Finkenauer, Riggleman Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Housing Options in Rural America

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) and Congressman Denver Riggleman (R-VA) introduced the bipartisan Protect Rural Housing Act on Friday to improve housing stock, expand affordable housing options and support community revitalization in our rural areas. 

Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer

More than 7 million rural households – three in 10 – spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs. Additionally, housing stock in rural areas is much more likely to be in poor condition and lack basic amenities like working plumbing. Federal affordable housing programs sometimes fail to meet the varied and unique problems that rural communities face when it comes to housing, and targeted incentives that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided decades ago to create affordable rental housing in rural areas are winding down.

The Protect Rural Housing Act would fill that gap by creating a three-year pilot program to provide flexible grants to states, localities, tribes, and non-profits to help small towns address urgent housing needs and catalyze long-term investments. The grants would be provided through the USDA Rural Housing Service. 

The bill also lays the groundwork for critical reform within the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Under this legislation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would be required to take steps to protect tenants and save taxpayer dollars by issuing recommendations to crack down on landlords who refuse to perform basic upkeep on their properties and put tenants’ lives at risk.

“Safe, affordable housing isn’t just an urban issue. Our small towns and rural places also face a housing crisis that makes it harder for families to settle down and get ahead,” Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer said“From bad landlords to condemned properties to an overall lack of affordable options, I have seen the challenges facing some of our rural communities firsthand and knew that something had to be done. The Protect Rural Housing Act will invest resources to help families immediately and make long-term improvements to make our small towns more attractive places to live.”

“I want to thank Congressman Riggleman for working with me on the Protect Rural Housing Act help ensure folks in rural Iowa, Virginia, and across the country have more quality and affordable housing options,” Finkenauer said.

“I’m proud to be the Republican lead on the Protect Rural Housing Act. Access to safe and affordable housing can help communities grow and families prosper,”Congressman Denver Riggleman said. “Owning a home is part of many families’ American dream and I can’t stand by when so many rural communities are unable to provide that opportunity. This bill takes steps to ensure rural areas can provide more affordable housing options.”

Media reports have highlighted shortage of affordable housing as well as the poor rural rental housing conditions in Iowa’s First Congressional District.

Only months after starting a new rental inspection program in 2019, Oelwein City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger told KCRG that 90% of the units inspected so far had failed the initial inspection. Earlier this year, the city took control of 37 rental properties due to unlivable conditions. 

After learning about the issue during a visit to Oelwein in January 2020 and that local tax dollars would have to be used to cover the costs of demolition, Finkenauer started working on legislation to create more options through federal housing programs for communities like Oelwein.

She hopes to engage rural communities across Iowa’s First District on this legislation and what actions must be taken to improve and expand housing in rural areas.

The Protect Rural Housing Act is endorsed by the National Rural Housing Coalition and Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

“People living in rural communities have faced limited or subpar housing options for far too long. I am happy to see Congresswoman Finkenauer and Congressman Riggleman addressing this issue by targeting needed resources to local communities to improve the housing landscape. I believe this legislation could make a real and meaningful change for rural America by unlocking federal resources to help them meet their unique and varied needs when it comes to neighborhood revitalization.” 

–– Bob Rapoza, Executive Secretary, National Rural Housing Coalition

“Many rural areas are facing a housing crisis characterized by limited affordable units and higher rates of substandard housing. The covid-19 pandemic has magnified these housing challenges and the corresponding impacts on poorer, smaller communities. Often, low-income rural communities face more hurdles than urban areas tackling these issues due to limited access to affordable housing resources. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation thanks Rep. Finkenauer for recognizing the need for flexible federal resources to provide rural communities with the tools needed to meet their specific housing challenges.”

–– Caitlin Cain, Vice President, Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Background on Iowa’s Rural Housing Crisis:

According to a 2018 Des Moines Register article

  • “More than half of all Iowans now live in 10 counties, all of them in metropolitan areas. Yet demand for housing in rural Iowa has only increased.”
  • “…nearly 150 Iowa towns have seen no new housing built since at least 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.”
  • “More than a quarter of Iowa’s nearly 1.4 million housing units were built in 1939 or earlier. Nationally, that rate is 13 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And household sizes have shrunk over the years, so even communities with no growth need more homes to house the same population. In 1950, the census counted 3.25 people per Iowa household. By 2016, that number was down to 2.43.”

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