The Persistence of Poverty in Rural America

Persistently poor counties are classified as having poverty rates of 20 percent or more for three consecutive decades. Using this metric, the Housing Assistance Council estimates there were 377 persistently poor counties in 2020 using data from the Census Bureau’s recently released 2016-2020 American Community Survey, the 2006-2010 American Community Survey and the 2000 Decennial Census of Population and Housing.

Download Research Brief (PDF)

House on Native American Land, ND

Self-Determination in Tribal Housing: Reflections on NAHASDA’s Impact

Twenty-five years ago, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) overhauled federal housing policy for tribal lands. One of its primary goals was to respect the sovereignty of tribes by giving them more power to determine how their federal housing funding is spent. Reauthorizing NAHASDA and making targeted improvements to build upon its first twenty-five years of achievements is one of HAC’s 2022 Rural Housing Policy Priorities.

We asked four experts on housing in Indian Country to reflect on NAHASDA and its impact.


Tony Walters

Tony Walters

Tony Walters, Executive Director, National American Indian Housing Council

Washington, DC

Tony Walters explains that NAHASDA “definitely has been a success.” By expanding the capacity of tribal housing authorities to meet the needs of their communities, the act has improved the quality and quantity of tribal housing.

Under NAHASDA, tribal housing authorities receive dedicated, reliable funding. As Walters points out, this steady stream of funds has “put tribes into a position where they can build homes quickly.” It has also increased their capacity, making other federal housing programs (like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit) more accessible. While tribes undoubtedly need increased resources to offset thirty years of flat funding, NAHASDA has put many tribal housing authorities closer to their goal of being “one stop shops” for all the housing needs of Tribe members. Simply put, there’d be fewer homes without NAHASDA, Walters explains.

Additionally, self-determination has given tribes more ability to tailor housing development to their specific needs. Unlike the former system of federally built homes, the current system allows tribes the flexibility to include important “cultural elements” like community centers and to decide the specific number and location of new homes.

“Housing is the foundation of any community,” Walters notes. While NAHASDA has helped strengthen the foundations of many communities, Walters cautions that increased funding, capacity, and cooperation between government programs are needed to prevent tribal housing projects from “falling through the cracks.” The solution, as Walters sees it, is to expand on the work of NAHASDA by strengthening capacity building and increasing resources.


Twila Martin-KeKahbah

Twila Martin-KeKahbah

Twila Martin-Kekahbah, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and HAC board member

Belcourt, ND

Twila Martin-Kekahbah opposed NAHASDA when it was proposed, and still believes that the law has failed to live up to its intentions. While the homes built under the law are successes, they’re nowhere near what is needed.

As she explains, the law recognizes the importance of tribal sovereignty, but it doesn’t provide the level of financial support or assistance necessary to help tribes build their capacity. In other words, NAHASDA’s model of self-determination doesn’t work if tribes don’t have the funding or capacity to act on it. Martin-Kekahbah noted that under NAHASDA, federal experts withdrew from areas where they’d been running housing programs, leaving tribal housing authorities unprepared for the responsibilities before them.

While the intentions of the act were noble, she is left asking a challenging question: “Why would housing be so bad right now if NAHASDA was so great?”


Rebecca Patnaude-Olander

Rebecca Patnaude-Olander

Rebecca Patnaude-Olander, Executive Director, Turtle Mountain Housing Authority

Belcourt, ND

Rebecca Patnaude-Olander explained that NAHASDA’s self-determination only allows her housing authority to “be self-determining within guidelines” established by the statute. The Turtle Mountain Housing Authority spends 90% of its budget on operations and upkeep of existing units, with very little left over for new development. While the choice of how to spend federal funds is useful, with so little funding, it’s a “moot point.”

Patnaude-Olander also noted concerns over the structure of funding under NAHASDA. Funding is tied to the homes in a housing authority’s portfolio, which in the case of the Turtle Mountain Housing Authority is “basically the housing stock built under the Housing Act of 1937.” When homes leave the portfolio for any reason—including when they are paid off by tribal families under previous home ownership programs or when it’s no longer feasible to continue to rehab an older unit—funding is affected and may decrease. This makes it even harder to maintain existing units, let alone develop new ones. Additionally, she noted that the law creates a “Catch 22”: many units are vacant because they are too expensive to repair, but vacant units may be subject to losing their federal funding, leaving even fewer resources to address tribal housing needs.

Still, Patnaude-Olander doesn’t have an entirely negative view of NAHASDA. As she explains, without NAHASDA, her community wouldn’t have the ability to maintain its current housing. Plus, the law’s built-in consultation mechanisms give tribes “a seat at the table” for new federal regulations. Still, the model is far from true self-determination. After all, NAHASDA’s housing programs, like all programs, “need the necessary funding allocated to effectively run them.”


Dave Castillo

Dave Castillo

Dave Castillo, CEO, Native Community Capital and HAC board member

Tempe, AZ

Dave Castillo began his career the year after NAHASDA was signed into law. As he explains it, his colleagues held the expectation that this law would open a new era in tribal housing. “NAHASDA created opportunity,” he explains, but it required tribes to seize it.

The opportunity created by NAHASDA hasn’t yet been fully actualized, in Castillo’s view. With a “severe lack of precedent” developing new properties, instead of just maintaining them, and without the necessary capacity building, many tribal housing authorities were unable to take full advantage of the opportunities before them.

Additionally, NAHASDA hasn’t completely succeeded at bringing more funding to tribal housing. Under the law’s “regressive” funding formula, housing authorities lose funding when homes leave their portfolio. Also, since there is an expectation that tribes will leverage their NAHASDA allocation with other grants or private investment—which has been difficult if not impossible to attract—many innovative tribal housing initiatives have stalled. To make matters worse, the legislation’s goal of stimulating mortgage lending on tribal trust lands has been undercut by a loophole which gives banks credit for loans made to tribal members living off-reservation.

While Castillo has seen little “recognition of [NAHASDA’s] shortcomings,” (reauthorization of the law has failed every year since 2013) the law still contains valuable opportunities. For example, it requires federal agencies to negotiate new housing rules with tribes, a process known as “negotiated rulemaking.” In the end, Castillo takes a nuanced view on NAHASDA’s legacy. It provides an incredible opportunity, yet “we are failing” to meet Indian Country’s housing needs, even with NAHASDA.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Recommends a Focus on Racial and Geographic Equity in FHFA Comments

HAC submitted comments in response to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Request for Input (RFI) on the Enterprise Equitable Housing Finance Plan framework. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) have been instructed to submit Equitable Housing Finance Plans to FHFA by the end of 2021. The Plans will frame the Enterprises’ goals and action plans to advance equity in housing finance for the next three years. These plans will work alongside other FHFA efforts, including Duty to Serve, the importance of which HAC has long championed. HAC applauds the focus on equity outlined in this RFI, and encourages consideration of the unique needs of rural communities of color in the creation of the Equitable Housing Finance Plans.

Key Takeaways

  • Limited Activity

    Enterprise activity in rural communities of color has been very limited.

  • Support Capacity Building

    Enterprise support for capacity building and access to capital are critical factors necessary to build racial and geographic equity in rural places

  • Rural is Different

    Rural realities must be considered in the creation of the plans

  • Stakeholder participation

    Stakeholder engagement in the process of creating and revising the plans will be key

FHFA Equitable Housing Finance Plan Comments 10.25.21
Policy News from Congress

Updated Sept. 14 – Rural Rental Housing and Repairs for Homeowners Included in Draft Bill

UPDATE September 14, 2021 – More rural housing funding has been added to the House Financial Services Committee’s portion of the reconciliation package. It now includes:

  • $4.36 billion for new construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of Section 515 rental housing and Section 514/516 farmworker housing;
  • $200 million for Section 521 Rental Assistance;
  • $70 million in budget authority for Section 502 direct homeownership loans (estimated to support loans totaling about $3.7 billion);
  • $95 million for Section 504 repair grants; and
  • $25 million for Section 523 self-help.

The bill sets no time limits for spending most of these funds, although the Rental Assistance money would expire on September 30, 2024.

Funding for HUD’s Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) was also added when the draft was revised. An additional $50 million would be available for SHOP over 10 years. As noted below, the bill provides substantial new funding for numerous HUD programs.

The Financial Services Committee began its consideration of the bill on September 13 and is continuing on September 14. The markup session will also consider a bill to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), which would establish a new annual 5 percent setaside for tribes under USDA’s Section 502, 504, 515, 533, and 538 programs, as well as the Rural Utilities Service programs.

The Financial Service Committee’s portion of the reconciliation bill will be combined with pieces from other committees to create the full $3.5 trillion package. The House is expected to approve it. Then it will be considered in the Senate, where it needs only a majority vote to pass, but it is not yet clear whether enough Senators will vote for it.


September 9, 2021 – Congress’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package includes $5 billion for USDA’s rural rental housing programs and $100 million for repairs to rural owner-occupied homes. The House Financial Services Committee released legislative text on September 9, providing details that were not previously available.

The $5 billion rural rental total would be used for new construction of Section 515 rental housing and 514/516 farmworker housing, and for preserving existing properties through the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization program.

USDA’s Section 504 grant program, which covers the costs of health and safety repairs to owner-occupied homes in rural areas, would receive $100 million. These grants are usually available only to homeowners age 62 or older, but that age restriction would be waived for this pool of funds. The requirement that homeowners have very low incomes would remain in place.

The bill would also provide significant funding for numerous HUD programs including $35 billion for HOME and $8.5 billion for Community Development Block Grants. The colonias on the U.S.-Mexico border would receive a $1 billion setaside of CDBG funds.

The  Financial Services Committee will mark up this bill on September 13. (At the same session the committee will also consider two other bills, one to assist renters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the federal eviction moratorium, and one to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.)

All funds appropriated through the reconciliation bill would be in addition to the usual annual funding for these programs. Congress has not completed work on USDA’s or HUD’s annual appropriations for fiscal year 2022, which begins on October 1, 2021. The year is likely to begin with a continuing resolution holding programs at their FY21 levels.

HAC in the News

Rural Veterans and Local Nonprofits Receive Critical Housing Support

Contact: Shonterria Charleston
(202) 842-8600

Rural Veterans and Local Nonprofits Receive Critical Housing Support

Funded by The Home Depot Foundation

Washington, DC, August 16, 2021 – Veterans and their families in 10 rural communities will have better lives, thanks to The Home Depot Foundation and the Housing Assistance Council. The Foundation is awarding grants totaling $295,000 to 10 local nonprofit housing agencies around the country to preserve housing for veterans in rural America.

The grant is part of The Home Depot Foundation’s mission to improve the homes and lives of U.S. veterans and invest $500 million in veteran causes by 2025. Many veterans and their families face major housing challenges, often exacerbated by issues related to unemployment, age and service-related disabilities. The Home Depot Foundation and the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) are dedicated to giving back to those who have answered the highest call of service to our nation.

As part of its Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans (AHRV) Initiative, HAC works with The Home Depot Foundation to administer grants that bolster and support the work of rural nonprofit housing agencies to deliver critical housing support to veterans.

“HAC’s continued partnership with The Home Depot Foundation is now even more critical in strengthening the capacity of local rural organizations to build and preserve veteran housing units across rural America,” said David Lipsetz, HAC’s CEO. “Together we’ve been able to support a nimble response to the housing challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As rural America is home to a disproportionately high number of service women and men, HAC remains deeply committed to supporting our nation’s service women and men by uplifting local nonprofits and their work to house and ensure the safe habitability of their homes and rural communities.

The grantee organizations – described below – provide a range of programs. With the grants, veterans who own homes in Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee will obtain critical repair assistance. Altogether, 55 veterans and their families will benefit from these grants.

About The Home Depot Foundation 

The Home Depot Foundation works to improve the homes and lives of U.S. veterans, train skilled tradespeople to fill the labor gap, and support communities impacted by natural disasters. Since 2011, the Foundation has invested more than $375 million in veteran causes and improved more than 50,000 veteran homes and facilities. The Foundation has pledged to invest half of a billion dollars in veteran causes by 2025 and $50 million in training the next generation of skilled tradespeople through the Path to Pro program.

To learn more about The Home Depot Foundation visit and follow the Foundation on Twitter @HomeDepotFound and on Facebook and Instagram @HomeDepotFoundation.

About the Housing Assistance Council
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 solution for rural communities.

About the Grantees

  • Bogalusa Rebirth, Bogalusa, LA will utilize $30,000 to provide critically needed rehabilitation for three (3) veteran homes, prioritizing women veterans and those needing wheelchair accessibility features. For additional information on Bogalusa Rebirth, visit their website at
  • Community Action Commission of Fayette County, Washington Court House, OH will utilize $30,000 to rehabilitate ten (10) veteran-owned homes with health, safety, accessibility, and critical roof repairs or replacements. For additional information on Community Action Commission of Fayette County, visit their website at
  • Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc., Tuscaloosa, AL will utilize $30,000 to rehabilitate six (6) veteran homes from Bibb, Dallas, Fayette, Hale, Green, Lamar, Perry, Pickens, or Sumter counties. For additional information on Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc., visit their website at
  • Creative Compassion, Inc., Crossville, TN will utilize $30,000 to provide critically needed home repairs for five (5) veterans through partnerships with local Department of Veteran Affairs assistance offices and veteran-focused nonprofits in Cumberland and Fentress counties. For additional information on Creative Compassion, Inc., visit their website at
  • Appalachia Service Project, Johnson City, TN will utilize $30,000 to provide four (4) veterans with critical repairs and/or assist in constructing new homes for homeless veterans in Central Appalachia. For additional information on Grants and Strategic Corporate Partnerships Appalachia Service Project, visit their website at
  • Habitat for Humanity Orange County, Chapel Hill, NC will utilize $25,000 to support the repair of four (4) rural veteran homes in Orange County, NC. For additional information on Habitat for Humanity Orange County, visit their website at
  • Home Works of America, Columbia, SC will utilize $30,000 to assist ten (10) veteran homeowners with critical roof replacements. For additional information on Home Works of America, visit their website at
  • White Mountain Apache Housing Authority, Whiteriver, AZ, will utilize $30,000 to support the rehabilitation of three (3) veteran owned units on the Fort Apache Reservation. For additional information on White Mountain Apache Housing Authority, visit their website at
  • Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, Inc., Wilmington, NC, will utilize $30,000 to support the repair of five (5) veteran owned homes in their service area. For additional information on Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, Inc., visit their website at


Policy News from the Administration

HAC Recommends FHFA and the GSEs Prioritize Addressing Inequity

HAC submitted comments in response to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Request for Input on the Enterprises’ 2022-2024 Duty to Serve Underserved Markets Plans. Through the Duty to Serve mandate, the Enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are tasked with increasing liquidity and investment capital in three traditionally underserved markets: Rural Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Affordable Housing Preservation. HAC’s comment noted that secondary housing market policy is and has historically been part of a system that is delivering vastly different outcomes for people depending on where they are born – and this inequity must be addressed by more ambitious Duty to Serve investment and purchase goals.

Key Takeaways from HAC’s Comments

  • Be Ambitious

    More ambitious purchase and investment goals are needed as we enter the next phase of Duty to Serve.

  • Prioritize Equity

    Racial and geographic equity should be core to the Duty to Serve mission.

  • Encourage Partnership

    Strong rural partnerships are essential to Duty to Serve’s success.

  • Measure Success

    More transparent data is needed for stakeholders to truly understand and evaluate the success of Duty to Serve.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Recommends Federal Actions for Rural Equity

HAC submitted comments in response to an Office of Management and Budget request for input on whether federal agency policies and actions equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities, including rural residents. Noting that rural and persistently poor places have historically been and continue to be underserved by federal programs, HAC recommended a focus on capacity building, access to capital, and proactive and deliberate tailoring of federal programs to produce lasting rural equity.

Key Takeaways from HAC’s Comments


  • Rural Inclusion

    HAC is thrilled to see rural and persistently poor places included explicitly in the Executive Order on equity that President Biden released on his first day in office, and that is the basis for this OMB effort.

  • Historic Disinvestment

    Rural and persistently poor places have historically been and continue to be underserved by federal programs.

  • Focus on Equity

    We need federal focus on capacity building, access to capital, and proactive and deliberate tailoring of federal programs to produce lasting rural equity.

HAC in the News

HAC and rural CDFIs receive “massive” $353 million investment

The US Treasury announced it is investing $1.25 billion of COVID-19 relief funds in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). We are excited to announce that the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has received the maximum award: $1,826,265.

HAC will invest our $1.8 million award through our Loan Fund to support affordable housing organizations across rural America. As Eileen Neely, director of HAC’s Loan Fund explains, “$1.8 million means we can invest in more rural communities and help more low-income Americans get housed.”

Overall, the US Treasury is awarding $353 million to rural CDFIs. “This massive investment in rural CDFIs will help unlock the potential of rural communities,” said David Lipsetz, President & CEO of the Housing Assistance Council. “We are thrilled for the opportunity to expand our work for disinvested rural communities.”

Everyone deserves a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home. This award strengthens HAC’s work to make that vision a reality for rural America.

White Mountain Apache Housing Authority Serves its Veterans

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority (WMAHA) helps the members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe to overcome their individual housing needs. Of these, almost 500 are U.S. military veterans. Working in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation located in eastern central Arizona, WMAHA serves the 16,000 enrolled members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and strives to ensure that every tribal member has safe housing they can afford. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is proud to be a partner of WMAHA and their amazing work. In 2018, we awarded a $30,000 grant through The Home Depot Foundation‘s Veteran Housing Grants Program to WMAHA to help support their veterans. In celebration of Veterans Day and Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight just a few of the many ways the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority serves the veterans of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

Before and after of a rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 


As many veterans know, service doesn’t end when you’re discharged. It’s a value that is carried for a lifetime. For WMAHA, service is key to the mission. The Veteran Home Rehabilitation Program serves those who have served our country. Many of the low-income Apache veterans the Housing Authority assists are in desperate need of multiple, expensive repairs to make sure their homes are safe, accessible, and livable. But without the ability to make these repairs themselves, many veterans need help.

Over the last eight years, the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has rehabilitated (or in one case built!) 19 homes for their veterans, each of which required multiple major repairs for health, safety, and accessibility. All of this was performed at no cost to the veteran or their family. Last year WMAHA was able to set a record with 5 rehabilitations.

Making sure their veterans have safe and healthy homes is a point of pride for WMAHA and for the entire White Mountain Apache community. After all, WMAHA doesn’t work alone: each rehabilitation is made possible by scores of volunteers. As the team from WMAHA explains, “the number of volunteers who come and help with demolition and construction cleanup during the projects” is a testament to the rehabilitation program’s “impact on the community.” From the Housing Authority to everyday members, including community partners, the White Mountain Apache Tribe takes care of its veterans. By taking care of those who took care of us, WMAHA is serving both its community and the broader community of veterans nationwide.

The COVID pandemic has hit many Native communities particularly hard, and tragically, the White Mountain Apache are no exception. During the pandemic, unemployment, which usually runs 80% according to WMAHA, has far surpassed that amount, and food insecurity is “at a critical level.” Many of the low-income veterans WMAHA assists don’t have a way to pick up food from the local food bank, so the Housing Authority is starting to deliver the food boxes itself. Not content to just help house their veterans, WMAHA is committed to improving their quality of life.

Caring for veterans extends outside the home, too. For WMAHA, ensuring their veterans have access to the Veterans Affairs benefits they deserve is a critical mission. With 1.67 million acres, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is large and rural. This creates challenges for many of the Tribe’s low-income veterans. Many of the nearest VA hospitals are hundreds of miles away, which makes even getting to routine appointments incredibly difficult. This distance makes it so challenging to receive disability ratings, see specialists, and make necessary appointments that, according to Barb Connerley, a consultant who works with WMAHA, “many of the veterans…do not know what VA benefits are available to them.”

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has created a solution to help connect their veterans to the VA medical care they earned through their service. Since 2017, the White Mountain Apache Tribe Department of Transportation has operated Fort Apache Connection Transit (FACT), a 2-route bus system serving 12 stops across the Reservation. While this system doesn’t provide access to the nearest VA hospitals, the Housing Authority recently began repurposing one of their buses to transport veterans to their VA appointments. Multiple times a month, WMAHA will be providing veterans with a bus ride to their appointments and back home. They even take the time to help the veterans complete their paperwork to file for VA benefits.

For the trip, WMAHA provides their veterans with water, snacks, masks, and COVID safety information. They hope that this program can also serve as a teaching event, helping their veterans learn more about COVID safety as well as how to access their VA benefits. The program’s strength is its ingenuity—bringing together transit, healthcare, and informational services—in solving a critical problem for the Tribe’s veterans. Thanks to the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority, veterans living on reservation now have access to the critical VA healthcare they’ve earned through their service.

Many veterans return from their service to find it difficult to access the resources of their communities, including housing. Tragically, Native communities are overrepresented among persistent poverty counties, making these resources even harder to access. The Housing Assistance Council is committed to helping build community resources for housing where they’re needed most. Partners like WMAHA help us give back to our veterans and uplift Native communities. As Barb Connerley puts it, the Tribe’s veterans “have a proud tradition of military service and sacrifice.” The work of the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority pays respect to that service and sacrifice through service, care, and ingenuity of its own.

Census 2020 Logo

Respond to the 2020 Census

The 2020 Census is happening now and HAC encourages everyone living in the United States to respond. The Census is supposed to count every resident. The numbers are used to determine how billions of dollars of assistance are distributed, as well as how representation in Congress is divided. If you don’t respond, or if the Census misses you, your community gets fewer resources.

The 2020 Census does not ask about citizenship or documentation. It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share any of your information with any other government agencies, including law enforcement or immigration.

You can complete your questionnaire online, by phone, or by mail. Click here for information from the U.S. Census Bureau about the Census and how to respond.

You can complete the census online or by phone in 13 different languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese.

The Census Bureau also offers webpages and guides in 59 non-English languages, including American Sign Language, as well as guides in Braille and large print. Click here to learn more.