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NBC News Gets it Right: USDA Housing Needs More Investment

By Bob Rapoza, NRHC Executive Secretary We read with great interest the recent report by NBC News “Rats, roaches, mold: Under USDA’s watch, some rural public housing is falling apart.” The families profiled in the article are living in a terrible situation that must be remedied, and Washington policymakers must take action to ensure other families aren’t put in similar situations in the future. NBC News correctly notes that a 2016 USDA report estimated that $5.596 billion is needed just to preserve the agency’s rental housing over the next 20 years. In recent years, USDA budgets have not only sought to eliminate programs designed to finance new developments and repair and preserve USDA-financed multifamily housing, but also proposed to terminate other rural housing programs –for homeownership, repairing existing housing, and financing for housing for migrant and seasonal farmworkers. While Congress has repeatedly rejected theses budget cuts, USDA’s leadership has persisted, proposing budget cuts and policies that result in fewer field staff, fewer local offices, and diminished organizational capacity, thereby undermining the administration of rural housing programs and delivery of housing assistance to rural families. Years of declining investment in the renovation of existing housing and construction of new housing in small towns and farming communities has resulted in a housing deficit. According to U.S. Census data, between 1999 and 2008, the average annual production of new single-family houses in non-metro areas totaled 221,000. In the period 2009 to 2017, average production fell to just 68,000 per year. Where housing is available, it is apt to be in poor condition. Of the 25 million units located in rural and small communities, over 5 percent, or 1.5 million, of these homes are considered either moderately or severely substandard, due to the lack of funding for repairs and renovations and local economic conditions. What’s more, a recent report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that 41 percent of rural renters, or 5 million households, are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs, and 21 percent (2.1 million households) of rural households that rent pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. This means that rural families are often forced to make impossible tradeoffs between paying rent and covering their other basic needs. By any measure, much of rural America has still not recovered from the great recession. According to the...
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The NRHC Turns 50

The NRHC is celebrating its 50th anniversary


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