Rural Housing Blog

The Dwindling Supply of Affordable Rental Housing

In September 2019 Elizabeth La Jeunesse, Alexander Hermann, Daniel McCue and Jonathan Spader of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, authored the paper  

Documenting the Long-Run Decline in Low-Cost Rental Units in the US by State. In this paper the researchers sought to answer the following questions: “1) has the number of low-cost rental units indeed declined since 1990, and if so, by how much? 2) Over which periods of time did this decline take place? And 3) are there any differences in the size and timing of losses across US states?  

The study conducted by the research team at the Joint Center found that for every 100 low income renter households there are only 58 affordable housing units available for them to rent. Overall from 1990 to 2017 the number of rental units available for $600 per month or less declined by 4.0 million units.   A monthly rent of $600 is the maximum an individual making $24,000 can afford. This decline is in stark contrast to the 10.9 million overall rental stock growth over the same time period.

The steepest decline in low income housing availability occurred during the 2012-2017 time period. During this 5 year period the amount of rental units available for less than $600 dropped from 14 million to 11 million units. The share of affordable rental housing stock also dropped from around 40% to just 25% during this 5 year period. 

Even though there are some variations in losses of rental units in all 50 states all states saw a decline in units. A total of 27 states and the District of Columbia saw almost a 1/3 loss in rental units for less than $600 dollars per month between 1990 and 2017. Only 16 states between the years of 1990 and 2017 saw less than a 20% decline in rental unit shares for less than $600 dollars a month. This decline in readily available affordable rental housing means that more and more low income individuals compete for fewer and fewer low cost rental units.

While the report does not address rental housing in rural America, other, previous Joint Center reports document the lack of affordable housing in small towns and farming communities. Rental housing where it is available, often costs too much.: 41 percent (5 million households) of rural renters 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.[1]

[1] Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, “America’s Rental Housing.” 2017.

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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 USDA’s Economic Research Service, since 2007, rural median income has averaged 20 percent below the urban median income. Over 15 percent of all rural counties, which accounts for more than 300 counties nationwide, are persistently poor, with at least 20 percent of the population living in poverty for the last 30 years.

Rural Housing programs have been under attack from both the current and previous Administrations. Congress has signaled time and again that it will not go along with the wrongheaded and clearly failing policies proposed by USDA. In particular, the Agriculture Appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives (H.R. 2522) rejects proposed rural housing program eliminations and provides modest increases in programs designed to increase affordable housing resources for rural families. The House bill is a good first step, but much more needs to be done to improve conditions in existing rental housing and to add to the stock of decent, affordable housing in rural America.

USDA’s leadership talks about supporting ‘rural prosperity,’ but ignores the lack of decent housing in rural America and strategies and programs designed to improve housing conditions in small towns and farming communities. We often tell USDA officials that they have a success story on their hands: providing mortgages so low-income families can own their own homes; helping families gain equity in their homes through mutual self-help housing; housing some of the poorest families in America in decent, affordable rental housing; and providing grants to low-income seniors to repair a roof or furnace–this is the picture of success.

The drive to curb government spending has resulted in limited housing choices for rural families and communities. The sad, disgraceful story described in Florida is an example of the neglect of rural America by the federal government. This unfortunate situation should be a reality check for Congress and the Administration—it is time for them to invest in rural America and USDA’s housing programs.

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The NRHC Turns 50

NRHC Turns 50

The Annual Meeting of the National Rural Housing Coalition (NRHC) is scheduled for December 4, at 10 AM at Inter-American Dialogue, 1155 15TH St NW, Suite 800, Washington DC.  The NRHC board will meet immediately afterwards.  NRHC will also hold a reception on Capitol Hill on evening of December 3.  More information on that is forthcoming. 

The meeting marks the 50 year Anniversary of the NRHC.   The original by-laws for the Coalition were adopted on October 31, 1969.  NRHC was incorporated in the District of Columbia on December 17, 1969.  Among the signers on the articles of incorporation: Clay Cochran and Jim Hightower who was the first NRHC employee and who did the work in pulling the original board together as well as the paperwork involved in establishing NRHC.

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House FY 2020 Appropriations Requests

The deadline for requests to the House Agriculture subcommittee of Appropriations is April 4th. If you have not done so, we urge you to contact your Representative now. Members are inundated with requests, so the sooner your rural housing request are in, the more time staff will have to process and include them in their Boss’s request to the Committee. Below you will also find templates for House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee requests for rural housing programs. FY 2020 Approps Request Form 502
FY 2020 Approps Request Form_Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Loans
FY 2020 RCDI Request
FY 2020 Self-Help Request Form
FY 2020 Approps Request Form_Section 516-514
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Shutdown Impacts Rural Housing

Click to enlarge

As the budget stalemate in Washington drags on the consequences and impacts are becoming clearer and increasingly disturbing. Without any justification, the Administration has closed 25 percent of the federal government and among the casualties are agencies with the responsibility for financing affordable housing, clean drinking water, and community opportunity.

NRHC members have reported about one small but important agency – the Rural Housing Service – and the recent absence of its housing assistance. Families waiting to close their home mortgages are hung out to dry, families building their homes are stymied, and hundreds of thousands of families receiving rental subsidies may soon lose that assistance if the government shutdown goes on for “months or years.”

Below is a compilation of information supplied by NRHC members on the impact of the shutdown on rural housing efforts in their states and communities.

Section 502 Direct

  • Fahe – working in Appalachia — reports that they are currently holding on 424 loans, across 18 states, in the 502 Direct pipeline that either cannot be submitted to USDA or are sitting idle at USDA.
  • Fahe reports that 15 second mortgages that are operating on a funding timeline tied to 502 Direct loans that are held up now as well.
  • Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) reports that the organization has already accumulated 15-20 Section 502 home ownership loan applications from the packaging program in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington that are awaiting submission.
  • In California, Self-Help Enterprises reports 18 families have been impacted and a total loan obligation of $3.3 million.
  • In Oregon, NeighborWorks Umpqua reports that 7 families are waiting for a loan specialist to issue a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) so they can go shopping.
  • In Oregon, NeighborWorks Umpqua reports that 4 families in contract cannot close their section 502 loans, have their inspections reviewed, or appraisal ordered.
  • In Delaware, Milford Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) reports that the organization has 3 Direct clients under construction that may be paused.
  • In Delaware, MHDC reports on home ownership loans:
    • 1 client at USDA ready to close on their construction loan;
    • 1 client at USDA with contract and leveraged money waiting to be reviewed so they can be approved and close; and
    • 2 clients will have plans and specs submitted soon so they can go to closing.
  • PathStone reports that 2 first time homebuyers, from New York and Pennsylvania respectively, were scheduled to close of 502 mortgages in early January and both deals are now in jeopardy.
  • In Washington, Catholic Charities Housing Services (CCHS) reports a halt to 502 loan underwriting resulting in 2 week delay and counting for a group of 7 families (523 program/502 loans) which impacts CCHS performance measurements on the 523 program.
  • In Utah, Self Help Homes reports 20 Section 502 loan closings are delayed and by the end of January 29 inspections will be needed
  • In Indiana, Pathfinder Homeownership Center reports:
    • 12 homes that are ready to close in January;
    • 6 files that need appraisals and all but one of those are existing;
    • 13 files that are either at the USDA or FAHE
  • In Kentucky, Frontier Housing reports that the organization has 7 Section 502 Direct homebuyers whose loans are on hold because of the shutdown.
    • One homebuyer has a house under contract, and is waiting for RD’s sign-off. If the shutdown drags on too much longer, the buyer runs the risk of the seller walking away from the deal.
  • In New Mexico, Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation reports that 16 families have been delayed in receiving or getting approval for their 502 Loans.
  • In New Mexico, Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation reports construction delays due to lack of mortgage funds for 9 projects with 502 funding.
  • In Missouri, Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation reports that that 3 Section 502 borrowers received letters from Centralized Services Center (CSC) in St. Louis that show their insurance has not been paid and CSC will provide forced insurance coverage if not paid by a specific date to prevent any lapse of coverage on the home financed by RD.
  • In California, Coachella Valley Housing Coalition has heard from 12 families that have had difficulty dealing with Centralized Services Center (CSC) in regards to their insurance that has not been paid, inability to make payments, and reporting tax information.
  • In California, Coachella Valley Housing Coalition has heard from 5 families that were unable to make USDA loan house payments through automated system.
  • In Oklahoma, Deep Fork Community Action Foundation, Inc. reports that 3 applicants are delayed in receiving 502 loans.
  • In Oklahoma, Deep Fork Community Action Foundation, Inc. reports that 5 applicants have construction delays due to lack of funds and 2 from lack of inspectors.
  • NeighborWorks America reports no RHS staff available to discuss coordinating 502 Direct loan packaging trainings, as an example, nor available to design pilots for rural housing rehab.

Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program

  • In Oregon, NeighborWorks Umpqua reports 1 family can’t get the guaranteed commitment issue because USDA is closed
  • Fahe reports that they have 12 Section 502 Guaranteed loans in a holding pattern.

Section 514/516 – Farmlabor Housing

  • In California, Peoples’ Self Help Housing (PSHHC) reports that the first construction billing for one new construction USDA Section 514 project will likely occur in January. If the USDA inspector cannot approve the payment request, then PSHH will be forced to advance payments to the subcontractors to remain on schedule.  The subs payments will be due on February 18, 2019, so it is likely PSHHC could obtain approval prior to that date.
  • In California, PSHHC reports that the organization has 10 new constructions slated to start in February that are now delayed.
  • In California, PSHHC reports that the organization is about to begin working with USDA on a newly completed USDA Section 514 project, to convert the construction loan to permanent financing. If the shutdown continues PSHHC could find itself having to extend the construction loan and paying more fees and interest, simply because USDA cannot finalize 514 loan documents.
  • In Oregon, NeighborWorks Umpqua reports that 1 family is going to return their loan docs to USDA but no one will be there to receive it and there will no funds to start construction.
  • In Washington, Office of Rural Farmworker Housing (ORFH) reports that the organization is awaiting final approval of a relatively minor architectural change on new farm worker housing.

Section 515

  • In Washington, Office of Rural Farmworker Housing (ORFH) reports that the organization cannot close two construction contracts covering the rehabilitation of 515 units because RD staff are not available to sign off on it. Among other impacts is a delay of payment to the contractor.

Self Help Housing

  • In California, Coachella Valley Housing Coalition (CVHC) reports that the organization took a draw before the shutdown for the 80+ houses CVHC has in various stages of construction. However, if the shutdown goes on longer, CVHC may not have the funds to buy the next round of materials and will have to shut down construction for those families.
    • Assuming that USDA will continue to accrue interest on their 502 construction loans so their costs will go up.
  • In California, CVHC reports that the organization has in escrow for 64 lots in the town of Imperial and had families ready to be submitted to USDA for the first group to begin building on those lots. With the closure, CVHC will not be able to qualify those families and close their loans to begin construction.
  • In California, PSHHC reports that the construction starts for 10 families slated to start in February will be delayed.
  • In California, PSHHC will have to advance funds to pay contractors to remain on schedule for completion of 29 self-help homes. The advance could be in excess of $300,000 per the December costs. The advance will likely be extended for at least 30 days if the shutdown ends as scheduled.
  • In Hawaii, Self-Help Housing Corporation of Hawaii (SHHCH) reports that the organization is unable to get 13 loans closed, and start construction with the Pokai Bay Team 4 Project.
  • In Delaware, Milford Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) reports that the organization has 17 homes under construction.
    • 4 of those families are running low on their SH Construction loan funds. MHDC will need to pause their construction.
    • The other families have some money but those funds will dwindle as we then concentrate on those homes with the others paused.
  • In Delaware, MHDC reports that the organization has 3 files at USDA preparing to close but can’t and 6 files at USDA that can’t be reviewed for eligibility if no one is there.
  • In Utah, Mountainlands Community Housing Trust reports that Section 523 Mutual Self Help Housing Grants are not being processed.
  • In Washington, Catholic Charities Housing Services (CCHS) reports that projects involving 5 families have no availability of funding to pay subcontractors for current construction – forcing CCHS to go out of pocket to pay these invoices to help small business owners make payroll.
  • In Washington, CCHS reports no availability of funding for quarterly 523 grant reimbursement which further constrains agency cash flows as CCHS is waiting on reimbursement of expenditures.
  • In Alaska, Rural Alaska Community Action Program reports 10 impacted families.
  • In Kentucky, Frontier Housing reports that the organization has its first self-help build group that is about to start construction, and only 2 of the 5 homebuyers will have USDA financing.  Frontier Housing is weighing whether or not to start construction and retain ownership of all the lots, or wait for USDA to be available to close their loans.  If construction start, and then subsequently In Arkansas, financing, which may include Frontier carrying some of the mortgages ourselves.
  • Little Dixie Community Action Agency reports:
    • In Arkansas, 43 families have been impacted with homes are under construction but payments to contractors and vendors are delayed, USDA certifications are on hold, and certified cannot have surveys ordered due to USDA employees not being available to sign checks or order surveys.
    • In New Mexico, Grantee is waiting on final inspection for 3 participants.
    • In Oklahoma, 10 families have been impacted. Grantee has one family ready for a final inspection, one waiting on loan certification, and four waiting on loan processing in order to close the loan. Grantee has four homes under construction but contractors and vendors payments are delayed due to no USDA employees available to sign checks. Another five certified families are looking for land but surveys cannot be ordered due to no USDA employees available to order them and one application for certification at USDA that cannot move forward.

Rental Assistance

Provides a rental housing subsidy to very low income households, elderly households, and persons with disabilitiesOver 270,000 families receive this assistance from USDA. The last rental assistance payments were made in December 2018.  There is not any information available for January payments.  Without those payments, housing for these families will be in jeopardy.

  • In New York, PathStone reports that rental assistance for farm labor housing will be a major problem later in January if USDA doesn’t come up with a stop gap measure for getting that paid out.
  • In Washington, CCHS reports that if rental assistance is not available, then it will significantly impact the organization’s ability to pay vendors in a timely manner.
  • In California, Self-Help Enterprises reports the organization has 315 units of 514 housing that have rental assistance. A conservative estimate is that the 521 RA payments each month are at least $100,000 in aggregate are at risk.

Home Safety and Maintenance Repair Grants

  • In Kentucky, Housing Development Alliance reports 1 home repair delay for an elderly lady who is line to get a 504 grant because she has no functioning heat system. Her application is on hold so she goes without heat.
  • In Kentucky, Frontier Housing reports that the organization is working with 1 elderly and disabled homeowner whose 504 grant/loan deal is on hold. Her roof leaks, and that has damaged the attic insulation, drywall on the ceiling, and her floors. Frontier is currently looking at what they can do to help at least make her home dry, while she waits for USDA to fund the whole project.
  • In New Mexico, Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation reports that 11 families face delays in receiving or approving Section 504 Loans/Grants

Operation Issues

  • In Hawaii, Self-Help Housing Corporation of Hawaii (SHHCH) reports that if the shutdown lasts more than a month, SHHCH will have to take out an operating loan to make payroll since no Section 523 grant draws will be forthcoming. An extended delay would also impact their ability to attain construction draws; thereby affecting future deliveries of material.
  • In Kentucky, Housing Development Alliance reports the organization was supposed to sell two houses next week. That will not happen now.  That mean two families not only have to wait on their home, but also either convince their landlords to let the stay in the current home a little longer or find temporary housing.
  • In California, Peoples’ Self Help Housing (PSHHC) reports that the organization will not receive 523 grant funds which run about $60,000 per month.
  • In Kentucky, Frontier Housing reports that the organization closed on its 523 grant in mid-December and now has to decide whether to press forward with the self-help program, or wait until Frontier can draw 523 funds. If they go ahead, Frontier risks incurring staff and admin costs without being able to draw on the 523 grant.
  • In California, Self-Help Enterprises is depending on a 523 Grant draw of approximately $200,000 for February.
  • In Oklahoma, Deep Fork Community Action Foundation, Inc. reports they are not able to get checks signed to pay contractors or to order draws for the Homeowners before the Gov’t shut down.
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Congress Deals Rural Housing Organizations a Mixed Hand


Contact: Bob Rapoza
National Rural Housing Coalition
1331 G St NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC  20005
Phone: (202) 393-5225
Fax (202) 393-3034

Congress holds on passing rural housing funding, despite strong indications for the need and history of strong bipartisan support

Washington, D.C. — October 1, 2018 — On Friday, the House of Representatives adjourned to focus on the midterm elections, while the Senate stays behind to continue working on nominations. The National Rural Housing Coalition (NRHC) lamented Congress’ inability to work out issues in H.R. 6147, which includes U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, as well as Interior, Treasury, Transportation and HUD. While the unresolved issues did not involve USDA Rural Housing appropriations, it still leaves funding up in the air for these important programs until at least mid-November. However, the Coalition was pleased with a new Senate bill proposing the single largest investment in rural housing programs, which was introduced last week by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“We are in the middle of a rural housing crisis with only about 10 percent of new homes being built in rural areas, leaving unaffordable, aged and increasingly decrepit housing as the only options for rural Americans,” said Bob Rapoza, executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. “Congress needs to make more investments and ensure that USDA rural housing are secure and fully funded.”

The rental housing financed by USDA, mostly through its Section 515 Rural Rental Housing program, is often the only affordable housing in small towns and farming communities. According to a 2016 USDA report, the cost to preserve and maintain this portfolio of some 450,000 units over 20 years totals $5.6 billion. The majority of residents at these developments are low income and most are elderly households.

“Rural Americans were some of those hardest hit by the Great Recession and with a lack of decent, safe, and affordable rural housing they are now being left behind from its recovery,” said Rapoza. “The lack of decent housing is increasingly an obstacle to economic growth for rural communities, causing businesses to locate elsewhere and perpetuating high out-migration from communities already struggling to attract a high-skilled workforce.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on this very issue in May. In an article titled, “Rural America Has Jobs. Now It Just Needs Housing,” the author noted that due to a lack of housing in rural areas, employers with available jobs could not find workers because they had no suitable place to live. Analysis from the Housing Assistance Council of 2010 Census data further validates this assertion. That data revealed that only 25 million housing units are located in rural and small communities of the approximately 116 million occupied housing units available in the United States. In addition, 1.5 million of these homes are considered either moderately or severely substandard. Although most Americans take indoor plumbing and potable water at the tap for granted, it is unavailable to the 4 percent of rural occupied units.

On the matter of housing affordability in rural communities, a recent report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that 5 million households of rural renters are cost-burdened, meaning that renters pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs. In fact, 21 percent (2.1 million households) of rural households that rent pay more than 50 percent of income for housing.

NRHC notes that rural housing is not without its advocates in Congress. Republican-passed Appropriations bills have largely ignored the Administration’s proposals to decrease rural housing funding. Further, this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act of 2018. The legislation responds to the lack of affordable housing in America and includes provisions to increase funding for the rural housing programs administered USDA. Reps. Sean Duffy (R-WI), Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Jim Costa (D-CA) have argued to support these federal rural housing programs through the annual appropriations process.

“The bill is a historic investment that would improve the quality of rural housing and decrease housing costs for rural families,” says Rapoza. ”It would double section 502 loans to $2 billion, provide $500 million to rehabilitate and preserve rural rental housing, finance an estimated 6,000 units of farm-labor housing, and more than double section 523 Self-Help Housing grants to $75 million. This investment in rural housing attacks the problem head-on and saves money by accelerating the timetable for preservation and repair.”

For more information about rural housing and community development, please visit the National Rural Housing Coalition’s webpage.

About the National Rural Housing Coalition

NRHC is a national membership organization of non-profit housing organizations, housing developers, state and local officials, and housing advocates. Since 1969, NRHC has promoted and defended the principle that rural people have the right—regardless of income—to a decent, affordable place to live, clean drinking water, and basic community services.

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