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Housing Policy in Rural America

View the full forum here. State and local housing policy is very important in rural America. This takes several forms:

  • States and local jurisdictions administer key HUD programs such as CDBG and HOME, and housing finance agencies administer the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Often HFAs will work with agencies such as USDA Rural Development on rental and other housing issues.
  • Some states such as New York and California have instituted their own rural housing programs. Texas has developed special programs to help rural colonias neighborhoods.
  • Many states have created housing trust funds or other programs serving both urban and rural places. E.g., Vermont created the state Housing and Conservation Board, with much of its work in rural areas.
  • State programs can act as the last resort for localities that do not have local capacity. Small local governments are much less likely to have housing policies and programs, and have very limited ability to compete for federal or other funds.

States can also have priority criteria or set asides that insure that rural areas are not left out of federal and state resources. States can also coordinate with federal agencies to direct resources to rural needy areas. Some of the worst poverty and poor housing conditions are in some of the poorest states, such as in the Mississippi Delta.

In some local areas affordable housing may face barriers or resistance from local agencies and office holders. In such cases, “NIMBYism” may actually be a local policy or a stance of local politicians.

Rural building codes are largely a state and local function. In recent years there has been increased scrutiny of “regulatory barriers” to housing. But the opposite is likely to be true in many rural communities. A lack of oversight, planning, and regulation contribute to rural housing inadequacies, code violations and persistently substandard homes. (E.g., in colonias and remote rural communities). Some states have basic statewide housing and landlord-tenant codes and regulations; but rural geography also may combine with insufficient funding to create lack of enforcement. Housing codes and planning, often taken for granted in urban and suburban communities, may be nonexistent in some remote places.

On the other hand, sometimes local governments are key actors in improving local rural housing coalitions. For example, in Western Massachusetts, a local government agency, the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, created a successful housing nonprofit, Rural Development, Inc.

An important factor is the role (or absence) of state housing coalitions. In many states they are mostly urban focused. But California and New York have decades-old state rural housing coalitions. They have played very important roles in affordable housing in their states.

Another factor is that “state level” does not always mean state government. USDA Rural Development policies and practices can vary by state, even though their state offices are part of a federal agency and are all administering the same federal programs.

Joe Belden is Deputy Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Council

Welcome to the BPC Housing Commission expert forum! This forum is intended to foster interactive and substantive discussion about pressing housing issues. Each month contributors from different parts of the housing sector will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Guest posts will feature prominently on BPC’s website, as well as be shared regularly with Housing Commissioners to help inform their work. Have a pressing question you’d like us to consider? Please leave it in the comments section. We encourage you and our expert bloggers to add comments, contributing to the national dialogue on solutions for the future of the housing sector. Expert bloggers are not members of the BPC Housing Commission. Any views expressed on this forum do not necessarily represent the views of the Housing Commission, its Co-Chairs, or the Bipartisan Policy Center.

2012-11-20 00:00:00
What should be the interaction (if any) between state and local policies that impact housing availability and affordability?

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