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Promises to Keep in Challenging Times: 2012 National Rural Housing Conference

Greg Sprow about to start construction for the day on his home in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Sprow and other homeowners in his neighborhood were able to get their part of the American Dream with the help of a Self-Help Housing Loan through the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Self-Help Housing Loan Program. One requirement in the contract is that owners of homes in the neighborhood help each other with the construction of each other's homes.

Greg Sprow about to start construction for the day on his home in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Sprow and other homeowners in his neighborhood were able to get their part of the American Dream with the help of a Self-Help Housing Loan through the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Self-Help Housing Loan Program. One requirement in the contract is that owners of homes in the neighborhood help each other with the construction of each other's homes.

“As we determine the future of federal spending, ensuring adequate housing in rural America must be a priority”- that was the statement that many folks, including Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager echoed at the 2012 National Rural Housing Conference, held last week in Washington DC.

As a first timer, I did not know what to expect. Would this be a conference on policy and housing regulations?  Would I have to sit in and listen to the details on every USDA housing program? And what specific promises was this year’s theme referring to? Little did I know, this conference was more than just about how to provide affordable housing to rural residents. It was an opportunity to “dish it out” or “put it all on the table.”

Non- profits from all over the country had come together under one roof for three days to discuss the urgency and immediate need for affordable rural housing. “Despite difficult times, affordable rural housing is still a goal worth pursuing,” said a participant.  Attendees spoke on topics such as; housing regulations, current policy issues, energy efficiency, poverty in Rural America, sharing resources, farm labor housing, how to manage efficient and effective organizations, housing for veterans, and rehabilitation of homes.

As I bounced around from session to session I listened and gained insight into the unique differences and challenges from each state. I found that many organizations have struggled with the lack of funding and the challenge it creates when it comes time to deliver. But many participants at the conference shared ways on how their organization is learning to do more with less.

Peter, Sarah and PJ Riggio pose for a photograph in front of their new home in Newville, Pennsylvania. The Riggios were able to purchase their home with a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

Peter, Sarah and PJ Riggio pose for a photograph in front of their new home in Newville, Pennsylvania. The Riggios were able to purchase their home with a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

So how do these organizations stay afloat? The partnerships of community- based developers with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and USDA rural housing programs allow these organizations to stick to their mission- and keep their promise. These partnerships have and will continue to house millions of American families.

My final stop was a session lead by Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager and USDA Housing Administrator Tammye Trevino titled “The Nuts and Bolts of Rural Development.”  Concerned about what changes the economy may bring next, participants looked to Tonsager and Trevino for guidance on what plans USDA had for the housing program. ”Housing has always and will always be a core value of USDA Rural Development,” said Tonsager.  Tonsager ensured attendees that USDA would continue to keep its promise and deliver safe, quality, affordable rural housing that is built to last.

To find out more about USDA’s housing programs click here.

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