HAC News: May 13, 2021

HAC News Formats. pdf

May 13, 2021

Vol. 50, No. 10

TOP STORIES

Eviction moratorium remains in effect while under court review.
Ruling that the Centers for Disease Control did not have the legal authority to issue its moratorium on evictions, a federal judge on May 6 declared the measure invalid, then temporarily stayed her order when the Justice Department appealed it. Numerous other suits have been filed in state and federal courts, with some judges upholding the moratorium and others finding it did not apply in specific cases.

New guidance will help tenants access Emergency Rental Assistance.
On May 7, when the Treasury Department allocated $21.6 billion to states and localities in Emergency Rental Assistance funds appropriated by the American Rescue Plan Act, it also revised its FAQs and fact sheet for the program. The new documents address some of the challenges faced by tenants trying to use the first round of ERA aid. For example, they require program administrators to provide relief directly to tenants whose landlords decline to participate, and to help tenants in federally assisted housing pay their share of rents. Summaries comparing the ERA 1 and ERA 2 programs are available from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and National Council of State Housing Agencies.

USDA homeowner refi funds available soon, officials tell Congress.
The Biden administration’s plans for USDA Rural Development were examined in a May 6 House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee virtual hearing. Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will be used to refinance loans to USDA single-family borrowers who have been under forbearance during the pandemic, said Chad Parker, Acting RHS Administrator. 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. The $39 million appropriation will yield about $650 million in Section 502 direct mortgages and $18.8 million in Section 504 home repair loans. The American Rescue Plan Act also provided $100 million for new Section 521 Rental Assistance; USDA has already issued guidance for field staff regarding these funds. The hearing also touched on the backlogged MPR rental preservation program, subsidy recapture for Section 502 homeowners, the need for local capacity building and USDA staff levels; a summary is posted on HAC’s website.

May is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
President Biden’s proclamation includes condemnation of anti-Asian bias and violence.

RuralSTAT
Over the past year an average of 4.6% of U.S. homeowners and 12.4% of renters lacked confidence in their ability to make their next mortgage or rent payment. Source: HAC tabulations of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Pulse Survey.

OPPORTUNITIES

HUD offers Choice Neighborhood Planning Grants.
Nonprofits, PHAs, local governments and tribal entities can apply by July 13 for grants to develop comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategies to guide the revitalization of public or assisted housing and transformation of surrounding neighborhoods.

Emergency Broadband Benefit program launched.
The Federal Communications Commission is offering discounts to low-income people for broadband service and computer purchases during the coronavirus pandemic. The program can be used for a new or existing broadband plan from a participating provider. It will end when funds are exhausted or six months after the federal government declares an end to the pandemic. FCC also offers outreach materials, including handouts in several languages. For more information contact a broadband provider, visit FCC’s webpage or call 833-511-0311 to receive an application by mail.

NEW Conference Coordinator job opening at HAC; Community Facilities Housing Specialist also open.
For details, visit HAC’s website.

  • The Conference Coordinator supports every part of preparing and delivering HAC’s 2021 National Rural Housing Conference. Excellent communication skills and attention to detail are vital, along with proven experience in conference and/or event planning to include logistic coordination. This is a full-time, temporary position and is eligible for telecommuting.
  • The Community Facilities Housing Specialist identifies and engages community stakeholders and provides direct technical assistance to rural organizations that are developing facilities such as parks, community centers, public libraries and childcare centers. This includes helping them identify, utilize and apply for financial resources such as USDA Community Facilities grants and loans. This a two-year position and is eligible for telecommuting.

 
CORONAVIRUS

Administration’s vaccination goal includes rural outreach.
The federal effort to vaccinate 70% of American adults by July 4 involves supports directed at underserved communities, including rural places. The White House aims to improve rural access by sending vaccines directly to rural health clinics, funding rural clinics to conduct education and outreach, and helping rural clinics and hospitals broaden their testing and mitigation work.

HUD and HHS work together to increase testing and vaccinations.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced a joint-agency effort to increase access to COVID-19 prevention and treatment services, including testing and vaccinations, among disproportionately affected communities, including among HUD-assisted households and people experiencing homelessness. They asked community health centers, HUD grantees and others to assist with registering and scheduling tests and vaccination appointments and facilitating on-site vaccine clinics.

“Why lagging COVID vaccine rate at rural hospitals ‘needs to be fixed now.’”
This story by National Public Radio reports on relatively low rates of vaccinations among rural health care workers. The National Rural Health Association and Chartis Center for Rural Health surveyed rural hospital executives, 30% of whom said less than half their employees had been vaccinated. About the same proportion said that 70% or more of their staff were vaccinated.

Guide proposes ways for local coronavirus funding to advance racial equity.
10 Priorities for Advancing Racial Equity Through the American Rescue Plan: A Guide for City and County Policymakers, published by PolicyLink, is addressed to city and county governments receiving  recovery funds from the Treasury Department. The guide provides a worksheet with questions to help achieve the ten priorities, which include explicitly naming racial equity as a goal, engaging historically underserved communities in prioritizing investments, and preventing displacement and increasing community ownership of land and housing.

REGULATIONS AND FEDERAL AGENCIES

Comments sought on government reaching underserved communities, including rural.
Rural residents are among several examples of underserved populations identified in an Office of Management and Budget notice requesting input by July 6 on methods, approaches and tools that could help determine whether federal agency policies and actions equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities. For more information, contact  Amira Boland, OMB, 202-395-5222.

USDA updates guidance for Community Facilities programs.
USDA Rural Development released three documents on May 11 with information relevant to applicants or recipients of CF direct loans, loan guarantees or grants: best practices for RD staff to evaluate proposed projects; documentation required when a direct loan applicant has less than five years of successful operations; and requirements for submitting audit reports or financial statements.

Vilsack confirms ERS and NIFA will stay in Kansas City.
USDA will not move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture back to Washington, DC, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has stated. The Counter reports representatives of the employees’ union agreed that was the least disruptive decision and recommended hiring remote workers to rebuild staff capacity. The Trump administration relocated the agencies in 2019.

PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA

Mortgage interest deduction increases racial disparities, research shows.
The income tax deduction available to higher-income homeowners contributes to economic and racial inequality, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University write in a new report. Misdirected Housing Supports: Why the Mortgage Interest Deduction Unjustly Subsidizes High-Income Households and Expands Racial Disparities explains that affluent white households benefit disproportionately from the deduction. The authors propose ending the MID and directing those federal resources to help rectify unjust racial disparities.

Rural places received few early Opportunity Zones investments.
A University of California Berkeley analysis, Neighborhood-Level Investment from the U.S. Opportunity Zone Program: Early Evidence, finds that in 2019, Opportunity Zone capital was highly concentrated in only 16% of the eligible census tracts nationwide and focused on places with relatively high incomes, pre-existing upward trends in incomes and home values, and declining shares of elderly and non-white residents. These OZ investments focused on real estate, both commercial and residential. The paper emphasizes that the available data was incomplete and covered only the program’s early implementation; a review by the Economic Innovation Group reinforces this point. The Berkeley researchers established baselines against which to measure impacts of OZ investments as more data becomes available in the future.

New analysis illustrates U.S. broadband gaps.
Using publicly available Microsoft data, the Verge created an interactive map showing the proportion of people in each county who use the internet at broadband speed. The data does not indicate whether broadband is unavailable in a given area or is available but unaffordable for residents.

“In rural towns like Kit Carson, a housing and development conundrum born of rising costs, disrepair – and lots of asbestos.”
The Colorado Sun article uses one town’s example to highlight threats facing many others, including “declining population, shifting economics of agriculture, absentee property ownership, and an aging and too-often-deteriorating housing inventory.” Many rural towns struggle to balance investing in rehabilitation of current housing stock and economic development. Their goal is to have enough jobs and housing for the next generation to stay.

CITIZENS’ INSTITUTE FOR RURAL DESIGN

American Artscape features Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
A 2019 recipient of funding from the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society is receiving national recognition for its leadership in elevating black voices and history. The church is featured in the latest issue of American Artscape, a magazine of the National Endowment for the Arts, which focuses on equity and access for the arts in black communities. CIRD design team lead and HAC collaborator Omar Hakeem is interviewed in this story about partnership with architects to redesign a historically black church in Appalachian Ohio and what that inspires in the community.

National Endowment for the Arts announces $88 million in 2021 funding awards.
NEA award recipients include two communities that participated in the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design in 2019 and have now received additional funding through the Our Town program: the Pike School of Art in McComb, MS and Snow Pond Center for the Arts (New England Music Camp) in Sidney, ME.

HAC

Need capital for your affordable housing project?
HAC’s loan fund provides 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, new development, farmworker, senior and veteran housing. HAC loan funds can be used for pre-development, site acquisition, site development, construction/rehabilitation and permanent financing. 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).

Policy News from the Administration

Biden Budget Outline Calls for More HUD Funding and Expanded Rural StrikeForce

April 9, 2021 – The Biden Administration’s first budget request, released today, outlines priorities including increases in some Department of Housing and Urban Development programs but does not mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural housing programs. A more detailed budget will be issued later this spring.

The Administration proposes to increase funding above current levels for the Rural e-Connectivity broadband program, rural water and wastewater programs and USDA’s civil rights office. It also:

Partners with Rural Leaders to Grow Rural Economies and Tackle Rural Poverty. The discretionary request provides $32 million for a renewed and expanded initiative to leverage USDA’s extensive network of offices to help people in high poverty communities tap into Federal resources, referred to as the “Strikeforce” initiative. USDA will coordinate with other Federal agencies on an all-of-Government approach to connect rural stakeholders with Federal programs and resources.

The StrikeForce initiative, which was used in several states, was launched during the Obama Administration.

Rural development is also mentioned in a paragraph about Community Development Financial Institutions:

Invests in American Communities and Small Businesses. To support and empower the Nation’s most vulnerable communities, including many rural communities, the discretionary request provides $330 million, an increase of 22.2 percent above the 2021 enacted level for annual appropriations, to support expanding the role of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which offer loans to start-ups and small businesses to promote the production of affordable housing and community revitalization projects. This investment builds on an unprecedented level of support for the CDFI industry in 2021, including more than $3 billion in direct funding, $9 billion for investments in CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions, and provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 encouraging CDFI participation in the $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative.

HUD funds requested in the budget document include:

  • 200,000 new vouchers;
  • $1.9 billion for the HOME program, an increase of $500 million over FY21 funding;
  • support for an additional 100,000 homeless households;
  • $800 million for modernization and rehabilitation of HUD-supported housing;
  • $3.2 billion for public housing modernization;
  • $180 million to support 2,000 units of new permanently affordable housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities;
  • $900 million for Native American housing;
  • $3.8 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program,  including “a targeted increase of $295 million to incentivize communities to direct formula funds toward the modernization and rehabilitation of public infrastructure and facilities in historically underfunded and marginalized communities facing persistent poverty”;
  • $400 million, a $40 million increase, for prevention of lead and other hazards; and
  • $85 million for fair housing.

The HUD section of the document states that, “The discretionary request supports access to homeownership for underserved borrowers through the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) mortgage insurance programs.”

Northwest Regional Housing Authority Demonstrates Impact of Self-Help Housing

March 26, 2021 – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP). In the last quarter century, SHOP has helped tens of thousands of families achieve the dream of homeownership. The SHOP program funds the construction of self-help housing nationwide. Under the self-help model, families help build their home to earn “sweat equity” instead of making a traditional cash down-payment. This makes the new home more affordable and makes homeownership accessible to low- and very low-income households typically left out of the for-sale housing market.

Over the last 25 years, the Housing Assistance Council has received and invested over $120 million through SHOP to build 9,896 self-help homes. We lend this money to local organizations that work with families to build self-help homes across rural America. If the organization meets its targets, our loans are up to 90% forgivable, which allows the organization to provide additional homebuyer subsidies or create additional self-help units. As the only national SHOP grantee with a specific focus on rural homes, we’re proud of the difference our SHOP investments make in rural America. So, to celebrate SHOP’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to highlight the impact of one of our SHOP grantees: Northwest Regional Housing Authority (NWRHA) in Harrison, Arkansas, who we’ve partnered with since 2006.

Operating in 12 counties in northwest Arkansas, NWRHA’s self-help program has helped over 150 families in the pursuit of homeownership. Each family contributes an average of 650 hours of labor building their home. This not only keeps costs down, it provides participants with instant equity in their home and the skills to maintain it. One of the biggest challenges NWRHA faces is finding affordable, buildable lots. With rapidly rising property values, the price of a lot suitable for self-help construction in northwest Arkansas has soared to over $20,000. Luckily, our loans provide NWRHA with the capital to purchase land sooner, which keeps prices down.

To understand the impact of NWRHA’s self-help program, you could take a drive across rural Arkansas to see the dozens of homes self-help families have built. Or, you could ask Ana Castro-Beard, NWRHA’s Self-Help Specialist. She tells the story of a single father and his kids, who did not have stable housing until they came to NWRHA. After they moved into the home they built, Ana received a postcard from the family: it was a picture of their first Christmas in their new home.

Children playing in their new home

Photo courtesy of NWRHA.

Homes are more than just shelter from the elements. They’re where kids are raised, holidays are celebrated, and dinners are shared. They’re the backbone of financial stability and a gateway to economic opportunity.

In his speech before the House of Representatives supporting the bill that funded SHOP, former New York Congressman Rick Lazio promised that the new program would “boost homeownership levels…where we need it desperately.” Twenty-five years later, that dream is a reality. Thanks to the dedicated service of organizations like Northwest Regional Housing Authority, thousands of families—urban and rural—now have a safe, stable place to call home. Their home.

Policy News from Congress

Final Funding Levels Set for FY 2021

On December 27, 2020 President Trump signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2021, keeping most USDA rural housing programs at their FY20 dollar levels. The bill was rolled into a package that included a coronavirus relief measure to protect U.S. residents and the economy in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases and the expiration of provisions adopted in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March. The final amounts are shown in the table below for USDA’s housing programs and here for HUD. Early information on the coronavirus relief portion of the bill package is posted here.

 

USDA Rural Dev. Prog.
(dollars in millions)
FY19 Final Approp. FY20 Final Approp. FY21 Admin. Budget FY21 House Bill
FY21 Senate Bill FY21 Final Approp.
502 Single Fam. Direct
Self-Help setaside*
$1,000
5*
 $1,000
5*
0
0
 $1,000
5*
$1,000
5*
$1,000
5*
502 Single Family Guar.  24,000  24,000 24,000 24,000 24,000 24,000
504 VLI Repair Loans  28 28  0 28 28 28
504 VLI Repair Grants  30 30  30 30 30 30
515 Rental Hsg. Direct Lns.  40 40 0 40 40 40
514 Farm Labor Hsg. Lns.  27.5 28 0 28 28 28
516 Farm Labor Hsg. Grts.  10 10 0 10 10 10
521 Rental Assistance 1,331.4  1,375  1,410**  1,410** 1,410 1,410
523 Self-Help TA  30 31  0 31 31 31
533 Hsg. Prsrv. Grants  15 15  15 15 15 15
538 Rental Hsg. Guar. 230 230  230  230 230 230
Rental Prsrv. Demo. (MPR)  24.5 28  40  30 28  28
542 Rural Hsg. Vouchers  27 32  40**  40** 34  40
Rural Cmnty. Dev’t Init. 6 6 0 6 6 6
Rental Prsrv. TA 1 1 0 0 2  2

* For the self-help setaside in Section 502 direct, the figures in the table represent budget authority, not program levels.
** The budget and the FY21 House bill would separate vouchers from MPR and move them into the Rental Assistance account. The Senate bill, and the final version, do not.

HUD Releases Native American Housing Studies

American Indian tribes are building more housing units after enactment of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) but housing conditions are substantially worse among American Indian households than other U.S. households. These are some of the findings of three new comprehensive reports of tribal housing needs just released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute.

Special circumstances on tribal areas — remoteness, lack of infrastructure, complex legal issues and other constraints related to land ownership — make it extremely difficult to improve housing conditions in some areas, according to the reports. Based on the assessments of doubled up households and the number of severely distressed housing units in tribal areas, it is estimated that 68,000 more units are needed to replace severely inadequate units and to eliminate overcrowding in tribal areas. While tribes have been able to use NAHASDA funds effectively, their purchasing power has been eroded by inflation.

Key findings from the Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas report:

  • Housing conditions vary by region but are substantially worse overall among American Indian and Alaska Native households in tribal areas than among all U.S. households, with overcrowding being especially severe.
  • Physical deficiencies in plumbing, kitchen, heating, electrical, and maintenance issues were found in 23 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 5 percent of all U.S. households.
  • Overcrowding coupled with another physical condition problem was found in 34 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 7 percent of all U.S. households.
  • The percentage of households with at least one “doubled-up” person staying in the household because they have nowhere else to go was 17 percent, estimated to be up to 84,700 people.

Key findings from the Mortgage Lending on Tribal Land report:

  • While Native Americans value homeownership as much as other Americans, mortgage lending is limited in Indian Country because reservation land is held in trust and cannot be used to secure a mortgage loan.
  • Since 1994, nearly half of mortgage loans originated on tribal lands were in Oklahoma (45 percent by number and 37 percent by dollar value). The entire state of Oklahoma is considered an ‘eligible area,’ the state has no tribal trust areas, there are several participating lenders in the state, and many Native Americans live in Oklahoma.

Key findings from the Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Urban Areas report:

  • Native Americans are becoming more urban but are still less likely to live in a city than other Americans. Even within urban areas, these households often live in census tracts within or near a village or reservation.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native households are more likely to occupy worse housing than the rest of the population and more likely to be overcrowded.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native individuals leave their village or reservation due to lack of opportunities and some people cycle back and forth between their tribal home and a nearby primary city.
  • For Native Americans who struggle to transition from a village or reservation to an urban area, there are a specific set of challenges, including lack of familiarity with urban life and urban housing markets, lack of employment, limited social networks, insufficient rental or credit history, and race-based discrimination.