Tag Archive for: USDA

Updated October 2 – What would a federal government shutdown mean for rural housing?

Update, October 2, 2023 – A last-minute agreement on a continuing resolution keeps the government running through November 17. It includes a provision allowing USDA to renew Section 521 Rental Assistance contracts as they expire, even if that requires a higher proportion of annual funding than the prorated amount for the first 48 days of the fiscal year.

The next steps towards funding for the entire fiscal year are not yet clear. The House and Senate have proposed different FY24 funding levels for USDA and HUD, and the House voted on but did not pass its USDA appropriations bill on September 28. Follow HAC’s reporting on appropriations in the HAC News (subscribe here) and on our web pages for USDA and HUD funding.

Update, September 29, 2023 – Congress has not made effective progress towards avoiding a shutdown on October 1. USDA has posted updated shutdown contingency plans, including one for Rural Development. The RD plan seems to be essentially the same as the 2021 version HAC originally summarized here. Since the updated plan indicates that USDA will be able to spend Rental Assistance funds so long as it has them, this post has been updated to remove questions about the lack of an advance appropriation for Rental Assistance.

The federal government, or parts of it, close when funding (appropriations) lapses. None of the fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills have been enacted yet, and ongoing differences between factions on Capitol Hill make temporary funding unlikely. A shutdown could begin on October 1, 2023, when fiscal year 2023 ends. If a continuing resolution (CR), or a series of them, keeps the government operating beyond October 1, a shutdown could occur whenever the final CR ends. Federal agencies have prepared shutdown plans.

A brief federal government shutdown probably would not impact most people who receive housing assistance but, at some point after the first few days, the housing effects would begin to be noticeable. In fiscal year 2019, a record 35-day shutdown from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 led some owners of USDA-financed rental properties, unaware that the agency had enough Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA) funding to last through January, to threaten to evict tenants who could not pay full rent on their own. Fortunately, Congress reached a funding agreement before any RA renewals were missed that February.

As HAC considers what a shutdown will mean, some important questions remain open and are included in the analysis below. HAC and other national rural housing organizations have reached out to USDA RD’s multifamily and political leadership with these questions and will update this information when we receive a response.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A brief federal government shutdown probably would not impact most people who receive housing assistance but, at some point after the first few days, the housing effects would begin to be noticeable.
  • Section 521 Rental Assistance contracts would continue to be renewed during a shutdown “if funding is available,” according to USDA Rural Development’s shutdown plan, dated September 2023.
  • If the agency has used up all its RA funds, “additional servicing options” could be provided to rental properties. When the government closed in December 2018 and January 2019, for example, USDA considered permitting owners to use project reserves to cover costs, but the shutdown ended before a final decision was made.
  • No new rural housing loans, grants, or loan guarantees would be committed during a shutdown.
  • HUD’s monthly subsidy programs – including public housing operating subsidies, housing choice vouchers, and multifamily assistance contracts – would operate only while funding remained available, according to HUD’s August 2023 contingency plan. If they ran out of money during a shutdown, they would cease to operate.

WHAT SHUTS DOWN

USDA Rural Development

Rural Development’s contingency plan, dated September 2023, indicates that State Directors, their staff, and some employees in the Washington, DC national office and the Customer Servicing Center in St. Louis would continue working during a shutdown.

Rental Assistance

RD’s plan says that Section 521 Rental Assistance would continue “if funding is available.”

The amount needed for RA can vary considerably from month to month. The RA payments each month are for the RA contracts that expired during that month, and each payment obligates a full year of RA funding. For example, the RA contracts that expired during August 2023 and were renewed in late August or early September will not be impacted again until they expire in August 2024. How much RA funding does USDA have on hand? How long will that amount last?

The contingency plan provides that, if the agency has used up all its RA funds, “additional servicing options” could be provided to rental properties. In 2019, for example, USDA was considering permitting owners to use project reserves to cover costs. The shutdown ended before the agency completely ran out of RA money, so they did not have to decide whether to allow the use of reserves. Has USDA RD planned for such a possibility this year?

Has RD developed plans for communicating with property owners/managers and with tenants if a shutdown occurs and while it continues?

Loans, grants, and servicing

According to USDA’s contingency plan, no new loans or grants would be committed during a shutdown. No new loan guarantees would be issued under any of the housing programs or the community facilities program. For Section 502 guaranteed loans only, lenders and borrowers could choose to proceed with closing if USDA had already issued a valid conditional commitment. The lender would be assuming the risk until the shutdown ended and a guarantee was issued.

RD activities that are considered necessary to preserve the government’s property would continue during a shutdown, and loans and escrow accounts are considered to be government property. Therefore RD would keep processing nightly updates for each RD financial system, making insurance and tax payments from borrowers’ escrow accounts, and “reconciling and submitting for initial processing” collection activity including amortized payments and payoff activity. Some foreclosure sales would go forward. Servicing of existing guaranteed loans would continue, including processing loss claims.

HUD

HUD’s plan is dated August 30, 2023. It explains that, since 2019, appropriations language has allowed HUD’s salaries and expenses funding to be carried over into the next fiscal year, with wording similar to that used for the Rental Assistance advance appropriations. Thus, if FY24 begins without an appropriation, HUD may have some FY23 funds remaining for staff to continue working at full force, at least temporarily. The department’s senior leadership would decide how much of that funding to use and for what functions.

Programs operating with HUD funding that was obligated before a shutdown would continue to operate. Much of the Federal Housing Administration’s and Ginnie Mae’s work would continue during a shutdown. Monthly subsidy programs, however – including public housing operating subsidies, housing choice vouchers, and multifamily assistance contracts – would operate only while funding remained available. If they ran out of money during a shutdown, they would cease to operate.

Treasury

The Treasury Department’s plan, dated December 2022, states that the CDFI Fund’s programs would not operate during a shutdown, without providing any further details.

WHO KEEPS WORKING

Generally, during a shutdown, federal staff in the affected agencies do not work unless their functions are considered essential. Furloughed employees are also not allowed to do their jobs voluntarily while the government is closed. In the past, Congress and the President have usually agreed to pay furloughed employees retroactively after a shutdown ends, but they are not required to do so.

Presidential appointees (i.e., agency officials who were confirmed by the Senate) are not furloughed. They are not paid, however, unless funds for their salaries are appropriated after the shutdown ends. “Schedule C” employees, also known as political appointees (these jobs do not require Senate confirmation), are subject to the same rules as civil service employees to determine whether their roles are essential during a shutdown.

WHAT A SHUTDOWN MEANS FOR GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS

An Office of Management and Budget document explains that during a shutdown a federal contractor can proceed with work that is not impacted by the lapse in funding. For example, if an agency has already obligated funds representing the entire price under a contract or task order before the funding lapse began, the contractor can conduct the work. At the agency, however, routine operational and administrative activities relating to contract or grant administration cannot continue.

WHAT HAPPENED IN FY19

Fiscal year 2019 began on October 1, 2018 with parts of the federal government, including USDA and HUD, open under continuing resolutions. After a final CR expired, they did close down on December 22. The government reopened on January 25, 2019, under another CR that expired on February 15. A final consolidated appropriations act was signed into law by President Trump on February 15.

USDA Rural Development

The first HAC News issue after the shutdown began, published on January 15, 2019, reported that limited functions were continuing at USDA’s national office in Washington, DC and the Customer Service Center in St. Louis. Loan closings were not taking place and applications were not being processed.

Rental Assistance

USDA RD was able to renew Section 521 Rental Assistance contracts that expired in December and January. If the shutdown had continued, however, the agency would not have had enough money to renew the approximately 700 RA contracts that expired in February and 1,000 in March.

By January 25, 2019, when a deal was reached for a three-week CR, the HAC News reported that USDA was considering short-term measures, such as allowing owners to use project reserves to cover costs, but had not yet finalized any plans or notified property owners/managers. The need for providing information directly from USDA had become clear when managers of USDA-financed properties in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Mississippi sent notices to tenants telling them their RA was ending in January and they would be responsible for paying their full rent, then backpedaled when informed by USDA the RA would be paid.

After the shutdown ended, the February 11, 2019 HAC News quoted a notice USDA sent to owners and managers of USDA-financed properties with Section 521 Rental Assistance: “We are pleased to inform you that Rental Assistance for Section 514/515 properties has been obligated through April. … We understand that the most recent lapse in appropriations created anxiety and uncertainty regarding the status of your contract obligations. We are hopeful that this communique and the fact that all contracts are obligated through April will provide you reassurance and operational predictability in your management of these critical low-income resources throughout rural America. Thank you for your partnership in delivering the Rural Housing Service affordable housing mission.”

A January 2019 memo from the National Housing Law Project explained the rights of federally assisted tenants during the government shutdown. NHLP is preparing an updated memo for a possible October 2023 shutdown.

Homeownership Programs

On February 1, 2019, after the shutdown ended, USDA’s single-family programs office announced it would issue new Certificates of Eligibility to all Section 502 direct applicants who had valid COEs on December 21 before the government shut down. The agency did not have enough money to obligate additional Section 502 direct loans until it received funding beyond February 15, however.

Section 504 repair loans and grants were available on February 1. USDA planned to prioritize applicants with immediate health and safety hazards.

Other Impacts

There were additional housing-related impacts from the FY19 shutdown, and only a few are summarized below.

Some HUD Project-Based Rental Assistance contracts expired early in the shutdown, as reported in the January 15, 2019 HAC News. About 21,500 households with average incomes under $13,000 per year were impacted by the expiration of 650 PBRA contracts that ended in December. More were expiring in January and February and HUD would need to determine whether it had funds available to renew them. Property owners could use their reserves, if available, to cover shortfalls. Public housing capital funding was unavailable, and operating funds would not be able to carry public housing authorities beyond February.

The shutdown’s effect in Indian Country was “substantial and unique,” the Center for Indian Country Development at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve reported, although calculating a dollar amount was not possible. Because of the unique relationship between the U.S. and Tribes, Tribal services are often closely tied to federal funding. Government employment is disproportionately high in Indian Country, Tribal staff such as those who plow reservation roads were furloughed, and Tribal education funds were in danger.

Disaster spending, particularly funding for Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria in 2017, was also delayed by the 2019 shutdown. Congress had appropriated $20 billion in CDBG-DR funds for Puerto Rico, but only $1.5 billion of that money was approved before the shutdown, and HUD did not disburse it during the shutdown. HUD approval of disaster spending plans or amendments from California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and the U.S. Virgin Islands was also put on hold.

 

HAC in the News

Groups Urge HUD and USDA to Finalize Efficiency Requirements for U.S.-Backed Homes

ACEEE, HAC, and Sierra Club logos

A federal proposal to ensure new homes supported by U.S.-backed mortgages and federal housing programs meet updated energy efficiency criteria garnered widespread support from stakeholders today. Groups advocating for affordable housingenergy efficiency, and climate mitigation united in urging the administration to finalize the action promptly.

The groups were joined by more than 6,000 individuals across the country who supported the proposal in public comments gathered by Sierra Club and submitted to regulators today.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed updating their efficiency requirements in May by issuing a preliminary determination. If the action is finalized, future residents of the homes at issue compared to homes under the current criteria will save an estimated $14,500 for single-family homes and $6,000 per multifamily unit overall, net of costs, over the lifetime of the homes thanks to lower energy bills, HUD and USDA calculated. It would avert 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions for each year of new homes, the agencies said.

Jonathan Harwitz, director of public policy at the Housing Assistance Council, said: “Keeping housing affordable includes making utility costs affordable. We encourage HUD and USDA to move forward with this determination, and also to find ways to help cover upfront costs and to educate those who finance and build affordable housing.”

Lowell Ungar, federal policy director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said: “The longer we build brand-new inefficient homes, the more needless energy costs and climate pollution we’ll see for decades ahead. Just by meeting their legal mandate, the agencies will help ensure tens of thousands of new homes have lower energy bills and less risk of spiking costs. The analysis is clear; now they need to act promptly to get the job done.”

Jessica Tritsch, building electrification campaign director at the Sierra Club, said: “Too often renters and folks in low-income housing are left behind from programs that offer energy efficient housing and lower utility bills. This move by HUD will help ensure better access to climate-friendly appliances and healthier, more affordable homes. Adopting these new energy efficiency building codes is long overdue. We are committed to holding HUD, and other federal and state agencies, accountable to help low-income homeowners and renters access clean, safe, energy efficient housing.”

Background:

In bipartisan laws in 1992 and 2007, Congress directed HUD and USDA to periodically strengthen efficiency criteria for new homes purchased with federally backed loans such as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and USDA mortgages, along with new homes with funding from other HUD programs, like the HOME Investment Partnerships grants for affordable housing. These homes—about 200,000 new ones each year—are primarily for low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters.

These criteria follow a model building energy code known as the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for single family houses and smaller multifamily buildings, and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 for high-rise multifamily buildings. The law requires HUD and USDA to update the criteria when the codes are updated every three years as long as the agencies determine that doing so would not negatively affect the availability or affordability of covered housing. But the regulators have not updated the criteria since 2015.

The agencies finally issued a preliminary determination for public comment in May for the 2021 IECC and Standard 90.1-2019 (the current requirements are the 2009 IECC and 90.1-2007). A provision in the omnibus spending bill enacted at the end of 2022 also requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to update its loan requirements based on the HUD-USDA criteria.

Houses and multifamily buildings meeting these criteria generally have more insulation in the walls and roofs, better air sealing and windows, and more energy-efficient systems, including better-sealed ducts. The homes waste less heat and allow more efficient heating and cooling with smaller HVAC systems.

Today is the final day for stakeholders to comment on the preliminary determination. When the agencies issue a final determination, they will implement the updated efficiency criteria in each covered program over a few months.

Media contacts:

ACEEE – Ben Somberg, 202-658-8129, bsomberg@aceee.org

HAC – Dan Stern, 202-516-6882, dan@ruralhome.org

Sierra Club – Shannon Van Hoesen, 202-604-2464, shannon.vanhoesen@sierraclub.org

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit research organization, develops policies to reduce energy waste and combat climate change. Its independent analysis advances investments, programs, and behaviors that use energy more effectively and help build an equitable clean energy future.

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is a national nonprofit that supports affordable housing efforts throughout rural America. Since 1971, HAC has provided below-market financing for affordable housing and community development, technical assistance and training, research and information, and policy formulation to enable solutions for rural communities.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC’s Comments on Rental Assistance Decoupling – August 2023

The Fiscal Year 2023 President’s Budget included a request to decouple USDA Section 521 Rental Assistance from Section 515 Multifamily Loans to facilitate the rehabilitation and preservation of the multifamily portfolio. To explore the potential impacts, Congress directed USDA to conduct a series of stakeholder meetings and provide a report on how decoupling would be implemented. HAC submitted comments in support of decoupling, with a focus on the topics below.

  • Making Long Term Affordability Parameters the Top Priority
  • Considering A Pilot Concept When Implementing Decoupling
  • Clarifying the Annual Rent Increase Process for Decoupled RA Units
  • Establishing A Plan for Units Without Rental Assistance in Decoupled Properties
  • Maintaining Support for the Entire Suite of Preservation Programs, Even If Decoupling Becomes an Option
  • Establishing A Plan for Prepayments, Since the Bulk of Units Are Lost to Prepayments
  • Improving Data Transparency At RHS

Read HAC’s full comments.

HAC Decoupling Comments 2023
Policy News field

HAC’s network supports improvements to USDA’s Rural Housing Service in letter to Congress

With the help of our network of organizations working across the country in rural areas, more than 100 organizations signed on to support bipartisan, cross-Committee collaboration to consider improvements to USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS) programs as part of the larger Farm Bill. Historically, the RHS programs have not been included in the Rural Development Title of the Farm Bill because they fall within the jurisdiction of the Banking Committee. But in recent months there has been increased cross-Committee momentum to include some bipartisan RHS modernizations in the Farm Bill, and we want to encourage that momentum to keep building. Check out the letter below to learn more. Thanks to all the organizations who signed on in support!

HAC Rural Housing Farm Bill Sign-on 2023 FINAL

Debt ceiling compromise limits spending, rescinds some HUD and USDA housing funds

The Fiscal Responsibility Act – the recently enacted compromise that suspends the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025 – makes fewer cuts than the Limit, Save, Grow Act passed by the House in April, but it almost certainly will limit federal spending on housing aid for the next two fiscal years. In addition to the well-publicized work requirements for SNAP and TANF recipients, reallocation of IRS funding, and revised environmental reviews, the measure includes a variety of other provisions, several of which impact rural housing.

  • It rescinds any unspent funds from the $39 million for Section 502 direct loans and 504 loans that was provided in the American Rescue Plan Act. (The June 8, 2023 HAC News reported incorrectly that $2 million in rental preservation technical assistance funds were also rescinded. The compromise did not rescind any preservation TA monies.)
  • It rescinds unspent monies appropriated by pandemic relief laws for the Emergency Rental Assistance and Homeowner Assistance Fund programs, and funds that were appropriated in the CARES Act but have not yet been spent by HUD for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, Project-Based Rental Assistance, Native American housing, Section 811, and Section 202.
  • It caps overall FY24 funding for discretionary programs at around FY23 levels. Despite this limit on total spending, specific programs may receive amounts that are higher or lower than their FY23 levels. As it does every year, the appropriations process in Congress will make key decisions for individual programs.
  • Overall discretionary spending can increase only 1% from FY24 to FY25. The annual appropriations bills will set amounts for individual programs.
  • If appropriations do exceed the limits in FY24 or FY25, a sequester would make across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs.
  • Discretionary spending increases are also capped at 1% for fiscal years 2026-2029, but Congress can waive these caps if it chooses. It has no such option for FY24 and FY25.
  • If Congress uses a continuing resolution to fund any part of the government beyond January 1 of FY24 or FY25, funding for that year would be reduced. If a CR were still in effect on April 30, the funding cut would be applied to the entire year.
Damages from flooding in the Midwest

USDA makes home repair grants available for disaster impact in rural Kentucky

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development announced the availability of grants to help people repair their homes that were damaged by historic flooding and other destructive weather in 2022.

The homes must be located in Presidentially declared disaster areas. People living in 26 Kentucky counties are eligible for the funding.

The grants are being made available through supplemental disaster funding under the Rural Disaster Home Repair Grant Program. Through this program, people may apply to receive grants of up to $40,675 directly from USDA to repair their homes.

For more information on how to apply, contact Rural Development Kentucky’s Single-Family Housing team at 859-224-7322 or visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/contact-page/kentucky-contacts.

HAC in the News

HAC Launches USDA-backed Placemaking Program

Contact: Hillary Presecan, hillary@ruralhome.org
(340) 227-1978

10 communities selected for cohort

Washington, DC, February 10, 2023 –The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) announced the ten communities selected for our Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) cohort. RPIC is a USDA program that funds planning support, technical assistance, and training to encourage placemaking activities in rural communities. The ten communities selected to be part of HAC’s cohort will receive 15 months of capacity building support, connection to a peer cohort, and seed grant funding. In May 2023, the cohort will gather in Newbern, Alabama, for hands-on rural placemaking training hosted by Rural Studio® an off-campus design-build program of Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. Rural Studio® is a national leader in creating rural affordable housing along with the vital systems that create strong rural communities.

“Placemaking is a thread that binds so many local efforts to improve rural communities, from affordable housing to broadband to arts and culture,” said Shonterria Charleston, HAC’s Director of Training and Technical Assistance. “Through RPIC, we will assess local needs, create a relevant curriculum, and provide coaching and capacity building as each community takes on a local placemaking challenge.” Charleston noted that building on local assets, even in distressed communities, is a hallmark of placemaking.

A summary of the cohort and highlights from each selected community are below.

Summary

HAC’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) cohort is a USDA funded initiative that supports 10 rural and tribal economically distressed communities largely in the southern United States by boosting placemaking capacity and connecting selected communities with peer support, public and private resources, and access to rural placemaking experts while engaging with local broadband providers on improving internet access in their community.

HAC’s RPIC strategy is framed by our 50 years of working in rural America’s poorest communities and rural design and placemaking leadership.

HAC’s RPIC cohort will engage with a curriculum that emphasizes placemaking as a tool for economic development and community cohesion. Community-identified needs will inform the curriculum. In May 2023, the cohort will gather in Newbern, AL, to learn alongside Auburn Rural Studio faculty, students, and partner organizations.

After the gathering at Rural Studio, RPIC communities will continue planning and carrying out their local placemaking challenges into 2024. As the RPIC cycle concludes, HAC case studies featuring RPIC Cohort communities will contribute to a burgeoning national dialogue surrounding rural placemaking and design. HAC will also connect RPIC communities with broadband expertise and resources tailored to local needs throughout the RPIC program.

Selected Communities & Placemaking Challenge

  • Covenant Faith Outreach Ministries | Covenant CD: Tupelo, MS

Covenant Faith Outreach Ministries is taking on housing supply—especially for seniors and broader community engagement strategies via its work with RPIC.

  • Helping One Another, Inc.: Sardis, MS 

Helping One Another, Inc. is working to implement the MiCASiTA model in the community. MiCASiTA gives homeowners design choices in modular homes along with a path to multi-generational wealth.  Helping One Another’s RPIC participation will bolster the organization’s capacity for strategic planning, identifying resources, and related design assistance, including a charrette.

  • Paxico and Beyond Community and Economic Development (TEX): Paxico, KS 

Via RPIC, Paxico and Beyond Community and Economic development seeks to coalesce community involvement toward addressing ongoing transportation, flooding/stormwater, and related issues identified in a recent assessment. RPIC will also work to increase the organization’s grant writing capacity.

  • Mountain T.O.P.: Altamont, TN 

Mountain T.O.P. seeks to boost its cross-sector capacity via RPIC—especially toward addressing single family and multi-family housing needs, including exploration of housing tax credit programs. 

  • Men and Women United for Youth & Families: Delco, NC 

Men and Women United for Youth & Families addresses a wide range of issues from food security to environmental justice and leadership. Via RPIC, the organization will bolster its placemaking capacity in rural portions of its service area.

  • United Communities Assistance Network (UCAN!): Supply, NC 

United Communities Assistance Network (UCAN!) will tap RPIC’s technical assistance and coaching for a strategic planning process. UCAN!’s longer term goals include a resource hub for healthy food access, economic development, and entrepreneurship.

  • City of Hinton: Hinton, WV 

Tourism and economic development are on the upswing in Hinton, WV as the region’s recreation economy, anchored by the New River Gorge National Park, continues to grow. RPIC will help Hinton’s city government navigate affordable housing, historic preservation, and other opportunities—especially the prioritization of community needs.

  • Philippi Grand Theater Project (Woodlands supported): Philippi, WV  

The Grand Theater building once anchored Phillipi’s downtown business district. But the building shuttered in the 1990s. RPIC will bolster ongoing restoration efforts as part of a broader economic development and placemaking strategy.

  • Seminole Arts Council, Inc.: Seminole, OK 

Seminole Arts Council is actively engaged in reuse and preservation efforts for historic buildings and public parks. The organization is also working toward “commUNITY” gathering space to promote local cohesion. RPIC will connect the Council’s work with resource development and placemaking best practices.

  • Prek-12 and Beyond: Tallulah, LA 

Pre-12 and Beyond is a grassroots organization that addresses Tallulah’s broad challenges tied to lumber mill closures—while building on underlying assets.  RPIC participation will connect Pre-12 and Beyond with regional and national best practices tied to quality of life, economic vitality, and broadband access.

Policy News from Congress

Housing Assistance Council Statement on FY 2023 Omnibus Bill

This bipartisan agreement maintains funding for USDA’s rural rental housing portfolio and makes a game-changing investment in manufactured housing.

The Housing Assistance Council appreciates Congress continuing to invest in rural communities through the latest omnibus spending bill and hopes that the next Congress will take further steps in 2023 to address the housing crisis in rural America.

The appropriations agreement reached this week makes significant contributions to affordable rural rental housing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s housing programs. It also provides $225 million in funding for a new manufactured housing financing and improvement program to be administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This bipartisan agreement maintains funding for USDA’s rural rental housing portfolio and makes a game-changing investment in manufactured housing,” said HAC CEO David Lipsetz. “Rural communities will use this funding to preserve existing affordable housing, build more, and lay the foundation for a better future.”

More than half of all manufactured homes are in rural places. In May, HAC’s Director of Research and Information Lance George testified to Congress that manufactured housing “should continue to be a high-quality, affordable housing option” for rural America.  By creating the first dedicated funding stream targeted to this essential affordable housing stock, this omnibus spending bill takes a critical first step toward achieving just that.

HAC also appreciates the omnibus’s continued support of capacity building programs through USDA and HUD. Congress has long recognized that housing programs only work when there are local partners helping to build, manage, and maintain affordable homes. With a modest investment in the capacity of small towns’ local housing organizations, rural communities can navigate the complexities of federal programs and modern housing finance. As the only national intermediary dedicated solely to rural housing, HAC is gratified to see HUD’s Rural Capacity Building program receive its first increase in program history, from its founding in 2012 at $5 million to $6 million in FY 2023. This will enable HAC and other RCB grantees to provide training and technical assistance to community-based organizations across rural America.

Yet the omnibus leaves too many rural Americans’ housing problems unaddressed. Most of the housing programs at both USDA and HUD enter 2023 with about the same resources they had in 2022, even as mortgage and rent costs are increasing across the country, USDA-financed rental developments are losing their affordability, and homelessness is increasing in rural areas. HAC calls on the 118th Congress to be bolder – to increase support for proven solutions and to innovate. Both the annual appropriations process and the 2023 Farm Bill offer opportunities for action. HAC’s detailed suggestions can be found here and here.

Everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. Through the upcoming Farm Bill and the next appropriations cycle, the 118th Congress will have the opportunity to make even more transformative investments that could make that vision a reality.

Policy News from Congress

Final FY23 Spending Bill Boosts Some Rural Housing Programs

Most USDA rural housing programs will see modest boosts or flat funding for fiscal year 2023 in the omnibus spending bill congressional leaders released on December 20, 2022, which is expected to be enacted later this week. Funding for the Section 514 farmworker housing program will drop, however, from $28 million in FY22 to $20 million this year. The Community Facilities grant account is hit even harder, falling from $40 million in FY22 to $25.3 million this year, although the bill does add $50 million for CF grants to disaster areas.

— HAC’s analysis of FY23 appropriations for HUD is available here.  —

The bill’s funding levels support rental preservation efforts, although the measure does not decouple (separate) Section 521 Rental Assistance from USDA Section 514 and 515 mortgages. It substantially increases USDA’s Section 538 rental housing loan guarantees, which are used for preservation as well as new construction, from $230 million in FY22 to $400 million in FY23. This program has been fully utilized in the past two years – an indication of strong demand – and the administration’s budget had requested the additional funds. Section 515 direct rental housing loans receive a smaller increase, from $50 million this year to $70 million next year.

The Section 514 farm labor housing loan program, however, is cut from $28 million to $20 million. Section 516 grants hold steady at $10 million.

The bill also supports USDA’s new initiative to improve homeownership opportunities for Native Americans, allocating $7.5 million for Native CDFIs to make Section 502 direct loans to Native Americans.

Emergency funding is provided for some of the rural housing programs, to be used in places where presidentially declared disasters occurred in FY22. The Rural Housing Assistance Grants account – which includes both Section 504 repair grants for low-income elderly homeowners and also Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants for owner-occupied or rental housing – receives $60 million. Community Facilities programs get $75.3 million, $50 of which is specifically for grants to repair essential community facilities. These CF grants can cover up to 75 percent of the cost of a repair.

The bill mandates smoke detectors in rental housing that is constructed, rehabilitated, or repaired with Section 515 or Section 514/516 funds, or funding from any of several HUD rental programs. The requirement will take effect in December 2024.

The table below shows the dollar amounts provided for USDA rural housing and community facilities programs.

USDA Rural Dev. Prog. (dollars in millions) FY22 Final Approp. FY23 Budget FY23 House Bill FY23 Senate Bill FY23 Final
502 Single Fam. Direct $1,250 $1,500 $1,500 $1,500 $1,250
Nat. Amer. Single Fam. Demo 20.8 12 20.8 7.5
502 Single Family Guar. 30,000 30,000 30,000 30,000 30,000
504 VLI Repair Loans 28 50 28 30 28
504 VLI Repair Grants 32 45 32 32 32
515 Rental Hsg. Direct Lns. 50 200 150 100 70
514 Farm Labor Hsg. Lns. 28 50 30 35 20
516 Farm Labor Hsg. Grts. 10 18 16 14 10
521 Rental Assistance 1,450 1,564 1,494 1,488 1,488
523 Self-Help TA 32 40 33 32 32
533 Hsg. Prsrv. Grants 16 30 16 16 16
538 Rental Hsg. Guar. 250 400 300 400 400
Rental Prsrv. Demo. (MPR) 34 75 40 45 36
542 Rural Hsg. Vouchers 45 38 38 50 48
Rental Prsrv. TA 2 0 2 5 2
Community Facil. Loans 2,800 2,800 2,800 2,800 2,800
Community Facil. Grants 40 52 68.1 100 25.3
Rural Cmnty. Dev’t Init. 6 12 8 7 6
Tribal Colleges CF Grts 10 10 10 10 10
Cong. Directed Spending* 126.9 202.3 325.5
Community Facil. Guarantees 650 500 650 650 650

* Congressionally Directed Spending (earmarks) accounts for a large portion of the Community Facilities Grant spending in both the House and Senate bills, and in the final bill. Specific projects, which were listed in the House and Senate committee reports, are catalogued in the explanatory statement for the final bill.

Senate Proposes Rural Housing Funding Increases

The Senate Appropriations Committee proposes rural housing funding levels for the upcoming fiscal year much like those in the administration’s budget request and the bill passed by the House. On July 28, the committee released its version of all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2023, which begins on October 1, 2022.

The fate of these bills is unclear. The Senate has not scheduled action on any of them. The House has passed a “minibus” bill that combines appropriations measures for several agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but the fiscal year is expected to begin with a continuing resolution holding government spending at FY22 levels. Final appropriations are not likely to be completed until after the midterm elections in early November.

— HAC’s analysis of FY23 appropriations for HUD is available here.  —

Homeownership

The Senate committee’s USDA bill would keep most of the rural single-family housing programs at or near their current funding levels. It endorses the request in USDA’s budget to provide almost $21 million to expand the Native American relending pilot program, which enlists a Native Community Development Financial Institution to work with tribes and Native homebuyers.

Rental Housing

The Senate bill would provide $100 million for Section 515, twice as much as in FY22 but lower than the $200 million requested by the administration – which proposed to finance new Section 515 construction for the first time since fiscal year 2011 – and the $150 million in the House bill. Like the House, this bill also rejects USDA’s request for enough Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA) funding to renew the RA contracts created under the American Rescue Plan Act.

To support efforts to preserve existing USDA-financed rental housing, the bill would adopt legislative language proposed in USDA’s budget, allowing RA to be “decoupled” from the Section 515 and Section 514 mortgage programs. As a last resort, if there is no other way to preserve a property as affordable housing, RA could continue to be used even after the mortgage is paid off. The Senate bill would impose a limit on this tactic so that it could be used for no more than 15,000 units in FY23. That ceiling seems unlikely to pose a problem: HAC has reported that 21,693 units left the Section 515 portfolio over a five-year period from early 2016 to 2021, an average of fewer than 4,350 units per year.

In another preservation effort, the bill would more than double technical assistance funding to help nonprofits and public housing authorities purchase and preserve USDA-financed rental properties. The program, which received $2 million in FY22 and was not included in the administration’s budget, would get $5 million.

The explanatory statement released to accompany the bill – equivalent to a committee report for a bill passed by a congressional committee – criticizes USDA for not having developed a rental preservation plan.

Multifamily Technical Assistance Report.—The Committee reminds the Department that the fiscal year 2017 Appropriations Act required the Department to conduct research and identify policy, program reforms, and incentives for preserving rural rental housing and a report summarizing those findings to be submitted to the Committee 2 years later. The report is now 3 years overdue and the Committee directs the Department to submit the completed report within 30 days of enactment of this Act.

Capacity Building

The Senate bill would increase funding for the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) from $6 million in FY22 to $7 million in FY23. The House-passed bill would provide $8 million for RCDI next year, and the administration’s budget requested $12 million.

The Senate bill includes $10 million for the Rural Partners Network. It would also provide $15 million for the Institute for Rural Partnerships, first funded in the FY22 USDA appropriations bill.

Community Facilities

The explanatory statement accompanying the Senate committee’s bill tells USDA to find ways to expand community eligibility for community facilities grants.

Community Facilities Eligibility.—The Committee is concerned by the ineligibility of projects under the Community Facilities Grant program located in significantly rural and low-income areas that are defined as distressed but do not qualify for grant funding under this program. The Department is required to evaluate the program’s income and service area-based eligibility standards and identify ways to approve community access to these grants, including whether basing eligibility on national rather than state median household income could benefit areas located in predominantly poor, rural States.

 

USDA Rural Dev. Prog. (dollars in millions) FY21 Final Approp. Amer. Rescue Plan Act FY22 Final Approp. FY23 Budget FY23 House Bill FY23 Senate Bill
502 Single Fam. Direct $1,000 $656.60 $1,250 $1,500 $1,500 $1,500
Nat. Amer. Single Fam. Demo 20.8 12 20.8
502 Single Family Guar. 24,000 30,000 30,000 30,000 30,000
504 VLI Repair Loans 28 18.3 28 50 28 30
504 VLI Repair Grants 30 32 45 32 32
515 Rental Hsg. Direct Lns. 40 50 200 150 100
514 Farm Labor Hsg. Lns. 28 28 50 30 35
516 Farm Labor Hsg. Grts. 10 10 18 16 14
521 Rental Assistance 1,410 100 1,450 1,564 1,494 1,488
523 Self-Help TA 31 32 40 33 32
533 Hsg. Prsrv. Grants 15 16 30 16 16
538 Rental Hsg. Guar. 230 250 400 300 400
Rental Prsrv. Demo. (MPR) 28 34 75 40 45
542 Rural Hsg. Vouchers 40 45 38 38 50
Rental Prsrv. TA 2 2 0 2 5
Community Facil. Loans 2,800 2,800 2,800 2,800 2,800
Community Facil. Grants 32 40 52 68.1 100
Rural Cmnty. Dev’t Init. 6 6 12 8 7
Tribal Colleges CF Grts 5 10 10 10 10
Cong. Directed Spending* 126.9 202.3
Community Facil. Guarantees 500 650 500 650 650

* Congressionally Directed Spending (earmarks) accounts for a large portion of the proposed Community Facilities Grant spending in both the House and Senate bills. Specific projects are listed in the House and Senate committee reports.

House Passes USDA Funding Bill

July 20, 2022 – The full House of Representatives passed the USDA appropriations bill as part of a “minibus” that combines several funding bills, including those for USDA and HUD. The Senate has not yet begun actions on FY23 appropriations, and a continuing resolution is expected to be needed to begin the fiscal year on October 1, 2022.

House Funding Bill Includes Modest Increases for Some Rural Housing Programs, Though Less Than USDA Requested

On June 14, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved a funding bill for fiscal year 2023, which begins on October 1, 2022. The House bill proposes less funding for several rural housing programs than the administration’s budget did, while also rejecting the administration’s cut in Community Facilities guaranteed loans.

The full committee will consider the bill on June 23.

The House would increase the Section 515 rental housing program and the MPR rental preservation program above current levels, but not to the extent proposed by the administration. It would raise the Rural Community Development Initiative capacity building program from this year’s $6 million to $8 million in FY23 rather than the $12 million USDA requested. The rental preservation technical assistance program would receive $2 million again under the House bill, although USDA did not propose any funding for it.

It is not clear whether the bill is intended to fund renewals of the Section 521 Rental Assistance contracts added by the American Rescue Plan Act, but it proposes lower funding for Section 521 than the administration’s budget, which explicitly stated it did include the new contracts. Also, the House bill does not adopt USDA’s proposal to “decouple” the Section 521 Rental Assistance program from the Section 515 and 514/516 programs, which would allow properties to continue to receive Rental Assistance after their USDA mortgages end.

Like USDA’s budget, the House bill would expand USDA’s pilot program for Native American mortgage lending, which provides funds to Native CDFIs to be reloaned to homebuyers.

Budget Requests Increases in Most Rural Housing Programs

The Biden Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2023 proposes funding increases for almost every U.S. Department of Agriculture rural housing program, along with some important program changes for preservation of aging rental housing.

The March 28, 2022 budget release is only the first step in the process of developing federal appropriations for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2022. HAC held a webinar to review the budget’s contents and what to expect over the coming months; view the slides and recording here.

Rental Housing

The USDA budget proposes to quadruple Section 515 rental housing from $50 million in FY22 to $200 million in FY23, with the funds to be used for preserving existing Section 515 properties. The Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization program, which finances efforts to upgrade and maintain aging units constructed with Section 515 financing or the Section 514/516 farmworker housing program, would jump from $34 million this year to $75 million in FY23.

Farmworker housing loans and grants would almost double, with $6 million in Section 521 Rental Assistance set aside for new Section 514/516 units. The Section 538 loan guarantee program would see a large increase as well. (Details are provided in the table below.)

The $1.564 billion requested for Section 521 Rental Assistance renewals “will enable 272,000 existing contracts to be renewed, including making permanent the approximately 27,000 units that were brought into the program by the American Rescue Plan Act supplemental funding,” according to USDA’s budget explanation. The same document states, however, that RA assisted 284,194 tenant households in FY21.

The budget also asks Congress to “decouple” Rental Assistance from Section 515. Currently the programs are linked: RA cannot be made available to a property unless it has a USDA Section 515 or 514 loan. Separating them, so that RA could be offered after a property pays off its USDA mortgage, would help keep properties affordable for their tenants.

To protect tenants whose properties leave the USDA portfolio without decoupling, the administration proposes to provide $20 million in HUD Tenant Protection Vouchers. Based on the assumption that decoupling and the availability of HUD vouchers will eliminate the need for new USDA vouchers, the budget requests only enough Section 542 funding to renew existing assistance.

Homeownership

The budget proposes to increase funding for all USDA’s homeownership programs. It would also provide $20.8 million to expand the Native American Section 502 Relending pilot program. The pilot has enabled Native Community Development Financial Institutions to assist Native American homebuyers in tribal communities of South Dakota and North Dakota.

Rural Partnership Program

Pursuing an idea proposed in the Build Back Better Act, which has not been passed by Congress, the budget proposes $39 million for the Rural Partnership Program. In a statement about the budget, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described it as “a renewed and expanded initiative to leverage USDA’s extensive network of county-based offices to help people in high poverty counties, including energy communities.”

Placemaking

The budget would provide $3 million for the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge “to provide planning support, technical assistance, and training to foster placemaking activities in rural communities.” [NOTE: This sentence was corrected on March 29 to say $3 million. When this post was published, it stated incorrectly that the amount was $3 billion.]

Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience

All USDA housing production would be required to “improve energy or water efficiency, indoor air quality, or sustainability improvements, implement low-emission technologies, materials, or processes, including zero-emission electricity generation, energy storage, building electrification, or electric car charging station installations; or address climate resilience of multifamily properties.”

 

Policy News from Congress

HAC’s Stakeholder Comments on Rural Housing Service Programs

HAC submitted comments to Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee, in response to their call for recommendations on how to improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS) programs. RHS programs are a critical source of housing for our nation’s small towns and rural places. HAC hopes that Senators Smith and Rounds will use these stakeholder comments to help improve the efficiency and impact of RHS programs, especially as more multifamily properties leave the USDA portfolio.

Topline Takeaways  

  • Multifamily

    HAC strongly recommends that the Senators authorize important multifamily preservation programs and simplify the process for transferring properties to non-profit owners in order to help more properties remain in RHS programs and maintain their affordability. HAC also recommends that the Senators investigate the rental assistance programs available in rural areas and extend these to more rural renters.  

  • Single family

    HAC recommends that the Senators improve the Section 504 program which provides grants for single family home repair. Simplifying and making this program’s funds more accessible would help more families stay in their homes and preserve single family homeownership. 

  • Capacity building

    Many communities have the willingness and desire to help improve their housing opportunities but lack the technical skill or capacity to accomplish their goals. HAC recommends authorizing capacity building programs that would help communities develop the tools they need to thrive. 

  • RHS staffing and operations

    HAC recommends improving the workflow within RHS and updating the technology the RHS staff uses to increase efficiency and help RHS better serve rural communities.  

Read HAC’s Comments

HAC Comments on RHS Reforms