Housing Assistance Council Builds Rural Communities

Tamme Tannehill

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is a national, nonprofit corporation headquartered in Washington, D.C., that helps local organizations build affordable homes in rural areas throughout the country. HAC's board of directors is comprised of members from private industry, government and nonprofit housing agencies at the national, state and local levels. It emphasizes local solutions and self-help strategies in the development of both single- and multi-family housing and promotes homeownership for working, low-income rural families through sweat-equity construction methods (helping to build houses for themselves and others). Over the past 26 years, HAC has helped build almost 15,000 units in self-help housing.

HAC commits between $2 million and $4 million annually in loans for project start-up costs to community-based housing sponsors.

HAC has gained a national reputation by providing loans for seed money, technical assistance, program and policy analysis, research and demonstration projects, training, and information services to public and nonprofit organizations nationwide that are concerned about affordable housing for low-income rural Americans. Its goal is to go into the most underserved states, those having the most need. With more than $12 million in assets, HAC commits between $2 million and $4 million annually in loans for project start-up costs to community-based housing sponsors. Since 1972, HAC has made more than $65 million in loans to help create more than 26,000 housing units in 49 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

In 1997, a $13.5 million loan fund, the Self-Help Home Ownership Program (SHOP), was established to help produce self-help, sweat-equity housing. The funds go to nonprofit development organizations to help with the purchase of land and infrastructure costs. The organizations that receive funding commit to building a certain number of housing units within a two-year period. For example, the Appalachian Service Project committed to building 10 houses in Tennessee, and the Scott-Morgan Community Development Corporation will build eight units. In Arkansas, the CHICOT Housing Assistance Corporation committed to developing 13 units; Universal Housing Development Corporation has promised 17 houses. If an organization reaches its goal, HAC forgives up to 75 percent of the loan amount. These funds then can be used for soft seconds or for starting a revolving loan fund.

"The concept of SHOP," said Moises Loza, executive director of HAC, "is for a nonprofit housing organization to work with first-time, low-income homeowners who agree to provide sweat equity, which lowers the building costs and makes the houses more affordable. Self-Help Housing families have a strong commitment to building their homes, and it gives them a sense of neighborhood after the process is completed."

In addition to delivering thousands of hours of technical assistance each year to organizations and developers improving low-income rural housing, HAC sponsors four to six intensive training workshops each year with an emphasis on housing development, financing, construction and nonprofit management. HAC also convenes the annual National Rural Housing Conference. For more information on HAC's programs or to learn about self-help organizations in your area, call (202) 842-8600, or check its web site at www.ruralhome.org.

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