HAC to Expand Work with Community Facilities

For fifty years, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has helped build homes and communities across rural America. Now, we’re working to expand our footprint by working with more communities to develop and rehabilitate community facilities.

Community facilities—such as parks, libraries, hospitals, and childcare centers—provide public services for everyone, making neighborhoods a better place to call home. They not only cultivate a feeling of belonging; they also provide tangible benefits for residents. As HAC’s Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Shonterria Charleston, puts it, “building rural communities is about more than houses. It’s about building the places where people learn, where they grow, and where they get their healthcare.”

Thanks to two grants from the US Department of Agriculture, HAC will work with small towns, including those affecting by natural disasters, to build and rehab much-needed community facilities. In fact, HAC is hiring a Community Facilities Housing Specialist to help us do this work by providing technical assistance to rural organizations. You can learn more about the position here.

Policy News from Congress

Congressional Hearing Addresses Refinancing for Rural Homeowners

On May 6, 2021 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a virtual hearing on the Biden administration’s plans for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development mission area, which covers housing, community facilities, utilities and business. Broadband internet connection was the subject raised most often by members of the subcommittee.

Justin Maxson, the Deputy Under Secretary for RD, delivered written testimony and a prepared statement based on the FY22 budget “blueprint” released by the administration on April 9, which does not include any specifics on USDA’s housing programs.

AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT FUNDS

Some details about the $39 million appropriated for USDA’s single-family direct loan programs in the American Rescue Plan Act, the most recent coronavirus relief package, were provided by Chad Parker, Acting Administrator of the Rural Housing Service. He said the funds will be used to refinance loans to existing USDA borrowers who have been under forbearance during the pandemic.

USDA expects to issue guidance to its staff later in May and then to begin accepting applications for these refinances in late May or early June. USDA anticipates the dollar value of these loans will be about $650 million for Section 502 direct mortgages and $18.8 million for Section 504 home repair loans, Parker said. The $39 million figure in the statute refers to budget authority, the amount it will actually cost the government to provide the new loans. The American Rescue Plan Act also appropriated $100 million to provide Section 521 Rental Assistance for tenants who do not already receive it. USDA has already issued guidance for field staff regarding these funds.

RENTAL PRESERVATION AND OTHER HOUSING TOPICS

Responding to a question from Bishop, Parker reported that USDA has 171 shovel-ready projects in line to receive FY21 funding under the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization Program. In the longer term, he said, it will be important to address the past underfunding of the multifamily programs and to provide Section 521 Rental Assistance for currently unassisted tenants.

Bishop also asked about options for relieving the “subsidy recapture” burden when a homeowner with a Section 502 direct loan sells their home and is then required to repay the subsidy provided through the low-interest USDA mortgage. USDA would welcome a change in that requirement, Parker replied, but it is imposed by statute and would have to be removed by Congress. He noted that the recaptured subsidy is used for the program, so eliminating the recapture requirement would increase the program’s cost.

USDA STAFFING AND LOCAL CAPACITY

Maxson’s testimony emphasized the need to increase Rural Development’s staffing. RD’s “portfolio is currently more than twice as large as it was 10 years ago with a staff that is 30% smaller,” his written statement asserted. In addition, within three years a third of RD’s professional staff will be eligible for retirement.

Bishop noted that local community capacity is also important to ensure full use of USDA’s resources, and Maxson agreed.

Maxson referred several times to what he called the “StrikeForce 2.0” initiative, for example telling Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) that effort would help coordinate among federal agencies in order to meet the needs of the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border. The budget blueprint describes StrikeForce as “a renewed and expanded initiative to leverage USDA’s extensive network of offices to help people in high poverty communities tap into Federal resources.” The original StrikeForce initiative was launched during the Obama Administration and was used in several states.

Appearing with Maxson and Parker, and responding to questions about their agencies, were Karama Neal, Administrator of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and Christopher McLean, Acting Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service.

Policy News from the Administration

Updated – Infrastructure Proposal Includes Housing, Broadband and a new Rural Partnership Program

UPDATED March 31, 2021, 6:00 pm – The Biden administration released a sweeping infrastructure proposal today that includes both housing and rural economic development. Titled “The American Jobs Plan,” the proposal includes a wide array of subjects.

Rural, tribal and underserved areas are mentioned repeatedly in the White House’s fact sheet summarizing the plan, including in the housing section. HAC supports the inclusion of increased rural housing resources in the infrastructure plan, especially around USDA multifamily preservation and capacity building.

HOUSING

Acknowledging the severe shortage of affordable housing options in the United States, the White House would invest $213 billion to produce, preserve and retrofit affordable homes, including 500,000 for low- and middle-income homebuyers. The summary does not indicate how most of these funds would be divided among existing and new programs, except for $40 billion for public housing capital needs.

The proposal would:

  • “Produce, preserve, and retrofit more than a million affordable, resilient, accessible, energy efficient, and electrified housing units. Through targeted tax credits, formula funding, grants, and project-based rental assistance, President Biden’s plan will extend affordable housing rental opportunities to underserved communities nationwide, including rural and tribal areas.
  • “Build and rehabilitate more than 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income homebuyers. President Biden is calling on Congress to take immediate steps to spur the construction and rehabilitation of homes for underserved communities. Specifically, he is calling on Congress to pass the innovative, bipartisan Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA). Offering $20 billion worth of NHIA tax credits over the next five years will result in approximately 500,000 homes built or rehabilitated, creating a pathway for more families to buy a home and start building wealth.
  • “Eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies. For decades, exclusionary zoning laws – like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing – have inflated housing and construction costs and locked families out of areas with more opportunities. President Biden is calling on Congress to enact an innovative, new competitive grant program that awards flexible and attractive funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate such needless barriers to producing affordable housing.
  • “Address longstanding public housing capital needs. Years of disinvestment have left our public housing in disrepair. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing system in America. This funding will address critical life-safety concerns, mitigate imminent hazards to residents, and undertake energy efficiency measures which will significantly reduce ongoing operating expenses. These improvements will disproportionately benefit women, people of color, and people with disabilities.
  • “Put union building trade workers to work upgrading homes and businesses to save families money. President Biden’s plan will upgrade homes through block grant programs, the Weatherization Assistance Program, and by extending and expanding home and commercial efficiency tax credits. President Biden’s plan also will establish a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment into distributed energy resources; retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. These investments have a particular focus on disadvantaged communities that have not yet benefited from clean energy investments.”
RURAL PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM

The administration proposes a new $5 billion Rural Partnership Program “to help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development. This program will empower rural regions by supporting locally-led planning and capacity building efforts, and providing flexible funding to meet critical needs.”

BROADBAND

The proposal calls for building high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach everyone in the country. It would prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and co-operatives because those providers feel “less pressure to turn profits and [have] a commitment to serving entire communities.” It would set aside funds for broadband infrastructure on tribal lands and would consult tribal nations in program administration.

RACIAL JUSTICE

The White House summary refers in several places to racial equity and the need to remedy past discrimination. It notes, for example, that low-income people and people of color are more likely than others to be affected by natural disasters and more likely to lack broadband internet access. It “targets 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities.”

WATER AND WASTEWATER

The plan intends to “upgrade and modernize America’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems, tackle new contaminants, and support clean water infrastructure across rural America. Aging water systems threaten public health in thousands of communities nationwide. President Biden will modernize these systems by scaling up existing, successful programs, including by providing $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. President Biden’s plan also provides $10 billion in funding to monitor and remediate PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water and to invest in rural small water systems and household well and wastewater systems, including drainage fields.”

Ground Truth from Rural Practitioners Cover

Ground Truth from Rural Practitioners

Ground Truth from Rural Practitioners Cover

Local and regional rural-serving organizations shape and strengthen the fabric of their communities. But what kinds of organizations are these? What is of the range of topics they work on? What expertise do they have—and what expertise do they need? Based on the findings from a survey of over 350 different rural-serving organizations in 45 states, this research brief strives to provide policy makers, funders and other well-meaning folks who want to do right by rural with information on the inner workings of rural-serving organizations. The survey results highlight policy, investments and partnerships that are better tuned to rural realities and the self-identified strengths, expertise and needs of rural-serving organizations. It also demonstrates the resilience and strength of rural organizations despite great odds, while guiding national partners and philanthropy to build on and invest in their success.

Addressing Food Insecurity: Research Note Cover

Addressing Food Insecurity: Research Note

Addressing Food InsecurityFood insecurity negatively affects childhood development and rural areas have higher rates of food insecurity. The Summer Meals program only serves 1 in 7 eligible students, but an increasing number of USDA multi-family properties serve as meal sites for this program. Stronger and continued collaboration between housing facilities and child nutrition programs will reduce rural childhood hunger during the summer months.

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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.
Economic Expansion Eludes Rural America

Economic Expansion Eludes Rural America

rrn-poverty-estimates-2016 CoverWhile the nation is finally beginning to fully recover from the Great Recession that officially ended in 2009, rural America continues to lag behind economically. Released today, the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015, reveals that both metropolitan areas and the nation as a whole experienced statistically significant decreases in poverty, and increases in median household income, reflecting overall economic improvement. Rural areas, on the other hand, stand out from an otherwise positive report with lower levels of economic gain.

Hunger and Housing in Rural America: Intersecting Challenges and Solutions

The Summer 2013 special edition issue of Rural Voices focuses on Hunger and Housing in Rural America. With housing affordability an increasing challenge, and hunger a more pronounced issue, how are rural communities combatting these issues?

View from Washington

Supporting Rural America’s Housing and Nutrition Needs
by Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services
The USDA offers programs that support rural communities to address their housing and food security needs.

FEATURES

Rural Hunger and Housing: Challenges and Opportunities
by Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural
Rural America faces challenges and opportunities in housing and food security.

Building Homes and Feeding the Hungry in Rural Pennsylvania
by Kate Thompson, Fayette County Community Action Agency
Community action programs can play an important role in addressing both housing and food security needs in rural America.

Farmworker Housing: Implications for Food Security and Food Safety
by Sara A. Quandt and Thomas A. Arcury, Wake Forest School of Medicine
Although they help feed America, farmworkers often face substandard conditions and food insecurity at their own tables.

Growing Food and Housing Security in South Dakota’s Native American Reservations
by Lauren Haas Finkelstein, Running Strong for American Indian Youth
South Dakota’s Native American community is fighting hunger and substandard housing to protect their children and future leaders.

Food Justice in the Rural Southeast
by John Zippert, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
Southern farmers are forming cooperatives and coalitions to secure food and housing justice while overcoming a history of discriminatory land and farm policies.

Developing Leadership to Address Health & Hunger
Interview with Starry Krueger, Rural Development Leadership Network
Rural Voices recently interviewed Starry Krueger of the Rural Development Leadership Network, about a new leadership development program in Mississippi.

MAPS & VIGNETTES

Hunger & Poverty in Rural America (jpg)
MAP – Many rural communities struggle to access enough nutritious food for their families.

Addressing Child Hunger in Rural New Mexico
Share Our Strength

What are Rural Food Deserts?
Map

Infographics

Add your Response

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 at the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

Rural Economies and Industry Research Brief

Rural Economies and Industry

Rural Economies and Industry

rrn-econ-cover-thbHAC’s seventh Rural Research Note takes a brief look into rural America’s economies and industries. Rural economies, and people in general, are often perceived as being heavily reliant on farming and other natural resource industries. While it is true that the majority of these industries are located in rural places, they employ only 5.5% of rural and small town workers. Overall, the sector-by-sector employment profile of rural America is surprisingly similar to that of suburban and urban America.

This Rural Research Note presents employment data and maps that highlight the similarities, and differences, between rural America and more densely populated regions. Additionally, the effects of large agribusiness are explored within the context of small family farming.

July 2012