HAC News: April 19, 2019

News Formats. pdf

April 19, 2019
Vol. 48, No. 8

Appropriators express support for rural housing • National Endowment for the Arts taps HAC for the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design • New funding available • HUD asks for input on maximizing Opportunity Zones’ benefits • Comments from tribes requested on Section 184 regulation changes • Rural needs noted at Community Reinvestment Act hearing • House committee approves the Ending Homelessness Act • Housing Week of Action scheduled May 30-June 5 • National poll shows strong support for federal action on affordable housing • Hearing spotlight continues on rural housing affordability • RuralSTAT • Recent publications of interest • HAC offers Section 502 packaging training for nonprofits in May • Need capital for your affordable housing project?

HAC News Formats. pdf

April 19, 2019
Vol. 48, No. 8

Appropriators express support for rural housing.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared before the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee on April 9 and the Senate subcommittee on April 11 to defend the Administration’s budget request. Responding to a question from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Perdue said he could not disagree on the importance of the rural housing programs, but suggested the Administration may have proposed no funding for most of them because it thought they could be moved to HUD – something not mentioned in the budget documents. Sen. Merkley and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) both opposed the proposed move of ERS and NIFA. Legislators from both parties spoke in favor of improving rural broadband service.

National Endowment for the Arts taps HAC for the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design.
The NEA has selected HAC, along with buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, to carry out the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design. With the HAC partnership, CIRD will maintain competitive funding for small and tribal communities to host multi-day design workshops, helping to turn good ideas into reality. CIRD will reach up to 20 additional communities with peer learning and design-rooted capacity building, coupled with support for navigating funding opportunities. In late May CIRD will release a Request for Applications, inviting communities to apply for the program. Join CIRD’s mailing list here. HAC CEO David Lipsetz shared his thoughts on the new initiative.

New funding available

  • USDA’s ReConnect Program will fund state and local governments, tribes, nonprofits, for-profits, limited liability companies and coops to provide broadband infrastructure in rural areas with populations under 20,000. Applications are due May 31 for grants, June 21 for loan/grant combinations and July 12 for loans.
  • Rural Cooperative Development Grants will be made to nonprofits and public or private institutions of higher education to help individuals and businesses start, expand or improve rural cooperatives and other mutually owned businesses. Apply by June 3.
  • Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants or Planning and Action Grants are available to nonprofits, PHAs, local governments and tribal entities in communities with severely distressed public or HUD-assisted housing. Apply by June 10.
  • Family Self-Sufficiency grants are offered for PHAs that did not receive FY16, FY17 or FY18 FSS grants. Applications are due June 13.

HUD asks for input on maximizing Opportunity Zones’ benefits.
HUD seeks recommendations on actions it can take to encourage public and private investment “in urban and economically distressed communities, including qualified Opportunity Zones.” Comments are due June 17, 2019. For more information, contact Daniel Marcin, HUD, 202-402-2967.

Comments from tribes requested on Section 184 regulation changes.
HUD has drafted changes to the regulation governing the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee program and seeks comments from tribes by June 3. The proposed rule will be published later in the Federal Register for general comment. For more information, contact HUD staff.

Rural needs noted at Community Reinvestment Act hearing.
On April 9, the House Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held a hearing entitled “The Community Reinvestment Act: Assessing the Law’s Impact on Discrimination and Redlining.” The hearing focused on how CRA could better reach underserved communities, and rural members like Reps. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and David Kustoff (R-TN) brought up the importance of making sure CRA works well for rural America. Some of the experts testifying at the hearing also specifically highlighted rural CRA needs.

House committee approves the Ending Homelessness Act.
On March 28 the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 1856, which would provide $13.27 billion in new funding over five years for new affordable housing units, new vouchers, case management and technical assistance. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Housing Week of Action scheduled May 30-June 5.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition offers online guides for how to plan activities such as rallies, press events, teach-ins, meetings with elected officials and letter-writing campaigns, as well as sample materials and content including talking points, tweets, op-eds, press releases, social media images and posters.

National poll shows strong support for federal action on affordable housing.
A recent poll commissioned by the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign through Hart Research Associates found 85% of respondents believe that ensuring everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a top national priority. Almost as many (83%) agree that elected officials are not paying enough attention to affordable housing needs. Seventy percent of city dwellers, as well as 59% of suburbanites and 53% of rural residents, say housing affordability is a problem in their area.

Hearing spotlight continues on rural housing affordability.
Continuing a theme from testimony in front of the House subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance, HAC discussed the issue of an affordability crisis in rural housing with various media outlets. HAC’s research director Lance George spoke with CBS News about Housing’s hidden crisis: Rural Americans struggle to pay rent. Additionally, CEO David Lipsetz sat for an interview with Newsy to elaborate on the characteristics of the crisis and highlight possible solutions.

RuralSTAT. An estimated 20% of homes in rural and small town areas are vacant – which is nearly twice the vacancy rate for suburban and urban communities. For more information on housing vacancy in your community, visit HAC’s Rural Data Portal.

Recent publications of interest

  • 2019 Advocates’ Guide: A Primer on Federal Affordable Housing & Community Development Programs is the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual update of its overview of programs and policy tools.
  • 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, released by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, focuses on the link between housing and health at the county level, finding that severe housing cost burden affects health. The report website allows researchers to explore how healthy different counties are and to review policy solutions including mixed use development and legal support for tenants in eviction hearings.
  • USDA’s Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, presents numerous indicators for U.S. farms and farm producers. The data from 2017 indicated that the number of overall farms declined by 3.2 percent from 2012, and the median age of farm producers increased to 57.5 years.
  • Any Federal Infrastructure Package Should Boost Investment in Low-Income Communities, published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, details the needs of low-income communities that could be addressed through a federal infrastructure package, including affordable housing for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Dying Too Soon: County-level Disparities in Premature Death by Rurality, Race, and Ethnicity, a brief from the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center, reports that the highest rates of premature death were observed in counties where a majority of residents were non-Hispanic Black or American Indian/Alaskan Native. For all racial/ethnic groups (except American Indian/Alaskan Native, for which comparison data was lacking), premature deaths were significantly higher in rural counties than urban ones.
  • The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, reports that only 37 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households nationwide and there is a shortage in every state.
  • Paycheck to Paycheck, by the National Housing Conference, offers a report and database with information on housing affordability for working households.
  • The State of Homelessness in America, issued by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, reviews data at the national and state levels to show trends in homelessness, homeless assistance and at-risk populations.

HAC offers Section 502 packaging training for nonprofits in May.
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 May 7-9 in Kansas City, MO. 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).

Environmental review for RD infrastructure projects (11/23/18)

Agency USDA RD
Action Final rule and proposed rule
Date 11/23/18
Link https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/23/2018-25523/rural-development-environmental-regulation-for-rural-infrastructure-projects

USDA RD wants to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its environmental reviews for infrastructure. This does not apply to housing programs; it is relevant for broadband, electricity, water, sewer, etc. This rule change gives the RD Administrators limited flexibility to obligate funds for infrastructure projects prior to the completion of the environmental review process where the assurance that funds will be available is important for community health, safety, or economic development. The environmental review process must be completed prior to disbursement of any RD funds.
RD is posting this simultaneously as a “direct final rule” (URL above) and a proposed rule. It will be effective January 7, 2019, unless RD receives significant adverse comments or notice of an intent to submit a significant adverse comment by December 24, 2018.

Rural Voices: What Broadband Means for Rural America

What Broadband Means for Rural America

The internet has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives, influencing how we learn, work, and communicate. This edition of Rural Voices 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.


Access to High-Speed Broadband Opens New Doors for Rural Communities
Senator Angus King

The federal government has the power and resources to expand rural broadband.


A Change in Mindset Opens a World of New Possibilities
by Dr. Roberto Gallardo

The Digital Age requires a new way to think about how we build communities.

Broadband Makes Rural Communities Stronger
by Dr. Kathleen Annette

Rural communities in Minnesota understand the value of broadband and strive to widen access.

Rural Maryland County Finds Multiple Ways to Expand Broadband
by Cheryl DeBerry

Garrett County becomes a model for connecting its residents to the internet.

Native Americans Create a Connected Future
by Katie Watson

Tribal members help themselves by building infrastructure and serving their communities with tribally run internet access.

Rural Broadband Expansion Creates Opportunities for All

Rural Voices sat down with Brendan Carr, Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, to learn more about the importance of broadband in rural areas, and how the FCC is working to provide access for more Americans no matter where they live.

What is Washington, DC, Doing About the Rural Digital Divide?
by Allie Bohm

Actions underway at the FCC and in Congress could improve or impede rural broadband access.

Public-Private Partnership Will Build Out Affordable Broadband in Rural America
by Sarah Tyree

The Universal Service Fund supports the deployment of broadband in rural areas where access costs are high.


The Digital Divide in Rural America

The Digital Divide in Rural America The Digital Divide in Rural America

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.

Disconnect in Rural America - Rural Research Brief

Disconnect in Rural America

Disconnect in Rural America - Rural Research NoteDespite mass adoption, greater functionality, and more access points, the internet remains out of reach for many Americans, especially those in rural communities. One of the primary reasons for this disconnect is geography, where long distances between homes raise the cost of installing the infrastructure for broadband in rural areas, leaving rural homes with less access to fast, reliable internet.

As broadband becomes less a luxury and more a daily necessity, this technology gap can leave segments of the rural population technologically behind, causing slow economic growth, and limited access to advancements in areas, such as telemedicine.

More Than One-Quarter of Rural Homes Do Not Have Internet Subscriptions

Overall, 27 percent of all rural households lack any type of broadband subscription, compared to 17.1 percent of metropolitan households. This amounts to more than 4.7 million rural households without a broadband internet subscription – cellular data plan, cable/DSL/fiber optic, or satellite.

In addition, 129,963 rural households with an internet subscription are still using dial-up. This is 1 percent of all rural households with internet subscriptions, while only .04 percent of subscribers in metro areas have dial-up subscriptions.

The digital gap applies to most types of internet access, as measured by subscription data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Broadband subscription rates, at least in part, reflect access to the internet based on existing infrastructure and affordability. For example, rural households are less likely to have a cellular data plan than metropolitan area households, 57 percent to 70 percent. The one exception to this gap is satellite-based service. Nine percent of rural Disparities in Rural Broadband Subscriptions Across Income Levelshouseholds, compared to 6 percent of metropolitan area households use satellite internet services. Greater isolation and more sparse populations in rural areas likely explain the more common use of satellite technology, where cable or fiber optic services are not available.

The broadband gap between rural and metropolitan area households exists at all income levels. For households with incomes less than $20,000 a year, rural broadband subscriptions are 10 percentage points lower than in metropolitan areas. For households with incomes from $20,000 to $75,000 the gap persists albeit slightly smaller at 7 percentage points. Even at higher income levels – $75,000 and above – rural households have lower broadband subscription rates, 91 percent to 95 percent.

The same disparity in connectivity exists at all age ranges as well. Rural residents under 18 years old are less likely to have a broadband subscription compared to their metropolitan counterparts, 84 percent to 89 percent. The trend follows for residents between 18 and 64 years old, 81 percent to 88 percent, and for those 65 years and older, 62 percent to 73 percent.

So, while income and age may exacerbate the disparity in broadband subscriptions, subscription rates in rural areas continue to trail metropolitan areas across the board.

Rural Homes Lack Device Diversity

Rural households also have fewer computing devices than their metropolitan area counterparts. About 83 percent of rural households have at least one computing devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.), while 90 percent of metropolitan area households do. Furthermore, less than 67 percent of rural households have at least two devices, compared to almost 75 percent of metropolitan households.

Rural households with access to some type of computing device are more often limited, with access to either a smartphone or a desktop computer, rather than having the capability and benefits of both forms of technology. While seemingly a small issue, fewer devices directly impacts rural households’ ability to take advantage of ever increasing technologies. This means that a rural home buyer with only a smartphone may not be able to obtain detailed information on mortgage products, and a veteran without a smartphone cannot get on the road directions to a VA healthcare facility for an appointment.

What the Disconnect Means

While it may not be surprising that rural households have less broadband access and fewer devices, it can be consequential. Less dense areas where there are large physical gaps in infrastructure is where the internet can be the best utilized. Households without broadband subscriptions are unable to access services effectively, such as online banking and shopping, telemedicine, and more reliable communication.

Investing in broadband infrastructure in rural areas can help diminish the disparities in access between rural and metropolitan households. While initial infrastructure investments may not be deemed profitable by traditional providers currently, small and local municipalities may need to consider creative methods of bringing broadband to their rural communities.

“Rural” in this Note refers to population and territory outside of a Metropolitan Area, as designated by the Office of Management and Budget.

Administration Calls for Rural Broadband, Jobs, Housing, and More

President Trump addressed rural issues on January 8, 2018 at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention, and signed two documents related to improving rural broadband connections. A Presidential Memorandum instructs the Department of Interior to allow rural broadband installation on federal property. An Executive Order requires agencies to use standardized forms and contracts in order to streamline the process for these installations on federal property.

At the event, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue also presented the President with a report from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which he chaired.

The report groups its comments and recommendations into five sections: e-connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technological innovation, and rural economy. Affordable housing is included in the quality of life category along with education, healthcare, transportation, utilities, other infrastructure, and community resiliency planning.

Improving access to technology, reducing duplicative programs and regulatory burdens, and attracting private capital are among the recurring themes in the report.

The report describes housing issues this way:

In some places, housing affordability has become a major challenge, either because housing costs have risen rapidly or because incomes are insufficient for self-supported housing at market rates. These burdens are increasing among rural renters, in both high-amenity areas and in communities with high poverty rates. In such parts of rural America, addressing the shortage of local jobs and a lack of connection to those job opportunities will be a major factor in overcoming these challenges.

Under “objectives and recommended actions,” the housing section proposes:

Innovate Options for Rural Housing – Develop a set of shared best practices for increasing homeownership, reducing homelessness in rural communities, and building robust community infrastructure. Such practices should include recommendations for federal, state, tribal and local action to strengthen investments in rural housing and provide technical assistance. The Task Force recommends options such as the Department of Housing & Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, and Department of Education jointly evaluating federal rural housing policies and programs, and targeting existing resources to best support sustainable housing in rural communities. To optimize rural housing options for the workforce needed in the current and future economies, private sector organizations’ resource deployment to rural areas can also be incentivized.

The report’s section on the rural workforce notes that “farmers often have difficulty finding American citizen and lawful permanent resident workers to fill” production agriculture jobs.

As labor instability grows, seasonal farmers are increasingly turning to [the] H-2A visa program to ensure that their foreign-born workers are working legally in the United States. The inefficiencies and administrative burden of the H-2A program are well-communicated by farmers. The White House is addressing farmers’ concerns through an interagency effort to implement policy and regulatory changes to improve the … H-2A program. The goal of this initiative is to ensure that farmers have access to the lawful workforce that is needed.

The task force proposes a three-part structure to continue its work and implement actions:

  • a Federal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity;
  • a Stakeholder Advisory Council to advise the commission; and
  • a Managing Director office to oversee and coordinate the work.

Over half of rural Americans Lack Benchmark Broadband Access

The 2015 Broadband Progress Report from the Federal Communications Commission indicates that over half of rural Americans lack access to benchmark broadband connections. For rural tribal lands, approximately 85 percent lack proper broadband.