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

[Washington, DC] – This week, U.S. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced legislation 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 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).   

“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 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.” 

“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.” 

“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.” 

Specifically, the bill will 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 further protects 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 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.
Senator Angus King (I-ME) is also an original cosponsor of the legislation. 

The legislation 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.