The Rural Housing and Community Facilities Programs, also known as the Rural Housing Service (RHS) and as the Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Service (HCFP), is a division within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency, which administers aid to rural communities in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and grants for housing and community facilities. Programs focus on home ownership and restoration, farm worker housing, multi-family housing projects, community facilities, and rental assistance. Even though RHS aims to help isolated and underserved rural communities, a 2004 Congressional Research Report found that rural areas continued to account for a “disproportionate share of the nation’s substandard housing.” Although home ownership is the principal form of housing in rural areas, residents are faced with higher development costs, limited access to mortgage credit, and pay more of their household income for housing than urban residents. The Administrator for RHS is Tammye Treviño.
The Rural Housing Service was established in 1994, but its roots date to housing and community initiatives started in the Great Depression and continued under the Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) that was created in 1946. The FmHA was tasked with providing loans and loan guarantees to farmers and low-income families in rural areas for construction and repair of housing, in addition to farm improvements and improvements to water systems and community safety.
In 1994, during a significant reorganization of the Department of Agriculture, the housing work of the FmHA was transferred to the newly created Rural Housing Service under the larger Rural Development agency.
USDA Rural Housing Programs: An Overview (by Bruce E. Foote, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)
The Rural Housing Service (RHS) offers 18 grant, loan, and loan guarantee programs directly to individuals or organizations; those programs are administered through state and local Rural Development offices and service centers across the country. Eligible applicants are typically residents in “open country or rural towns” with no more than 20,000 people. There are some exceptions for certain programs that allow for recipients in both rural and urban areas.
Programs include loans for buying, repairing, or constructing single-family homes, loans and grants to address safety and health hazards and construct or rent housing for farm workers and rural residents in general. The agency also provides rental assistance payments, interest subsidies for home loans, and loans for the development for rural housing. Other programs help provide housing projects for targeted communities such as the elderly or disabled, or community facilities such as libraries, schools, municipal buildings.
According to the FY 2012 proposed budget, the largest programs are the payments provided for rental assistance, under Section 502 and Section 521, which total $907 million in budget authority. Other large programs include the Community Facilities grant program with a budget authority of $38 million, and direct loans for multi-family housing which has a budget authority of $32 million.
From the Web Site of the Rural Housing and Community Facilities Programs
Recipients of Rural Housing Service (RHS) aid include rural residents, rural and urban farm workers, individuals and groups with special needs, rural communities, nonprofits, local governments, and individual homeowners and renters.
From 2002-2012, the RHS gave more than $6.2 billion in more than 40,000 direct payments, according to a query of USAspending.gov. The agency also gave more than $1.5 billion in grants, nearly $869 million in loans, and nearly $728 million in contracts from 2002-2012.
Rural Housing Budget Cuts
President Barack Obama’s FY 2012 proposed budget called for the reduction or elimination of a number of rural housing loan and grant programs, including mutual and self-help housing, very-low income housing repair loans, single-family direct housing, and guaranteed community facility loans. In total, the reductions were nearly $400 million less than what was provided in FY 2011. The nonprofit Housing Assistance Council said that these cuts would “abandon important efforts to improve housing for the lowest-income homeowners and renters in rural America.” Just a few weeks before the budget was released, Obama said in his State of the Union address, that he would push for a major reorganization of the federal government, citing redundancies in the area of housing policy and exports. Obama’s proposed cuts come after successive cuts to rural housing during the previous administration of George W. Bush.
Clash with Congress Loom as Obama Rolls Out $3.73 Trillion Budget (by Steven Thomma, David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers)
Administration Budget for FY 2012 Would Slash 502 Direct, Self-Help, and Multifamily Preservation (Housing Assistance Council)
Housing Budget Disappointing for Rural Americans, Experts Say (Housing Assistance Council)
Special Report on 2008 Farm Bill Conference Report (National Association of Development Organizations) (pdf)
In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for a major reorganization of the federal government, noting, among other things, that “There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.” In addition to the Rural Housing Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Housing Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and offices in the departments of Defense, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs all oversee and administer housing policy.
State of the Union 2011: Obama Calls for Reorganization of Federal Agencies (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)
How Would You Reorganize the Federal Government? (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)
Obama Calls for Reorganization of Federal Bureaucracy (by Sean Reilly, Federal Times)
Obama Moves Forward with Government Reorganization (by David Jackson, USA Today)
Should Housing Subsidies Be Abolished?
Many argue that federal subsidies, including the housing aid provided by the RHS, should be abolished.
The conservative Cato Institute argues that subsidies in housing and electricity “duplicate functions that the private sector usually performs” and hinder growth, and so should be abolished.
Rural Subsidies (by Stephen Slivinski, CATO Institute)
Others believe that subsidies were instituted to solve issues of poverty that are still rampant in rural America. Although home ownership in rural areas is the principal form of housing, residents usually pay higher development costs and a higher percentage of their income for mortgage, and have more limited access to credit than their urban counterparts, a Congressional Research Service report found.
An Overview of USDA Rural Development Programs (by Tadlock Cowan, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)
Russell T. Davis, (2004-2009)
Russell T. Davis Speaker Biography (sixty entry) (pdf)
Tammye H. Treviño has served as administrator of the Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture since June 2009. The agency administers aid to rural communities that focus on home ownership and restoration, farm worker housing, multi-family housing projects, community facilities and rental assistance.