • Rural Voices reviews “What Broadband Means for Rural America” • USDA offers new web resource for mortgage packagers and intermediaries • CFPB requests comments on data collection • September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month

HAC News Formats. pdf

September 28, 2018
Vol. 47, No. 20

The conference will be held December 4-7 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC.

HAC publishes rental housing preservation study.
Rental Housing for a 21st Century Rural America: A Platform for Preservation presents HAC’s comprehensive assessment of USDA’s multifamily housing investments. This multifaceted review considers not only the property characteristics, but also the tenant and market dynamics in which these properties exist. The ultimate goal of this project is to inform strategies that help preserve this integral housing resource for rural communities and residents. For more information, contact Lance George, HAC.

Housing programs funded to December 7.
Senate and House negotiators have not yet agreed on some non-housing aspects of the “minibus” bill that combines the USDA and Transportation-HUD appropriations measures with Interior-Environment and Financial Services. As a result, those departments will be funded through December 7 by a continuing resolution included in the appropriations bill for the Labor-HHS-Education and Defense departments.

Farm Bill may expire September 30.
The House and Senate have not yet worked out their differences on H.R. 2, the 2014 Farm Bill expiring September 30. Negotiations will continue, with or without a short-term reauthorization measure. Without one, Farm Bill programs such as SNAP (Food Stamps) and crop insurance can continue so long as they are funded in appropriations measures, but a number of smaller programs cannot. USDA’s rural housing programs are not impacted because they are not generally covered in Farm Bills. The 2014 Farm Bill did allow growing places to remain eligible for the rural housing programs until their populations reach 35,000; that provision made a permanent change in the statutory definition and does not expire if the Farm Bill expires.

Legislation would increase affordable housing, including rural and tribal housing.
The American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on September 26, would add funding to several existing housing programs. It would provide FY 2019 funding of $140 million for direct Section 502 loans, $28 million for Section 514 loans and $100 million for Section 516 grants, $180 million for Section 515 loans, $75 million for the Section 523 self-help program, and $2.5 billion for Indian Housing Block Grants, as well as $45 billion annually for ten years for the national Housing Trust Fund. Among its other provisions, the bill would also expand the Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and source of income; strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act; incentivize local governments to remove regulatory and zoning barriers that impact the private sector’s ability to develop rental housing for middle-income people; and create some new housing assistance efforts. The bill’s costs would be covered by reforms to the federal estate tax.

USDA extends some deadlines for rental preservation funding.
A funding notice for USDA’s Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) program was published September 5, 2017, establishing deadlines in 2017 and 2018. A new notice extends them into 2019. It also makes the payment deferral-only option available to all owners, not just those with USDA mortgages maturing by 2023. For more information, contact Dean Greenwalt, USDA, 314-457-5933.

Researchers look at connection between housing and health.
Articles in the latest issue of HUD’s Cityscape periodical examine the health impact of interventions targeting specific aspects of housing, state and local efforts to bridge the divide between health and housing, and new evidence on the link.

Homeland Security to propose rule limiting admission to U.S. for noncitizens expected to use benefits.
The “public charge” rule has not yet been officially published in the Federal Register. When it is, the Department of Homeland Security announced, the public will have 60 days to submit comments.

Rural Voices reviews “What Broadband Means for Rural America.”
A new issue of HAC’s Rural Voices magazine explores how local rural housing organizations and local governments can help bring broadband to rural America, increasing the potential for innovation, educational opportunity, and economic growth.

USDA offers new web resource for mortgage packagers and intermediaries.
The new page includes resources for packaging Section 502 direct applications, handouts from past packaging trainings, information on upcoming training sessions, and USDA’s Loan Packaging Express newsletter.

CFPB requests comments on data collection.
A new report, Sources and Uses of Data at the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, describes the CFPB’s data governance program as well as what data it collects, where the data come from, and how data are used and reused. The CFPB requests input on several subjects including the overall effectiveness and efficiency of its data collections, suggestions for change, ways to reduce reporting burden and ways to make data collections from financial institutions more effective and efficient. Comments are due in late December.

September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month.

NEW! HAC offers Section 502 packaging training courses in Nebraska and DC.
This three-day advanced course trains experienced participants to assist potential borrowers and work with RD staff, other nonprofits, and regional intermediaries to deliver successful Section 502 loan packages. The training will be held October 30-November 1 in Lincoln, NE and again December 5-7 in Washington, DC (simultaneously with HAC’s conference). For more information, contact HAC staff, 404-892-4824.

Need capital for your affordable housing project?
HAC’s loan funds provide low interest rate loans to support single- and multifamily affordable housing projects for low-income rural residents throughout the U.S. and territories. Capital is available for all types of affordable and mixed-income housing projects, including preservation, farmworker, senior, and veteran housing. HAC loan funds can be used for pre-development, site acquisition, site development, and construction/rehabilitation. Contact HAC’s loan fund staff at hacloanfund@ruralhome.org, 202-842-8600.
Please note: HAC is not able to offer loans to individuals or families. Borrowers must be nonprofit or for-profit organizations or government entities (including tribes).

HAC News: January 19, 2017

HAC News Formats. pdf

January 19, 2017
Vol. 46, No. 2

Perdue nominated for USDA Secretary, RD staff acting in administrative positions • Carson pledges to enforce laws, supports rental assistance • USDA offers rural broadband loans, loan guarantees, and grants • RD updates handbooks on multifamily ownership transfers and single-family housing • 2016 data show continuing trends for USDA tenants • Administration for Children and Families requests input from Native Americans • HUD revises Rental Assistance Demonstration • Register for notice of calls on Section 538 program • RD updates multifamily loan payoff guidance • FHFA proposes evaluation guidance for Duty to Serve • Duty to Serve Listening Sessions scheduled • OMB approves two fair housing assessment tools • Changes to blood lead level rule adopted • Final rule issued for HECM reverse mortgage program • HOTMA changes to project- and tenant-based vouchers implemented • Rural Voices magazine covers rural housing innovations • HAC seeks proposals for housing projects serving rural veterans

HAC News Formats. pdf

January 19, 2017
Vol. 46, No. 2

Perdue nominated for USDA Secretary, RD staff acting in administrative positions. On January 19, President-elect Trump named former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, who has a background in agriculture, to become Secretary of Agriculture. Career employees will run RD and its agencies until appointments for those posts are made. Roger Glendenning will serve as Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development, Rich Davis as Acting Administrator for RHS, Chad Parker as Acting Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and Chris McLean as Acting Administrator for the Rural Utilities Service.

Carson pledges to enforce laws, supports rental assistance. At his January 12 confirmation hearing, HUD Secretary nominee Ben Carson advocated for a holistic approach connecting housing with economic development, health, and more. He hopes to enhance HUD’s lead exposure programs to prevent chronic illnesses. He spoke positively about VASH and other rental assistance. When asked about his commitment to fair housing requirements, Carson stated he would “enforce all the laws of the land.” Responding to questions from Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Jon Tester (D-MT), he expressed concern about Native American housing conditions. His written testimony mentions rural areas once, saying lead is a problem in urban, suburban, and rural places. None of the hearing questions focused on rural housing specifically. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on January 24 whether to send his nomination to the full Senate for approval.

USDA offers rural broadband loans, loan guarantees, and grants. Loans and loan guarantees from the Rural Broadband Access program can be used for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide broadband service for rural areas. There are two application windows this year: March 1-31 and September 1-30. The Community Connect Grant Program offers grants to provide broadband service to all premises in currently unserved, lower-income, and extremely rural areas, with priority for places that demonstrate the greatest need for broadband. Its application deadline is March 13. For more information, contact Shawn Arner, Rural Utilities Service, 202-720-0800.

RD updates handbooks on multifamily ownership transfers and single-family housing. In HB-3-3560, the Project Servicing Handbook for Sections 515 and 514/516, Chapter 7 on ownership transfers has been completely revised, including (among other changes) updated underwriting requirements, incorporation of the Preliminary Assessment Tool, and use of industry-based underwriting standards where possible. There are a number of changes throughout HB-1-3550, which covers the Section 502 direct and Section 504 programs. For more information, contact an RD office.

2016 data show continuing trends for USDA tenants. In its annual release of data on tenant characteristics, RD reports slight changes: a drop in the number of rental units in the portfolio, a decline in the proportion of tenants who are white, an increase in low-income households (and a corresponding decrease in very low-income), and an increase in disabled tenants within the elderly/disabled category. There were 4,220 fewer units in the portfolio in September 2016 than in September 2015, a drop of almost 1%, and more than half the lost units had two bedrooms. The same proportion of Section 515 tenants receive Section 521 Rental Assistance (67%) as in 2015, and the same proportion are cost-burdened (13%).

Administration for Children and Families requests input from Native Americans. ACF, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, hopes to identify issues and challenges facing American Indian and Alaska Native populations and to gather recommendations for addressing the needs. Comments are due March 10. For more information, contact Camille Loya, ACF, 202-401-5964.

HUD revises Rental Assistance Demonstration. RAD allows the conversion of public housing and other HUD-assisted properties to project-based Section 8. Send comments to rad@hud.gov by February 21. For more information, contact HUD staff at rad@hud.gov.

Register for notice of calls on Section 538 program. RD will continue holding periodic calls or web meetings with stakeholders about the Section 538 guaranteed rental housing program. To receive notices when calls are scheduled – even if you registered for these calls in the past – contact Monica Cole, USDA, 202-720-1251.

RD updates multifamily loan payoff guidance. An Unnumbered Letter dated December 28, 2016 discusses the options available for handling properties where a Section 515 or 514 mortgage has reached its maturity date. For more information, contact an RD state office.

FHFA proposes evaluation guidance for Duty to Serve. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s draft guidance indicates FHFA’s expectations for developing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s Duty to Serve Underserved Markets Plans, and the process for evaluating their performance. Comments on the evaluation guidance are due May 12. For more information, email DutyToServeStakeholders@fhfa.gov.

Duty to Serve Listening Sessions scheduled. FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac will co-host a series of public listening sessions in early 2017 on Duty to Serve. The dates and locations are: January 25, Chicago; February 1, San Francisco; February 8, Washington, DC; February 9, Webinar. For more information and to register visit https://www.fhfa.gov/PolicyProgramsResearch/PROGRAMS/Pages/Duty-to-Serve.aspx.

OMB approves two fair housing assessment tools. The tools will be used by public housing agencies and by local governments that receive CDBG, HOME, ESG, or HOPWA funding when conducting and submitting their Assessments of Fair Housing. PHAs with 1,250 or fewer combined public housing and voucher units will provide less information than those with larger programs. For more information, contact Krista Mills, HUD, 866-234-2689.

Changes to blood lead level rule adopted. A final rule adopts a revised definition of “elevated blood lead level” in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. (See HAC News, 9/8/16.) It also establishes more comprehensive testing and evaluation procedures for housing where children under age six reside and makes some other changes. For more information, contact Warren Friedman, HUD, 202-402-7698.

Final rule issued for HECM reverse mortgage program. The Federal Housing Administration’s changes are intended to strengthen the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program and increase its sustainability. For more information, contact Karin Hill, HUD, 202-402-3084.

HOTMA changes to project- and tenant-based vouchers implemented. A HUD notice implements several provisions of the 2016 Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act. (See HAC News, 11/3/16.) Comments are due March 20. For more information, contact HOTMAquestionsPIH@hud.gov.

Rural Voices magazine covers rural housing innovations. Tiny houses, super energy efficiency, intensive planning, and more are included in the winter issue of HAC’s magazine. Sign up online to receive email notices when new issues are published.

HAC seeks proposals for housing projects serving rural veterans. Supported by The Home Depot Foundation, grants will go to nonprofits, tribally designated housing entities, and housing authorities serving veterans at or below 80% of area median income in rural areas. Projects may be new construction or rehab, temporary or permanent housing, in progress or beginning within 12 months. Grants will not normally exceed $30,000. Several smaller requests may be granted rather than a few larger ones. Letters of Interest are due February 3. For more information contact Shonterria Charleston, HAC, 404-892-4824.

20 Years of Rural Voices

What a Difference 20 Years Makes

This edition, “20 Years of Rural Voices,” highlights and revisits a selection of articles published over the past two decades.

View from Washington

Let’s Recommit to Rural America
by Congressman Bennie Thompson

Rep. Bennie Thompson challenges his colleagues in Congress to re-engage in the fight to keep successful federal rural housing programs alive.s


Self-Help Housing on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation: Alive and Well
by Leslie Newman

There is more than one way to design a self-help housing program, and collaboration between community organizations helps.

Still Ticking After All These Years: Low-Income Housing Tax Credits in Washington State
by Kim Herman

Tax credits have remained important in rural Washington, financing the production of thousands of homes.

Rural Midwest Housing Remains Complex and Diverse
by Ann Ziebarth and Jeff Crump

Whether growing, stable, or declining, rural communities in the Midwest face challenges in providing housing for lowincome residents.

The Housing Trust Fund Movement Spans the Country
by Mary Brooks

State and local housing trust funds continue to offer flexible funding for affordable housing across the country, and a national fund has been created as well.

Where You Live Matters: Fair Housing is Still the Law and Even Stronger
by Shanna Smith

The Fair Housing Act has been law since 1968, and new developments in 2015 have strengthened it.

Reflections on Cushing Dolbeare and Eleven Years of Housing Change
by Sheila Crowley

Cushing Dolbeare founded the National Low Income Housing Coalition; her legacy guides the organization years after her death.

20 Years Do Make a Difference
by Joe Belden

Many things have changed since 1995, says a veteran rural houser, but rural housing needs and solutions have never been partisan issues, and should not be now.

Rural Voices would like to hear what you have to say about one, or all, of these issues. Please feel free to comment on this story by sending a tweet to #RuralVoicesMag discuss on the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

50 Years, 50,000 Homes

A Half Century of Self-Help Housing Across Rural America

This edition of Rural Voices, “50 Years, 50,000 Homes,” celebrates the construction of the 50,000th self-help home to be built with USDA support and the achievements of the nonprofit sponsors, the USDA programs, and most importantly, the families who have become successful homeowners.

A Half Century of Self-Help Housing Across Rural America

Download a pdf version of Rural Voices
50 Years, 50,000 Homes

This edition of Rural Voices, “50 Years, 50,000 Homes,” celebrates the construction of the 50,000th self-help home to be built with USDA support and the achievements of the nonprofit sponsors, the USDA programs, and most importantly, the families who have become successful homeowners.

Views from Washington

Successful Federal-Local Partnerships
by U.S. Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers

Local partners help USDA housing programs make meaningful impacts to the lives of local rural residents

Neighbors Helping Neighbors Build a Better Life
by U.S. Representative Sam Farr

A program that helped create the real American Dream for over 50 years.

With Many Dedicated Partners, USDA Helps 50,000 Families Achieve the American Dream
by Secretary Tom Vilsack

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack discusses USDA’s Self-Help Housing Program.


So Much Progress, So Much Left To Do!
by Peter Carey

A simple concept still holds promise in a complicated housing world

Looking Back: The Beginnings and Evolution of USDA’s Self-Help Housing Movement
by Bob Marshall

Early efforts in rural California became a Self-Help Housing model for the nation

Building Forward: Self-Help For All
by Russell Huxtable

Let’s build on fifty years of history and expand this life changing program!

Self-Help Housing Changed Our Lives
by Noelle McKay and Stefanie Kompathoum

Families share their experience with the Self-Help Housing Program

An Emerging Self-Help Leader
by Mi’shell French

Discusses personal growth and sustaining the momentum through Self-Help Housing

Self-Help Housing and “SHOP” in the Rio Grande Valley
by Nancy Hanson

HUD’s Self -Help Homeownership Opportunity Program helps make self-help building sites affordable

Technical Assistance is the Essential Ingredient to Self-Help Housing
by Suzy Huard

USDA’S Section 523 Technical Assistance Grants make Mutual Self-Help housing possible

Expanding Service in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
by Mike Shimon

A local Habitat for Humanity provider reaches more families using the USDA Mutual Self-Help program

Neither Wind, Nor Rain…Can Stop a Determined Self-Help Provider
by Linda Smith

A local nonprofit is up to the challenge when disaster strikes twice.

Additional Content

Celebrating 50 Years of helping families help themselvesCelebrating 50 Years of helping families help themselves.(8.5″ X 11″ printable pdf)

Celebrating 50 Years of helping families help themselves.(25.5″ X 11″ original document)

Rural Voices would like to hear what you have to say about one, or all, of these issues. Please feel free to comment on this story by sending a tweet to #RuralVoicesMag, discuss on the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

HAC News: May 27, 2015

HAC News Formats. pdf

May 27, 2015
Vol. 44, No. 11

• June is National Homeownership Month • House subcommittee considers USDA’s housing role • Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants offered • Pilot tests new area loan limit method for Section 502 direct • Rural rental properties urged to host meal programs • RD to reserve 10% of non-housing funds to aid development plans • Rents remain out of reach nationwide • More rural veterans are women • White House reports housing helps lift rural children out of poverty • Young people returning to rural areas most often cite family reasons • Rural Voices features lessons learned from housing mistakes • HAC disaster guide supplement for Oklahoma and Texas flooding available

HAC News Formats. pdf

May 27, 2015
Vol. 44, No. 11

JUNE IS NATIONAL HOMEOWNERSHIP MONTH. Watch HUD’s and USDA RD’s websites for announcements.

HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS USDA’S HOUSING ROLE. On May 19 the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Rural Housing Service.” RHS Administrator Tony Hernandez and Mathew Scirè of GAO testified. Questions from members of Congress focused on cost-effectiveness and the possibility of consolidating USDA and HUD housing programs.

SECTION 533 HOUSING PRESERVATION GRANTS OFFERED. Public agencies, nonprofits, tribes, consortia, rental property owners, and cooperative housing complexes can apply by July 6 for grants to repair or rehab owner-occupied or rental units. Contact Bonnie Edwards-Jackson, RD, 202-690–0759.

PILOT TESTS NEW AREA LOAN LIMIT METHOD FOR SECTION 502 DIRECT. RD state offices in CA, CO, DE, FL, HI, IA, MD, MN, MS, MO, MN, NV, NC, ND, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA, WV, WI, and WY may set area loan limits at 80% of FHA’s 203(b) loan limits. Updated limits (at the link, click the “Forms & Resources” tab) will be effective June 15, 2015. Contact an RD State Office.

RURAL RENTAL PROPERTIES URGED TO HOST MEAL PROGRAMS. An Unnumbered Letter dated May 5, 2015 asks local RD staff to encourage property owners and managers to reach out to local organizations that could operate Food and Nutrition Service offerings such as the Summer Food Service Program. Contact an RD office or an FNS regional office.

TENANT SERVICES CANNOT BE CHARGED TO MULTIFAMILY PROPERTIES’ OPERATING BUDGETS, RD SAYS. An Unnumbered Letter dated April 28, 2015 applies to Section 515 and 514 properties. Contact a USDA RD State Office.

RD TO RESERVE 10% OF NON-HOUSING FUNDS TO AID DEVELOPMENT PLANS. Comment by August 18 on an interim regulation for a program required by the 2014 Farm Bill. A portion of funds from specific community facilities, water and waste disposal, and business and cooperative development programs will be reserved each year for projects that help implement regional economic and community development plans. Contact Aaron Morris, RD, 202-720-1500. For FY15, eligible entities can receive priority points only for year-end pooled funds, according to a notice to be published in the Federal Register on June 1. Contact a USDA RD State Office.

RENTS REMAIN OUT OF REACH NATIONWIDE. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach study found that nationally the housing wage – the hourly wage a person working 40 hours a week would need to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental unit – is $19.35. For a two-bedroom apartment in a nonmetro area the average housing wage is $13.48, almost $3 above the nonmetro renter wage. An interactive website includes data for states and counties.

MORE RURAL VETERANS ARE WOMEN. The percentage of rural veterans who are women has more than doubled since the First Gulf War, and they tend to be younger than the men, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. In 2013, 55% of rural female veterans were under the age of 55 compared to 26% of rural male veterans. Racial and ethnic diversity among veterans is increasing as well. The Daily Yonder has republished a map showing the percentage of every U.S. county’s population who are veterans.

WHITE HOUSE REPORTS HOUSING HELPS LIFT RURAL CHILDREN OUT OF POVERTY. Opportunity for All: Fighting Rural Child Poverty states that programs like refundable tax credits, Social Security, SNAP, and housing assistance lifted about 9.0 million nonmetro residents out of poverty in 2013, including about 1.6 million children. In addition, aid programs provide long-term benefits by improving children’s education, health, and earnings outcomes later in life.

YOUNG PEOPLE RETURNING TO RURAL AREAS MOST OFTEN CITE FAMILY REASONS. Factors Affecting Former Residents’ Returning to Rural Communities, by USDA’s Economic Research Service, reports that some returnees said they made financial and career sacrifices to return home and other interviewees said those concerns kept them from returning. Housing costs were seldom mentioned.

RURAL VOICES FEATURES LESSONS LEARNED FROM HOUSING MISTAKES. A new issue of HAC’s quarterly magazine includes stories from rural housing professionals who share notable mistakes they or their organizations made. Sign up online for email notices when new issues are published.

HAC DISASTER GUIDE SUPPLEMENT FOR OKLAHOMA AND TEXAS FLOODING AVAILABLE.Picking Up the Pieces, HAC’s guide to housing recovery after natural disasters, and a special supplement for the recent floods, are available online. To order free print copies for people and organizations in disaster areas, contact Dan Stern, HAC, 202-842-8600.

The Gray Panthers of El Dorado, Amador, and Placer Counties: How the Good Guys Finally Won

The Gray Panthers of El Dorado, Amador, and Placer Counties: How the Good Guys Finally Won

Rural Voices - Spring 2015This story appears in the 2015 Spring Edition of Rural Voices

A local citizen-board and a group of rural “housers” kept a project afloat after near-collapse in its early years resulting in a development that now serves the community with 40 units of senior housing

by John Frisk

This is the story of a rural elderly rental housing development in Diamond Springs, CA, the area where the California Gold Rush of 1849 took place. The author originally set out to record only the difficult birth of this project. As the facts revealed themselves, however, the bigger story begged to be told.

The Beginning: RULE 1

If something sounds too good to be true, it may well not be true.

In 1983 the telephone rang in the Loan Fund Division of Housing Assistance Council (HAC). The caller was the late Salvatore Solinas, a beloved and respected program manager at the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD staff explained that the “Gray Panthers,” represented by a real estate professional, had applied to DHCD for predevelopment loan funds. Previous proposals by the real estate professional had not proved feasible. DHCD cited a number of concerns but thought the proposal to be possibly feasible.

Within a year, board members and the consultant were threatening and suing each other.

DHCD’s Loan Fund was nearly empty and the agency was unable to fully fund the loan request. Would HAC be interested in a joint venture? Answer: HAC probably would be interested, subject to full staff and Loan Committee review, and approval of the project by both DHCD and HAC.

The Plot Thickens: RULE 2

With a backdrop containing several promising elements, what could possibly go wrong? The answer, as it turned out, was just about everything.


The Project Site – The site consisted of two parts. Parcel A was to be the site for a 24-unit Farmers Home Administration (FmHA)- financed elderly project. Parcel B later became the site of 16 additional units. Problems abounded including unbudgeted development costs, a private access to the site (not a municipal street), allocation of water rights from the local water district, and unfunded school fees required for real estate developments. Ultimately, the site’s owner personally bonded the private access and later defaulted on his bond, requiring HAC and DHCD to fund the bonding. The owner eventually left the area in a welter of legal troubles. Project site control, originally seen as an asset, quickly manifested thorny problems. Nevertheless, site purchase and development, with a loan from HAC in May 1984, followed by the DHCD loan, went forward, paving the way for the FmHA project.

The Gray Panthers, Who or What Was It?

Calling herself the project consultant, the aforementioned real estate agent acted as if she was the “Gray Panthers of El Dorado.” Evidence of this belief began to mount. The national Gray Panthers, a vocal advocate organization for elderly rights, objected to the consultant’s use of the Gray Panthers name and denied any connection with the project. The consultant refused to cease using the name.

The consultant demanded to be paid for her organizing and packaging work on the project, a proposition that HAC and DHCD had no authority or funds to provide. She repeatedly asserted that HAC was a federal agency, part of the federal Department of Housing (HUD). She wrote letters to her member of Congress demanding that HAC pay for her services.

The Panthers’ original board of five local citizens quickly became restive and refused to back demands of the consultant that they found unwise. Within a year, board members and the consultant were threatening and suing each other. The consultant then recruited new board members more compliant with her plans for the project. After the project acquired financing from US Department of Agriculture, Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) in 1985, she attempted to sell the project to a developer, apparently to raise funds to pay for her services. FmHA made clear that they would not permit a change of developer under those terms.

The Lawsuits Begin

In February 1987, the FmHA project was completed. In October, the consultant filed a mechanic’s lien against the property setting the stage for a subsequent legal battle. The consultant sued HAC and DHCD and the Gray Panthers.

Unable to acquire or retain legal representation, she filed suit pro se, that is, acting as her own legal counsel. To the surprise of the lenders, the local court, in deference to a party asserting terrible mistreatment, allowed the case to proceed. First the court required the parties to submit to arbitration, an expensive and time consuming process that came to nothing. When the arbitrator found for the lenders, the consultant insisted on a regular judicial proceeding. DHCD was represented by the Attorney General’s office, a local public service advocate represented the Gray Panthers, and HAC retained local counsel. In October 1987, after a four-day jury trial in the El Dorado Superior Court, the court informed the consultant that, failing an agreement to drop all her charges and claims, the court would direct such a verdict. Her agreement to the dismissal of all claims did not prevent her from a later unsuccessful appeal.

The Gray Panthers Become Diamond Sunrise What is it today? RULE 3

With a modicum of luck and a boost from Divine Providence, even a seriously troubled project can be turned around. (Dedicated rural housing professionals and community people are also helpful.)

bb-foliageThe 24-unit FmHA project (later named Diamond Sunrise I) was completed and occupied in 1987, but the years of struggle took its toll. Interested local citizens, FmHA, and DHCD became increasingly concerned with governance and management. In 1990, DHCD asked the Rural California Housing Corporation (RCHC) to make a servicing visit that showed the Gray Panthers to be a “shell corporation” without an effective board. RCHC, with guidance from FmHA, project residents, and community leaders, negotiated a reconstituted board-based nonprofit, Diamond Sunrise Corporation, to assume control and ownership of the project. RCHC staff joined the board of directors, and assisted the board in overseeing the management of the 24-unit development.

RCHC pursued the build out of Parcel B. Six applications were made in 10 years and in 2003, 16 more units of HUD 202 elderly and disabled housing, Diamond Sunrise II, were built and occupied. In 2000, RCHC affiliated with a larger group, Mercy Housing. The two projects have separate, but interlocking boards, and a common management, presently by a management component of Mercy Housing. The specifics of these results could serve as a textbook for small town housing development, but those responsible modestly pass
them off as “all in a day’s work.”

Yet another problem confronted Diamond Sunrise I in maintaining the viability of the original 24 units of USDA FmHA 515 senior housing. The project was unusual in that the rents were subsidized with state funds. When this funding terminated, Diamond Sunrise, with assistance from RCHC/Mercy, was awarded FmHA rental assistance for 23 of the original 24 units. The present 40-unit housing development, whose beginning and early years were so sadly devoid of promise, now looks to the future with a vigorous and viable board, highly competent management, and sound financing and subsidy adequate for the immediate future.

What Can We Learn From This 30-Year Venture?

It Ain’t Easy But It Can Be Done RULE 4

First, a sound sponsor organization is fundamental to a good housing program. In this case, it took years to get to the present positive state of events.

Second, the people who worked with this troubled project over the years came from different points of the compass, but they had a common goal, namely the provision of good quality housing for the older people of this area. They have done this housing work for farmworkers, for the homeless, for families building self-help, for community facilities, and rehabilitation and in countless other forums. They brought their varied skill sets to the affordable housing business with great commitment, in this case, to the community’s elders. They specialize in housing finance, the development process, the law, the art of making government programs work, and a range of private citizen experience, all devoted to housing for their community’s elders. They tend to be modest and self-effacing. This worthwhile
project is a tribute to people who made decent housing happen for poor elderly people in one small community.

John Frisk is the retired Director of the Housing Assistance Council’s Loan Fund.

Credits and Acknowledgements –John Frisk and DHCD Project Manager Georgann Eberhardt were involved, almost daily, for three years of the problematic project startup. Numerous California DHCD staff and HAC staff worked tirelessly and with good humor. The “happy landing” has many parents. A key actor was Stanley Keasling, now CEO of Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC). Mr. Keasling and his staff, during the resurrection of the project, was CEO of Rural California Housing Corporation (RCHC), which, with its affiliate, Mercy Housing California, was deeply involved in the recovery of a healthy Diamond Sunsrise I and II. Special thanks go to Greg Sparks and George Applebaum, now board members of Diamond Sunrise for help with the project history. Mr. Appelbaum was also the attorney for the Gray Panthers in the cited lawsuit. Many others, board members, local and state officials, and FmHA staff, made significant contributions to the survival and success of this housing endeavor.

Trust AND Verify

Rural Voices - Spring 2015This story appears in the 2015 Spring Edition of Rural Voices

A seemingly small oversight can become a big problem quickly

by Wilbur Cave

We recently found ourselves in a very awkward position because we failed to verify the household income of a family wanting to continue to rent a property that we purchased using HOME funding. Normally, household income is one of the very first things done to determine eligibility for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOME-funded projects. For some unexplained reason, the income was not verified, but a commitment was made to the family to continue renting the property after it was acquired and rehabbed. The family has been renting the property for 14 years prior to our purchase and rehab.

So how did this situation evolve? The family came to Allendale County ALIVE, Inc. seeking housing counseling because the landlord indicated that the property was going to be put up for sale. Having lived in the house for more than a decade, the family did not want to move because they had become attached to the house and the neighborhood. When the family approached us about housing counseling, we were looking for a property to acquire and rehab. The family knew that they needed some time before they could purchase the property and was concerned that the house might be sold while they were preparing for purchase. We were seeking a property to purchase if it could be acquired and rehabbed within our $35,000 limit. The family encouraged us to contact the owner to see if something could be worked out. We contacted the owner and he agreed to sell the house at a price that would work within our HOME limit. In the excitement of trying to ensure that the family could continue to live in the property that they had lived in many years, we forgot to verify their income.

The failure to verify income became evident when the rehab was completed and we had to qualify the family and, of course, they were over the household income limit. Although legally, we could require them to move, we felt an obligation to work with them to find a compatible rental property since it was our fault that we didn’t conduct the proper verification prior to committing to continuing to rent the house to them.

For those who wonder how it is that we were able to acquire and rehab a property for $35,000, the answer lies in the fact that Allendale County, SC has the 10th highest rate of poverty among all counties in the United States. Along with the many negative factors that are often present with a high rate of poverty, low property value is also common. Even with low property values in our community, the supply of homes that can be acquired and rehabbed at the HOME limits are few and far between. Nevertheless, we have been fortunate to find properties.

How did we resolve our problem? We decided that we had to find a compatible property for the family to rent. But this was going to be difficult because there was nothing available at that moment. However, a short time later, we identified four properties that the owner would be willing to work with ALIVE to acquire. One of the four properties was just the right size to accommodate the family, and the house was located in a nice neighborhood. The house needed a minimum amount of work to be move-in ready andthat is rural and has a high rate of poverty.

Had it not been for the availability of the property at the right time and the willingness of the owner to work with ALIVE, we would be in a difficult situation, and would have likely had to return the $35,000 back to the Participating Jurisdiction. Little things can trip you up and cause significant problems that can be very difficult to solve. We are thankful that we prevented an ugly circumstance, not to mention the possible damage that could have been done to our organization’s reputation that has taken 16 years to cultivate and develop.

Wilbur Cave is the Executive Director of Allendale County Alive in Allendale, SC.

Underestimating Bureaucracy in Bureaus

Rural Voices - Spring 2015This story appears in the 2015 Spring Edition of Rural Voices

Cutting through red tape on tribal lands comes with unique pitfalls

by Marvin Ginn

As a community development officer with a regional bank, I worked to begin mortgage lending on Tribal Trust Lands. I thought the process would be very similar to ‘fee simple’ lending and started getting clients approved for the mortgage. Well, this went downhill really quickly. I determined that we would need mortgage codes in place for this process.

When you are dealing with Tribal Sovereignty, there are many issues that can come up. A mortgage code must be in place and accepted by the different branches of the federal government in order for mortgage lenders to have any type of recourse. These codes lay out the policies and procedures for leases, eviction, lean priority and foreclosure.

What I had not considered is that many of our tribal leaders did not understand that this process would never endanger lands belonging to the tribe. Two different tribes made this process difficult for me. One of the tribes required 100 percent approval from the tribal council before the code could be passed. This approval process involved presentations over several years to the council before we could secure the necessary votes. The challenge was the elders’ mistrust of the system and fears they might lose their land to these mortgage lenders. I spent many long days at the tribe getting this done.

I thought the process would be very similar to ‘fee simple’ lending and started getting clients approved for the mortgage. Well, this went downhill really quickly.

The other tribe provided a similar challenge, but I was working directly with a tribal member who had already been approved for a loan, rather than a full council. It still took us three years to get the codes in place before we started building. To this day, there are still a few tribes that do not have mortgage codes in place.

This issue was further complicated by separate documentation for the home sites. We were mainly dealing with HUD, and we had a lease that covered their requirements. Little did I know, the HUD lease documentation was not sufficient for USDA or VA administered loans.

We then had to write leases that included the concerns of each department of the government. Yet another complication were National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. Again, we encountered the challenge of different reporting formats for each department of the government. Today, things have changed and the process is more streamlined. But improvements are still needed.

We worked with HUD, USDA, VA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to adopt the same format on the NEPA documents. Most of our leases are accepted by each department, but we still have challenges with wording in some of the leases. I can now close a loan within six to nine months which is far better than my first one which took me three years. I know this still sounds like an incredibly long time, but we are making progress and the effect of having affordable housing in Indian country is positive.

Marvin Ginn is Executive Director of Native Community Finance (NCF). NCF provides financial education, community oriented affordable loans, VITA/TCE tax site, IDA program, and mortgage assistance services. NCF is one of three certified Native Community Development FinancialInstitutions in New Mexico.