NLIHC and National Housing Law Project Send Letter to Banking Committee Senators Recommending Improvements to Rural Housing

NLIHC and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) sent a letter to Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), chair and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee Housing Subcommittee, with recommendations on how to improve the Rural Housing Service (RHS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Rural Development (RD) department. The letter highlights inconsistencies within the Rural Housing Service and urges Congress to improve tenant protections and increase the affordable rental housing stock under RHS’s portfolio. The letter was sent in response to a request for feedback from the senators as they consider legislation.

On June 8, Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) requested stakeholder feedback on rural housing. The bipartisan invitation came shortly after the  May 25 hearing on the USDA-RD housing services, “Examining the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service.” The solicitation recognized the value of housing in rural communities: “Without access to housing nothing else in your life works. Not your job, your health, your education or your family,” stated Senator Smith.

The NLIHC and NHLP letter urges Congress to improve renter protections for tenants served in USDA-RD housing programs and to take action to preserve and increase affordable housing in rural communities. The goals stated in the letter are aligned with NLIHC’s work in the Rural Preservation Working Group, a group of over 30 local, regional, and national organizations focused on the preservation of USDA multifamily housing. “In rural communities, the rental housing provided by USDA’s Rural Housing Service has been a critical source of housing, especially as it is often the only source of stable, safe, decent housing,” the letter states. “March 2022 study published by the Housing Assistance Council found that ‘921 Section 515 properties left the portfolio between 2016 and July 2021 – nearly three times the original USDA projection for maturing mortgages alone during the five-year period.’” The letter urges Congress to fund new construction and preservation efforts to help prevent USDA properties from exiting the portfolio, to facilitate the transfer of properties that are exiting to nonprofits, and to decouple rental assistance from the requirement that it is only provided to properties with active USDA loans.

Read the letter here:

Read the senators’ request for feedback here:

Watch the May 25 hearing on Rural housing here: