Introduction to USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing

Self-Help Housing Trainings from HAC’s Conference

Self-Help Housing

There are many potential homeowners who fall short financially but are able to contribute time and labor toward the construction or rehabilitation of their homes.

The self-help housing model helps bridge the gap in housing affordability by having participant families work together to build their homes. Instead of requiring a down payment, the prospective homeowners contribute their own labor to the project. When these families work together, they learn valuable construction skills and build a sense of community with their neighbors.

These five workshops, first recorded at HAC’s Virtual National Rural Housing Conference, provide an overview of the self-help housing process, how it works, and information on how local organizations can incorporate it into their efforts.

This session provides an overview of USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program. It covers funding possibilities, regulation requirements, and the grant application process, as well as eligible grant uses, program development, staffing needs, and feasibility.

USDA-supported self-help housing rehab activities (acquisition/rehab and owner-occupied rehab) can be viable additions to affordable housing work. This session is designed for organizations currently active in the program as well, as those considering it. Workshop leaders share the latest instructions and guidance governing rehab activities and show before-and-after pictures of self-help projects. The discussion focuses on challenges, successes, and best practices in delivering the program. The audience was able to ask questions about the impacts of COVID. One of the presenters shares the key to the self-help method with a quote.

“Helping people help themselves benefits the participants and the community while making better use of scarce resources.”

In this session, experts present information on recent improvements to SHARES for group coordinators. Workshop leaders also provide an overview of how to use e-Forms for submitting Section 502 and 504 applications. A nonprofit marketing specialist provides strategies for how to use social media, email marketing, and design to share about your work with self-help programs. Self-help grantees are encouraged to share their updates on https://www.selfhelphousingspotlight.org/.

Learn what’s new in Section 502 loan packaging and how to avoid common errors and omissions that cause delays in processing 502 loan applications. This session will help packagers improve the quality and completeness of applications to get faster loan closings for families.

5 challenges in 502 Packaging

  1. Significant Delinquencies, how credit worthiness impacts application processing and what can be done to streamline this step.
  2. How to account for full-time student income and student loan debt.
  3. COVID’s impact on calculating income and how to account for variations.
  4. What forms of verification are acceptable and what can a packager use to verify application details?
  5. What has COVID’s impact been on budgets and materials and how to best incorporate them into the loan process?

The coronavirus pandemic’s cost overages, material delays, and numerous other challenges have intensified the need for leveraged funds in self-help housing programs. Learn how leveraged funds can not only increase affordability and resources for applicants, but also build an organization’s capacity and control. Leveraging can also better position an organization for program diversification to address community needs.

Policy News from Congress

HAC’s Research Director to Speak at Congressional Manufactured Housing Hearing

The House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee is holding a hearing May 26 on Manufactured Housing: Supporting America’s Largest Unsubsidized Affordable Housing Stock, with HAC’s Director of Research and Information, Lance George, among the witnesses. His testimony explains the importance of manufactured homes as affordable housing in rural America and the challenges facing manufactured housing residents, owners, and communities. It suggests that new research is needed to inform evidence-based solutions and that Congress could help address pressing challenges by providing grants for land acquisition by resident owned cooperatives, other mission-focused nonprofits, and public sector housing agencies, as well as financing for individual homeowners.

 

Lance George Statement to House THUD Committee - May 26, 2022
Policy News from the Administration

HAC CEO Statement on Biden-Harris Housing Supply Action Plan

by David Lipsetz

The Biden-Harris Administration released a Housing Supply Action Plan on May 16 that can bring the cost of housing back in line with families’ incomes. This is particularly important in small towns where incomes remain stubbornly low, while the cost of buying or renting a place to live is soaring. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) applauds the Administration for designing and including several provisions specifically with rural markets in mind.

The Plan includes administrative and legislative proposals to improve existing housing finance mechanisms. It establishes new housing production programs. It calls for changes to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit that will attract private investment in affordable rental housing. It provides grants—such as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program—to states, cities and towns to do what locals know will be best for their local housing market.  It calls on Congress to establish a Housing Supply Fund and incentivize zoning reform to accelerate the building of more housing across the Nation.

Critically, the Administration proposes reforms that prioritize homeowners living in the homes that they own. This is a welcome change for rural Americans who need high-quality affordable homes in which to live far more than they need high-priced vacation homes. For rental housing, the Administration focuses investment on small-scale 2–4-unit buildings instead of high-rise apartment complexes. It calls for new rentals where few are being built and recognizes the urgency of preserving affordable rentals that already exist. And for the first time in decades, an Administration released a housing plan that calls for improved financing for manufactured housing, an important resource in rural places.

The shortage of affordable housing in rural America is a serious issue. Rental units are being lost at an alarming rate. Single-family homes are significantly older than elsewhere in the Nation. The Administration’s framework recognizes the unique need for affordable housing and proposes solutions built to work in small town and rural America.

Many of the Administration’s actions just announced reflect HAC’s policy priorities. But it remains critical that these actions be complemented by initiatives to address another essential factor in improving housing for rural Americans—building the capacity of local organizations to improve their own communities. Because rural places often have small and part-time local governments, they often find it particularly difficult to navigate the complexities of federal programs and modern housing finance, and to compete for government resources. Philanthropy has not stepped in to address this inequity built into our systems, instead concentrating its resources in already-prosperous high-cost regions. Targeted capacity building through federal investments in training and technical assistance is how most local organizations build skills, tap information, and gain the wherewithal to do what they know needs to be done.

Rural communities hold vast potential to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life for all Americans. Access to quality, affordable housing is key to jumpstarting that potential. Building and preserving homes creates jobs, improves education and health outcomes, and provides much-needed financial and physical stability to families in need. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to ensure that these initiatives move us closer to the day when every American has access to a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home.

Solar panels covering parking spaces at Calistoga Family Apartmentshttps://flic.kr/p/CpXy7x The U.S. Department of Agriculture

“Worst Case” Rental Housing Needs Changed Little from 2017 to 2019

Only 62 affordable rental units were available for every 100 very low-income renters in 2019, according to Worst Case Housing Needs: 2021 Report to Congress, released on October 5 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession that began in 2020 is not yet available, the report notes that they pose a “great risk of widespread housing problems.”

Households with worst case needs are defined as renters with very low incomes (at or below 50 percent of area median income) who do not receive government housing assistance and pay more than half their income for rent, live in severely inadequate conditions, or both. Cost burden – the mismatch between income and housing costs – is by far the most significant housing problem in all geographic areas. Inadequate housing quality caused only 3 percent of worst case needs nationwide.

In 2019 there were 7.77 million renter households with worst case needs in the U.S., 42.2 percent of all very low-income renters. This represents an improvement from the record high of 8.5 million (44 percent) in 2011 but it remains above the rate during the years preceding the 2007-2009 recession.

Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of worst case renters in 2019 had extremely low incomes (at or below 30 percent of area median), the highest proportion since 2005. Worst case needs were highest among American Indian or Alaskan Native households at 55 percent; 53 percent among Asian households, 45 percent among Hispanic households, 44 percent among non-Hispanic White households, and 36 percent among non-Hispanic Black households and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander households.

Worst case needs declined in the Midwest, Northeast, and South from 2017 to 2019, but those improvements were offset by an increase in worst case needs in the West.

The State of The Nation’s Housing – 2021

Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies - 2021 Cover

Even as the US economy continues to recover, the inequalities amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic remain front and center. Households that weathered the crisis without financial distress are snapping up the limited supply of homes for sale, pushing up prices and further excluding less affluent buyers from homeownership. At the same time, millions of households that lost income during the shutdowns are behind on their housing payments and on the brink of eviction or foreclosure. A disproportionately large share of these at-risk households are renters with low incomes and people of color. While policymakers have taken bold steps to prop up consumers and the economy, additional government support will be necessary to ensure that all households benefit from the expanding economy.

HAC is a proud sponsor of Harvard’s State of the Nation’s Housing report.

Policy News from the Administration

HAC Urges Treasury Department to Provide Guidance on Emergency Rental Assistance Funds

In December, Congress came together to pass a pandemic relief bill, which included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance. This emergency rental assistance (ERA) funding will run through the Coronavirus Relief Fund at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. To ensure that rural areas are equitably served, the Housing Assistance Council submitted comments to the Treasury Department calling for ERA guidance to include the needs of rural communities. HAC’s comments focused on highlighting several key areas:

  • The lack of rural-targeted housing assistance provided thus far in the pandemic, and the outsized impact COVID-19 has had in rural communities.
  • The importance of Treasury encouraging states to use their ERA funding proportionally in rural areas.
  • The need for Treasury to make clear in guidance that currently unassisted families living in USDA multifamily properties are eligible for ERA funds.
  • The need for Treasury to clarify that local governments do not have to incur costs up front before being able to use ERA funds.

Read the full comment letter to the Treasury Department here.

Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies Releases State of the Nation’s Housing 2020

For most of 2020, the country has been beset by the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest sparked by longstanding racial injustice, and the devastating impacts of climate change. Although low interest rates and continued growth in some sectors have bolstered homebuying and the broader economy, conditions have worsened for many households. Indeed, the nation’s failure to live up to its long-stated goal of a decent home in a suitable environment for all has never been clearer— particularly in the lack of affordable rental housing and unequal access to homeownership. Today’s crisis conditions call for a comprehensive re-envisioning of national housing policy.

Read the Report

Attend the release event on Nov. 19 at 4:00 pm EST

Housing Change and Occupancy in Rural America

Housing Change and Occupancy in Rural America

Housing Change and Occupancy in Rural America

A community’s housing stock is one of its most important resources. The presence of high quality and affordable housing units reflects vibrancy and makes a community attractive for both current and future households and businesses. Housing influences everything from community services to health outcomes. The absence of affordable high-quality housing puts a strain on a community and its residents. A community can also be negatively impacted if too many housing units are vacant and property values are not sufficient to generate revenues for local services and to entice development and growth.

Rural Voices: Action for a Rapidly Changing Rural America

This issue of Rural Voices reports on some of the learning and brainstorming that occurred at the Housing Assistance Council’s 2016 Rural Housing Conference: Building Rural Communities. The magazine presents some of the conference highlights. Several articles are adapted from speeches given there. A set of maps taken from a conference presentation by Lance George, HAC’s Research Director, provides a dramatic view of some current “ruralities” – the ways rural America’s demographics and housing are changing. A series of five articles addresses action for a rapidly changing rural America on topics ranging from persistent poverty to creative placemaking. These pieces are based on white papers developed for the conference and in-depth participant discussions at the event. Their recommendations are timely and important as rural housing faces changes in policy and funding.

VIEW FROM WASHINGTON

Inequality Harms Us All
by Congressman Keith Ellison

Investing in rural America will not only improve the lives of people who live there, but will also help create a thriving country where everyone can succeed.

FEATURES

Ruralities: The Changing Face of Rural AmericaRuralities: The Changing Face of Rural America

A set of maps demonstrate the ways rural America’s demographics and housing are changing.

Rural Community Development Can Address Inequality
by John Henneberger

A model demonstration Rural America Community Building program in each state would help overcome racial and economic inequality.

Action on Housing Programs and Infrastructure
by Hope F. Cupit and Julie Bornstein

Rural advocates can act on housing programs and infrastructure needs by improving messaging and advocacy efforts.

Action on Persistent Poverty and Rural Inequality
by R. Scott McReynolds and Ann Williams Cass

Rural advocates can act on persistent poverty and rural inequality by building the capacity of nonprofits and local government agencies in persistent poverty areas.

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

Rural advocates can act on the opioid epidemic and connected housing needs by making resources available, educating relevant parties, and working with partners to coordinate services.

Action on Creative Placemaking
by Bob Reeder and Lisa Neergaard

Rural advocates can use creative placemaking to help act on community needs.

Action to Nurture Rural Leaders
by Gisela Salgado and Janet Topolsky

Rural advocates can act on the need for future leadership by improving staff recruitment and retention, as well as educating and involving policymakers and community leaders.


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