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Shaheen, Smith Reintroduce Legislation to Protect Access to Affordable Housing for Families in Rural Areas

(Washington, DC) – This week, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tina Smith (D-MN) reintroduced the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act, which would ensure that thousands of low-income tenants in rural areas are able to maintain access to safe and affordable housing. This legislation would protect access to affordable housing for families in rural areas that are often elderly or disabled, who are at risk of losing rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS).

Specifically, the bill would provide the RHS tools to maintain rental assistance for residents in properties with prepaid or maturing mortgages, who are at risk of losing their homes, by restructuring existing Section 515 loans and extending incentives for property owners to stay in the program. In the event a loan restructuring is not possible, the bill would further protect residents by allowing rental assistance to be decoupled from the underlying loan but remain in place at the property, or by allowing the resident to transfer their rental assistance to another eligible property. Finally, the bill would require USDA to establish a plan for preserving affordable rental housing in rural areas, in consultation with an advisory committee composed of a variety of interested stakeholders, including tenants.

“The pandemic exacerbated housing insecurity in New Hampshire and across the nation, and that was felt especially hard in rural communities,” said Senator Shaheen. “As Americans recover from the economic hardships of COVID-19, addressing the affordable housing crisis is pivotal. Every Granite Stater deserves to be safely housed, and it’s crucial that Congress acts now to lessen the impact of the affordable housing crisis on vulnerable families. The Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act would help address these obstacles by providing resources and assistance to renters in rural communities who would otherwise face housing instability. Granite Staters know that we need more housing, and this bill takes the first step in addressing that by repairing and preserving the housing we have.”

“Without access to housing, nothing else in your life works. Not your job, your health, your education or your family,” said Senator Smith. “As Chair of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, I have worked with stakeholders to expand access to affordable housing, but we also need to make sure that people who already have a place they call home can keep it that way. And that’s what this bill does. Our measure would help families and elderly Minnesotans stay in their homes.”

“The Housing Assistance Council applauds Senator Shaheen and Senator Smith on the introduction of the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act. The preservation of USDA's Section 515 multifamily portfolio is a rising crisis for our rural communities, where these units are often the only affordable rental option," said David Lipsetz, President & CEO of the Housing Assistance Council. "This bill would give USDA important tools to address the preservation crisis and is the result of a great deal of stakeholder engagement. We are especially appreciative of Senator Shaheen's continued commitment to this legislation as it has evolved over nearly ten years. Now is the time to get this important legislation enacted and preserve these affordable rental units for our rural communities."

“The Council for Affordable and Rural Housing (CARH) applauds the efforts of Senator Shaheen as she introduces legislation that will allow Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA) to continue after mortgage maturity of loans on rural multifamily housing properties,” said Colleen M. Fisher, Executive Director CARH. “This allowance will promote another resource for preserving the rural multifamily portfolio. We look forward to working with Senator Shaheen as the legislation moves through the Congress and becomes law.”

“The Local Initiatives Support Corporation is proud to support the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act, since we’ve seen firsthand the hardship caused by losing affordable rental housing in rural communities. U.S. Department of Agriculture financed properties are often the only affordable rental housing in small towns and house some of our nation’s most vulnerable residents,” said Caitlin Cain, Vice President of the Rural Local Initiative Support Corporation. “The resources provided under this legislation will help preserve this critical housing stock while furthering tenant protections. We applaud Senators Shaheen and Smith for their commitment to Rural America and leadership in affordable housing preservation.”

“The National Rural Housing Coalition is pleased to support the efforts of Senator Shaheen to preserve affordable rental housing in rural America.  More specifically, NRHC supports Senator Shaheen’s bill, the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2023, which authorizes programs and policies to preserve rental housing financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are some 400,000 units of USDA-financed rental housing in rural areas. For many rural communities, this is the only affordable housing in town. This housing is occupied by low-income households, with the majority occupied by elderly households and persons with disabilities,” said Robert A. Rapoza, Executive Secretary of National Rural Housing Coalition. “Senator Shaheen’s bill ensures that the subsidies necessary to keep this housing affordable remain in place. The legislation also authorizes financing to preserve and maintain rural rental housing and improves the rural housing vouchers program. Senator Shaheen deserves credit for tackling this difficult problem. We urge Congress to enact the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2023 this year.”

“NHLP is grateful to Senator Shaheen for her continued leadership on pressing rural housing issues. Her persistence and vision around preservation led us to this inflection point where Congress must act. Her bill, the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2023, is a necessary tool to preserve affordable rental housing in rural communities. USDA’s housing often provides the only affordable units in a community, and the preservation of its remaining portfolio is essential to the health of rural America. The bill would allow tenants to remain in affordable rural housing even after a USDA mortgage on the property has matured and would protect the rights of these tenants,” said Shamus Roller, Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project.

“Some 400,000 rural rental households are facing the loss of rental assistance because of outdated laws and regulations,” said Jacqueline Waggoner, President of the Solutions Division at Enterprise Community Partners. “Thanks to Senators Shaheen and Smith for introducing this commonsense solution to ensure that the primary tool to help low-income rural renters have safe, stable places to live is preserved.”

“Every community is impacted by our nation’s affordable housing crisis, including those in rural America, where often the only source of affordable rental homes is those financed with federal resources. When these homes are lost – whether due to the lack of repairs or when property owners exit the program, it can have devastating consequences for low-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and others,” stated Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “We look forward to working with Congress to enact the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act as an important step to ensuring affordable homes in rural communities are preserved and protecting the people who live in them from harmful rent increases, evictions, and displacement.”

Senator Angus King (I-ME) is also an original cosponsor of the legislation.

The Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act would:

  • Codify and improve the existing USDA Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) program to support loan restructuring and extend additional support for both property owners and tenants at USDA multifamily properties.
  • Allow for decoupling of USDA rental assistance under Section 521 from USDA multifamily mortgages to ensure elderly and low-income residents living at USDA-financed properties are not cut off from rental assistance and left with no affordable housing and that rural communities do not lose all access to multifamily housing.
  • Allow USDA rural housing vouchers to be provided to residents living in properties with maturing and prepaid mortgages.
  • Give the USDA authority to enter 20-year rental assistance contracts in properties with affordability requirements, subject to annual appropriations, which will ensure access to stable private financing for property owners to preserve and rehabilitate rural multifamily housing.
  • Authorize $50 million to improve technology at USDA for multifamily housing.
  • Direct USDA to create a written plan for preserving affordable housing for residents of USDA multifamily housing and create an advisory committee to assist with that plan.

Full bill text is available here.

Senator Shaheen is a leader in the Senate working to combat homelessness and help vulnerable Granite Staters. Last month, she led the New Hampshire congressional delegation in announcing over $9 million in Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds headed to New Hampshire. These funds were authorized by congressional Democrats’ American Rescue Plan Act and signed into law by President Biden, which included nearly $50 billion for housing, including support for vulnerable renters and homeowners. This is in addition to the $25 billion in emergency rental assistance included in the December 2020 emergency COVID-19 relief legislation, which Shaheen helped lead as part of the “908 Coalition.”