NOTE: This blog will be periodically updated with more information on federal housing programs.
As the national housing crisis intensifies, President Biden has pledged that “housing [should be] a right, not a privilege” and mobilized the executive branch to deliver on this promise. The administration thus far has mostly relied on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for its main housing policy initiatives, and on the Treasury Department and Department of Justice for rental assistance distribution and fair housing enforcement efforts. Nevertheless, the administration and the public should also be paying attention to the bevy of lesser-known housing programs run by other federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Department of the Interior.
Narrowly focusing on a small handful of agencies is misguided, as housing policy (much like climate change or antitrust enforcement) is truly an “all-of-government” issue. In this blog, we’ve compiled a list of lesser-known housing programs and policies run by other federal departments and agencies, as well as the key personnel tasked with administering them.
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development (RD) division, which we previously explored in greater detail, is home to the Rural Housing Service (RHS) agency. The RHS operates a variety of loan, grant, and loan guarantee programs to build and improve housing facilities in rural areas, primarily for low-income people, elderly and disabled individuals, and domestic farm laborers. It had a budget of $31 billion in FY 2021 and received over $1 billion in supplemental funding under the American Rescue Plan. RD is currently headed by former Blue Dog Democratic Congresswoman and Third Way consultant Xochitl Torres Small, and has been plagued for months by crucial state-level vacancies.
Single-family housing programs offered by RHS include:
- Direct home loans provided by USDA to help low- and very-low-income households obtain housing in eligible rural areas. (FY 2021 budget: $1 billion)
- Home loan guarantees backed by USDA and funded by private lenders to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas. (FY 2021 budget: $24 billion)
- Preservation grants to repair or rehabilitate housing owned or occupied by low- and very-low-income rural citizens. (FY 2021 budget: $15.15 million)
- Technical assistance grants to help non-profit organizations and tribes carry out local self-help housing construction projects, wherein very-low- and low-income individuals and families construct their own homes in rural areas. (FY 2021 budget: $31 million)
- Housing repair loans for very-low-income homeowners to repair, improve or modernize their homes. (FY 2021 budget: $28 million)
- Housing repair grants for elderly very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards from their homes. (FY 2021 budget: $30 million)
- Rural housing site loans to purchase and develop housing sites for low- and moderate-income families. (FY 2021 budget: $0)
Multifamily housing programs offered by RHS include:
- Direct loans and grants to develop housing for year-round and seasonal domestic farm laborers. (FY 2021 budget: $38 million)
- Technical assistance grants to improve and preserve rural multi-family rental housing.(FY 2021 budget: $43 million)
- Direct loans to provide affordable multi-family rental housing for low-income, elderly, or disabled individuals and families in eligible rural areas. (FY 2021 budget: $40 million)
- Loan guarantees to private-sector lenders on loans made to eligible borrowers who are building or preserving affordable rural multifamily rental housing. (FY 2021 budget: $230 million)
- Rental assistance funds for low-income rural tenants. (FY 2021 budget: $1.41 billion)
Rural community facility programs (which support projects like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and transitional housing) offered by RHS include:
- Direct loans and grants to public bodies, nonprofits, and recognized tribes to develop essential community facilities in rural areas. (FY 2021 budget: $2.855 billion)
- Loan guarantees to banks, mortgage companies, credit unions, and other eligible lenders to develop essential community facilities in rural areas (FY 2021 budget: $500 million)
- Various other technical assistance and development grants to construct, enlarge, or improve essential community facilities in rural areas (FY 2021 budget: $55 million).
Key RD/RHS personnel:
- Under Secretary for Rural Development: Xochitl Torres Small
- RHS Administrator: Joaquin Altoro
- Rural Development State Directors
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ housing programs are focused on the housing needs of veterans and their families. The VA’s core portfolio of lending and grant-based housing assistance and homeownership programs have a combined budget of around $927 million and are administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) Loan Guaranty Service Office.
- VA-backed loans: The VA offers three types of guaranteed loans to help veterans secure financing from private lenders to purchase a home, reduce monthly mortgage payments, or take cash out of home equity to pay off personal debt and other expenses. VA-backed home loans are also available to surviving spouses of deceased veterans.
- VA direct loans: The direct loan program offers direct financing through the VA (with the agency serving as a mortgage lender) to veterans seeking to buy, build, or improve a home. The most notable direct home loan offered by the VA is the Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program, which is available to Native American veterans and non-Native American veterans married to Native Americans.
- VA housing assistance grants: Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grants are offered by the VA to veterans and service members with service-connected disabilities who are seeking to buy or change their home to meet their needs (for example, installing wheelchair ramps or widening doorways). The VA also provides Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grants to disabled veterans who wish to make changes to family member’s homes in which they temporarily reside.
The VA’s Homeless Program and Asset Enterprise Management Offices also administer four programs specifically aimed at addressing and ending veteran homelessness:
- HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH): A collaborative effort between HUD and the VA to direct HUD and public housing authority-provided rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing to veterans who are experiencing homelessness. In addition to providing HUD vouchers to homeless veterans, VA case managers overseeing HUD-VASH also work to connect enrollees with support services that strengthen their ability to maintain housing security, such as mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling. HUD-VASH is the VA’s largest veteran homelessness care program by budget and number of enrollees, with over $40 million in funds and more than 105,000 subsidized housing vouchers allocated in FY 2021.
- Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD): GPD provides capital grants and per diem payments to community agencies, nonprofits, and state and local governments that provide transitional housing services (such as short-stay housing) to veterans experiencing homelessness. Meant as a “bridge” program to temporarily shelter homeless veterans for up to 24 months, GPD funds support over 600 agencies nationwide and provide over 14,500 beds for eligible veterans. GPD grantees also work to connect homeless veterans with employment, housing, and additional social services to promote housing stability, with the ultimate goal of moving homeless veterans into permanent housing.
- Enhanced-Use Lease Program (EUL): EUL allows the VA to lease certain agency-owned buildings and land to private-sector partners for supportive housing and other projects (such as job training, financial management, and access to fitness and laundry facilities) aimed at homeless and at-risk veterans. EUL leases can last up to 75 years and are often located close to VA healthcare facilities. The EUL Program is managed by the VA’s Office of Asset Enterprise Management (OAEM).
- Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF): SSVF provides case management and supportive services to either prevent the imminent loss of a veteran’s home or to rapidly re-house at-risk and homeless veterans and their families. Created in 2010 by the Obama administration and expanded a decade later by the Trump administration, SSVF is the VA’s first homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program, as well as its first designed to serve veterans with families. In 2020, SSVF grantees received nearly $400 million in CARES Act funds to provide emergency assistance to Veterans impacted by the pandemic.
Key VA personnel:
- Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough
- Under Secretary for Benefits: Thomas J. Murphy (Acting)
- Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits: Michael Frueh
- Senior Executive Director of the VA Homeless Program Office: Monica Diaz
- Executive Director of the Office of Asset Enterprise Management: Brett Simms
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Formerly a division of HUD between 1973 to 1979 and an independent agency from 1979 to 2003, FEMA is now housed within the Department of Homeland Security to better coordinate emergency response and disaster relief among federal agencies and state and local governments. As part of the agency’s disaster preparedness and response efforts, it manages two major housing programs related to disaster relief:
- Individuals and Households Program (IHP): IHP provides direct financial and service assistance to individuals and households whose residences have been majorly affected by a disaster. Examples of IHP assistance include rental assistance and funds for temporary housing, reimbursement of hotel costs, temporary housing units, funds to repair or replace damaged primary residences, and hazard mitigation assistance to help affected homeowners build stronger and more durable homes.
- National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP): Established in 1968, the NFIP is a four-pronged program that offers federally-subsidized flood insurance to residential properties with a high risk of flooding, establishes minimum floodplain management standards for at-risk communities to adopt, distributes flood mitigation grant funds to flood-prone communities, and constructs flood maps to assess regional flood risk. Together, the NFIP’s provisions guide both the short- and long-term preservation and construction of housing in flood risk-prone regions, such as the southern coastline.
- The NFIP is housed in FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) and administered by Senior Executive David Maurstad, Assistant Administrator of Insurance Paul Huang, and Assistant Administrator of Mitigation Katherine Fox. Relatedly, the Flood Insurance Advocate (a currently vacant position) conducts outreach and annual research on the program’s provisions, trends, and shortcomings.
- Congress has failed to pass a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP since the end of FY2017, instead enacting 18 short-term NFIP reauthorizations. The program was most recently reauthorized on a temporary basis on December 3rd, 2021 and is set to expire on February 18, 2022 unless Congress enacts a long-term permanent reauthorization before then.
Key FEMA personnel:
- FEMA Administrator: Deanne Criswell
- Deputy Associate Administrator of FIMA and Senior Executive of NFIP: David Maurstad
- Assistant Administrator of Insurance: Paul Huang
- Assistant Administrator of Mitigation: Katherine Fox
- Director of the Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate: VACANT (former Director David Stearrett retired on October 22, 2021)
Department of the Interior
Through its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Department of the Interior administers the Housing Improvement Program (HIP), a century-old grant program for members of federally-recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Natives who have no immediate resource for standard housing or housing assistance.
According to the BIA’s website, HIP is a “secondary, safety-net housing program” that seeks to eliminate substandard housing and homelessness in Indian communities. It is squarely aimed at “the neediest of the needy” (i.e. those who are wholly unserved by other existing federal housing assistance programs). For eligible recipients, HIP provides up to $7,500 in home repair funds for conditions that threaten the health or safety of occupants, up to $60,000 in repairs and renovations to bring a homeowner’s dwelling up to building code standards, and provides modest replacement homes for those who are unhoused or reside in a building that cannot be brought up to code. In FY 2021, HIP had an operations budget of $11.7 million.
Beyond the Interior Department, the housing needs of Indian reservations and communities are largely handled by HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, which oversaw nearly $830 million in funding for Native and Indian housing programs in FY 2021. The aforementioned USDA Rural Housing Program and VA home loan program also provide special assistance to Native Americans and tribal governments.
Key Interior personnel:
- Secretary of the Interior: Deb Haaland
- Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs: Bryan Newland
- Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Darryl LaCounte
Special thanks to Kristin Murphy and Chris Round for their assistance on this article.