April 2, 2020

COVID-19 in Rural America: This is the Time to Include, Not Exclude, Our Rural Communities 

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated quickly across the United States, with confirmed infections in all 50 states. No part of the country is spared from the uncertainty of job loss and the fear of not being able to pay bills – including rent and mortgage payments. 

These fears hit particularly close to home for rural Americans – especially those making less than $15,000 per year, people living in senior housing and people with disabilities. 

Recent federal economic stimulus packages have huge outlays of spending to address workers, corporations, small businesses and the medical community. Housing programs administered by HUD have been included in increased funding.

However, as with the stimulus package approved to address the recession in 2008, rural housing services are being ignored. No additional funding is proposed or planned for some of the most vulnerable Americans. USDA's Rural Housing Service's housing portfolio – often the only rental housing in rural communities – provides an affordable home for many rural American’s renters.

USDA’s Rural Development Multi-Family Housing At-a-Glance

USDA’s Rural Development housing programs provide both rental and homeownership assistance. Here’s a snapshot of who the programming serves, based on their 2019 Multi-Family Housing Annual Fair Housing Occupancy Report.

  • As of September 20, 2019, 13,542 multifamily properties with 417,441 homes are provided through the Rural Development Multi-Family Housing program (MFH).
  • MFH occupants must qualify as low- or very low-income or low income (at or below 50 and 80 percent of area median income, respectively).
  • Of MFH households, 92 percent are very low-income, and 63 percent are occupied by seniors aged 62 and older and or residents with disabilities.
  • Female-headed households make up almost 72 percent of total MFH households.
  • Average MFH annual household income is $14,014, with that number dropping to just $11,557 for Rental Assistance households.

Rural residents have all the same health, employment and family concerns as others who live in HUD developments funded by COVID-19 stimulus packages, but for some reason, they were overlooked. HUD programs received over $12 billion in the most recent $2.2 trillion-dollar stimulus package. 

While we are thrilled that these critical programs were funded, we do want to bring attention to the fact that HUD’s rural counterpart -- USDA Rural Development housing programs – did not receive a cent. There is still a chance to remember our rural communities as further stimulus packages are approved. We’re all in this crisis together, and we must respond as a strong, united nation. Rural Americans need our support. If ever there was a time for our representatives to champion the needs of rural communities, this is it.

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