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Key Questions and Considerations for the Senate Hearing on USDA’s Rural Housing Service

Rural America is diverse—with unique assets, challenges, economies, and communities. But like most of America, rural households are increasingly facing housing insecurity and high housing cost burdens, while also grappling with more severely substandard housing conditions and more limited access to credit.

The Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development plans to explore the housing needs of our country’s rural communities, and USDA’s role in addressing them, in a hearing with the Under Secretary for Rural Development, Xochitl Torres Small.

To inform the Subcommittee’s examination of rural housing issues, BPC Housing Council member Jim King authored a statement for the record. Pulling from his experiences at Fahe—a regional, nonprofit, financial intermediary working throughout Appalachia to support access to capital for housing and community development, the statement outlines six key issues that merit both the Subcommittee and the USDA’s attention:

  • Program Income Eligibility
  • Declining Buyer Power and Increasing Project Costs
  • The Appraisal Gap
  • Need to Strengthen Nonprofit Partners
  • Workforce Barriers
  • Federal Match Requirements
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Download the Statement

In advance of the hearing, BPC’s J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing Policy also prepared the following questions:

  1.  In its annual reports on opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly identified the need for better collaboration and coordination between housing and economic development programs at HUD, USDA, and the Commerce Department. How do you plan to address this recommendation and work more effectively with other federal agencies—particularly HUD—to better meet the housing needs of America’s rural communities?
  2. Households in rural areas are often excluded from accessing federal housing assistance, including USDA resources, because of how area median incomes and associated program eligibilities are calculated. USDA has worked creatively to correct the disparities that these rules and calculations create using a policy known as “income banding,” which allows households of various sizes to qualify for programs as if they were larger households. Is there a more permanent and holistic solution to ensure that USDA and other federal housing programs more efficiently and fairly reach the most disadvantaged households and communities?
  3.  Natural disasters are becoming more severe and frequent—and with devastating consequences for rural communities. How can USDA help rural communities understand their climate and disaster risks and vulnerabilities and make needed investments in more resilient housing and infrastructure?
  4. USDA’s Section 504 program provides grants and loans to low-income seniors for home repairs and modifications in rural areas. Despite the growing number of seniors who could benefit from the program, BPC’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force previously found that burdensome application processes, limited grant and loan amounts, and other issues prevented greater uptake. What is the USDA doing to modernize the Section 504 home repair program and support healthy aging among low-income seniors?
  5. An increasing number of both HUD- and USDA-assisted multifamily rental properties are at risk of deterioration and do not have the resources to make fundamental repairs. Absent new federal funding, how is USDA working to prioritize and support the rehabilitation and preservation of affordable rental housing
  6. While homelessness in rural areas is often overlooked and underappreciated, families in rural communities also struggle with housing insecurity and high housing cost burdens. Reports have found the incidence of rural homelessness to be rising over the last several years, but better tools are needed to evaluate this growing problem and effectively respond. How is USDA working with federal, state, and local partners to better understand rural homelessness and provide rural communities with sufficient support and resources to address it?
  7. While manufactured homes are an important source of housing for millions of Americans, especially those with low incomes and in rural areas, financing them remains a challenge. What solutions is the USDA exploring to support and advance innovations like manufactured homes that could address housing supply constraints in rural communities?

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