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President Trump Signs Executive Order on Prosperity for Rural America

On April 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America.” The executive order includes seven sections. Section 1 outlines the importance of having a secure and affordable food, fiber, and forestry supply for the country, and that the promoting rural communities is in the national interest. Section 1 also states that it is in the country’s interest to ensure that regulatory burdens do not hamper food, agricultural production, and job creation in rural communities. Section 2 calls for the creation of the “Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity,” which will be funded and administratively supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as permitted by law and appropriations. Section 3 details the membership of the task force. The USDA Secretary will serve as the Chair. Section 4 provides the purpose of functions of the task force. The task force is directed to identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote rural America. There are 13 general issues that are identified in the executive order. These include advancing the adoption innovative technology for agriculture production and sustainable rural development, expanding educational opportunities in rural areas, empowering state and local agencies to tailor their rural economic development and agriculture programs to meet their region’s need, promote the preservation of family farms and agribusinesses, and improve food safety, among others. The remaining sections are administrative in nature, with Section 5 directing the USDA Secretary to submit a report to the President within 180 days on the task force’s recommendations on policy or legislative changes. Section 6 revokes the executive order signed by President Obama establishing the White House Rural Council. Section 7 provides that the executive order does not affect the existing authority of any department or agency, current law, or confer any new rights or benefits. While the task force is directed to identify changes in policy or law that will “promote . . . economic development, . . . infrastructure improvements, . . . and quality of life” and the executive order includes 13 enumerated areas of focus, notably absent is any explicit directive on – or reference to –   rural housing and water and wastewater services. There is no mention of housing or homeownership or rental housing, and the only reference to “water” relates to water users’ private property rights. Additionally, although the executive order states that the task...
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Funding for Rural America Matters

  Three hundred seventy-three organizations and 657 individuals have signed onto a letter in support of funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) programs that provide essential assistance to America’s rural and small town communities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. The FY 2017 House and Senate Agriculture Appropriation Bills, H.R. 5054 and S. 2956 respectively, provided funding for USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS) and water and wastewater programs that would allow RD and its nonprofit partner organizations to continue to improve access to affordable and safe housing and community facilities for families in rural America. The sign-on letter asks for the House and Senate Appropriation Committees to support the funding levels included in their FY 2017 bills. Specifically, the letter identifies several program priorities, including the Section 502 Direct Home Loan program, the Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Housing program, Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Loan program, Sections 514 and 516 Farmworker Housing Loan and Grant programs, and the water and wastewater loan and grant programs. The Section 502 Direct Loan program exclusively targets rural families who earn less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), and by law, 40 percent of all program funds must be used to help families earning less than 50 percent of AMI. In FY 2016 alone, RHS provided over 7,000 loans and the demand for this program continues to grow. The letter recommends a program level of $1 billion for the Section 502 Direct Loan program. This is the amount provided in H.R. 5054, and a $100 million increase over the FY 2016. The Section 523 Mutual Self-Help Housing program provides grants to qualified organizations to oversee and provide technical assistance to local self-help housing construction projects for low- and very-low income families. The grantees oversee small groups of 6 to 12 families that come together on nights and weekends to build their own homes. In doing so, Self-Help Housing families can reduce construction costs, earn equity in their homes, and build lasting communities. Self-Help Housing encourages self-reliance and hard work, helps families build wealth, stimulates local economies, and is in high demand with over 50,000 families currently on wait lists for the program. This program has a proven record of helping low- and very-low income families achieve homeownership. The letter recommends funding Section 523 at $30 million, which is the level included in H.R. 5054. RHS also includes...
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National Rural Housing Coalition Releases 2017 Impact Report

On Tuesday, April 4, the National Rural Housing Coalition (NRHC) released its 2017 Impact Report. The report, which was funded through the generous contribution of Capital One, included the findings from the 2017 Impact Survey as well as the success stories from 23 rural housing organizations. The purpose of the Impact Report is to inform policy makers and the public of the broad economic and human impact of nonprofit housing organizations – and the programs that they utilize. The survey asked organizations to respond to seven categories, including homeownership activities, rental housing activities, and clean water and sewer activities. In addition, the survey also asked for organizations that provide housing counseling, technical assistance, or are Community Development Financial Institutions, Community Development Corporations or Intermediaries to respond on their activities. The survey analyzed data from 104 organization of their activity in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. In FY 2016, the 104 responding nonprofit housing organizations helped low-income families and communities secure $1 billion in financing to build, purchase, preserve, or rehabilitate 6,505 units of affordable housing and improved access to rural water and sewer systems for 138,115 of families. This resulted in the creation of 13,920 jobs, over $816.43 million generated income, and $442.2 million in tax revenue. Other key findings from the report include: 84 organizations assisted 3,139 families in rural communities with rehabilitating, constructing, or purchasing their homes. Further, there were 24,104 families on the waiting lists of 26 organizations. 59 organizations helped 378 families participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Mutual Self-Help Housing Program. These families contributed over $6.885 million in sweat equity by assisting each other in the construction of their homes – averaging $18,215 per family. 22 organizations developed, constructed, preserved, or rehabilitated 2,859 rental housing units. 4 organizations secured over $92 million in financing for 106 water or sewer projects for construction of new systems, repairing or replacing existing systems, consolidating systems, or addressing regulatory compliance issues and provided technical assistance on 97 projects, totaling some $64.35 million. NRHC presented the findings from the Report at a briefing on the Hill in the Capitol Visitor Center on the evening of April 4. In addition to the findings from the briefing, five organizations presented on case studies that are included in the report. Their presentations are provided below.   Marty Miller, the Executive Director of the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing in Yakima,...
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Advocacy Tools

Use NRHC’s Advocacy Tools to strengthen your advocacy efforts and make your voice heard on Capitol Hill. Learn how to build relationships with your Senators, Representatives, Local Media, and members of your community. Toolkits Making the Most of Congress’ Time At Home: In-District Advocacy. Learn how to best engage with your Senators and Representatives while they are at home in your district, whether by inviting them to visit your organization, meeting one-on-one, or partnering with other local organizations to host a Town Hall meeting. Local and Social Media 101.  Learn how to use social media to build and sustain strong relationships with your Senators and Representatives by using local media and social media. This toolkit provides important tips on pitching news stories to your local media, publishing an op-ed, and using social media. Creating a Social Media Strategy 102. Learn how to create a social media strategy, regardless of your organization’s available resources. This toolkit was made possible through the generous support of Capital One. Webinars In-District Advocacy Webinar: Guest Speakers include Bob Rapoza and Audrey Johnston. Listen to the webinar or download a copy of the PowerPoint presentation. Local and Social Media Webinar: Guest Speakers include Ayrianne Parks, Sarah Mickelson, and NRHC Member Bailey Richards from the Housing Development Alliance. This webinar was made possible through the generous support of Capital One. Listen to the webinar or download a copy of our PowerPoint presentation. Local Case Studies To highlight local case studies, feel free to use our Self-Help Housing Template and Rural Housing Success Story Template, and use our Fact Sheets on rural housing...
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Smithsonian Magazine Recognizes Self-Help Enterprises’ Dedication to Helping America’s Working Poor

In an article published in the December 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, author Dale Maharidge chronicled the struggles that many of America’s working poor, including high poverty rates, housing affordability issues and food-scarcity.  While just over 43 million people, or 13.5 percent of the population, live below the poverty line ($11,880) in the United States, over 31 percent – over 101 million – of Americans are considered “low-income,” meaning they make no more than $48,600 for a family of four or $23,760 for a single person.  These families’ low-incomes means that affording safe housing is frequently an issue, particularly because of the ever-increasing cost of housing. A portion of the article is dedicated to America’s farmworkers.  Even though these people work long, back-breaking shifts, due in part to the seasonal nature of farming crops, these families often face great difficulty in affording basic necessities – like a safe place to call home and decent food – even while working full-time. In California’s Central Valley, where Self-Help Enterprises, Inc. works, farms growing 250 different crops produce a fourth of the nation’s food.  The article noted that since SHE was founded in 1965, it has helped family participants create over 6,200 homes in the region through the self-help housing program, which allows participants to use “sweat equity” in place of a down payment. By contributing at least 40 hours a week over the roughly one-year construction period, the families complete 65 percent of the labor in their homes with the help of their future...
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