Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the “Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2022” (S.4872) on September 15. The bill aims to protect access to affordable housing for people living in rural communities and, if passed, would make needed investments and improvements for low-income renters in rural housing programs. NLIHC has endorsed the bill, as well as a companion bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Cindy Axne (D-IA) in March 2021. The Minnesota Housing Partnership, an NLIHC state partner, has also endorsed the Senate bill.
Senators Shaheen and Smith discussed how the bill can help serve low-income tenants at a September 20 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs’ Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development. “The USDA Rural Housing Service program remains a critical source of housing,” said Senator Shaheen. “Some of its programs are showing signs of strain … The [bill] will preserve existing affordable units as we explore more ways to build more.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS) helps build and improve housing through services such as loans, grants, and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing. Its Section 515 program makes direct loans to developers to finance affordable multi-family rental housing for very low-income, low-income, and moderate-income families, for elderly people, and for persons with disabilities. Borrowers of Section 515 loans are restricted in the rent amounts they charge tenants in return for low-cost financing. When properties exit the 515 programs, the owner is no longer required to keep rents affordable for low-income households. Rising rents can cause displacement and housing insecurity for current tenants and a loss of affordable housing stock for future residents.
To prevent displacement and housing insecurity, the bill would restructure existing RHS Section 515 loans to allow renters to continue to receive rental assistance even after the USDA mortgage on the property matures and provide incentives for property owners to stay in the program. The bill would require properties seeking to decouple rental assistance from the USDA loan to adhere to certain conditions such as signing a restrictive use agreement and multi-year rental assistance contract to provide longer term rental assistance protections for existing and future tenants.
NLIHC also supports companion legislation introduced in the House under the same name by Representative Cindy Axne (D-IA). The “Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2021” (H.R. 1728) would increase funding for rental assistance and require USDA to make a plan for long-term preservation of rural housing properties. The bill also includes protections against denial or termination of assistance or eviction for rural housing voucher recipients if they have been victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Both the House and Senate versions of the “Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act” have also been endorsed by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and Enterprise Community Partners.
Rural communities face unique challenges when dealing with the affordable housing crisis. Far too many rural renters live in unaffordable, overcrowded, or substandard homes. NLIHC strongly supports increasing resources to build and preserve affordable rental homes for people with the greatest needs, including rural America’s poorest seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and others.
Read the press release for the bill at: https://bit.ly/3r1Ue3T
Read the bill at: https://bit.ly/3LAj6Jz
View a recording of the “Examining the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service: Stakeholder Perspectives” hearing and the witnesses’ testimony at: https://bit.ly/3feXXbO
Learn more about USDA’s Rural Rental Housing Programs on page 4-81 of NLIHC’s 2022 Advocate’s Guide.