Senators Smith, Shaheen Introduce Legislation to Protect Thousands of Low-Income Families in Rural Areas from Losing their Homes

[WASHINGTON, DC]— U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation in the Senate this week to ensure that thousands of low-income tenants in rural areas are able to maintain access to safe and affordable housing.

The Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2022 would protect access to affordable housing for families that are largely elderly, disabled and live in rural areas, who are at risk of losing rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS).  

“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.” 

“Affordable housing is one of the biggest issues impacting New Hampshire families, especially as we work to recover from the pandemic which exacerbated a pre-existing, serious concern,” said Senator Shaheen. “This legislation targets our most vulnerable populations affected by housing insecurity or those who are at risk for experiencing it by enhancing the USDA’s ability to provide rental assistance. This is a commonsense bill that would make a real difference for rural Granite State communities in need.” 

Specifically, the bill will provide the RHS tools to maintain rental assistance for residents in prepaid or maturing properties 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 further protects residents by allowing rental assistance to be decoupled from the underlying loan but remain in place at the property. It also gives the resident an option to transfer their rental assistance to another eligible property. Finally, the bill requires 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. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

“USDA housing programs are one of the most important sources of stable housing for low-income rural residents but require new resources and updates to meet today’s needs,” said Elizabeth Glidden, Deputy Executive Director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership. “Section 515 rural rental properties provide twenty percent of Minnesota’s affordable rural rental homes, serving seniors, individuals with disabilities, and families with extremely low incomes; without action these homes will be lost due to maturing mortgages and deteriorating conditions, creating housing instability and forcing people to leave communities that are their homes. We applaud this legislation as giving USDA tangible tools to address the rural housing crisis and support continued investment in rural communities.”

“National Housing Law Project is grateful to Senators Shaheen and Smith for their continued leadership on pressing rural housing issues. Their bill, the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2022, 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

“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.” 

“We applaud the introduction of this important rural housing legislation. We see this bill as an important first step in implementing procedures that will lead to the preservation of the existing multifamily rural portfolio. It will demonstrate Congress’s continued commitment to a vital source of housing in rural areas throughout the country.  We look forward to working with Senators Shaheen and Smith and their staff to pass this bill and then to also work with the House on similar measures,” said Coleen Fisher, Executive Director, Council for Affordable and Rural Housing. 

“Many low-income rural families rely on USDA multifamily housing properties to provide affordable rental opportunities in rural places, and preserving those properties is rapidly reaching a crisis point in many communities. We applaud Senators Shaheen and Smith’s leadership on this important legislation to provide USDA with tools to address this crisis,” said David Lipsetz, President & CEO of the Housing Assistance Council. “Since its inception in 1963, the Section 515 program has financed nearly 28,000 rental properties containing over 533,000 affordable apartment units, but fewer than 12,900 properties and approximately 370,000 occupied units remain in the program today. No new construction has been undertaken in a decade. Without action, USDA and the rural families they serve will continue to lose thousands of affordable Section 515 units each year to mortgage maturations. The provisions of this bill would help USDA to address the preservation needs of these critical properties.”