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Newsroom: Policy News

June Federal Issues Update

Thursday, June 27, 2013  
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Federal Policy Report ~ Housing Colorado ~ June 2013 Edition

By Karly Malpiede Andrus

Next Critical Dates: These are the dates to bear in mind for issues in Washington DC.

  •  September 30, 2013 – the current Continuing Resolution (CR), extended from fiscal year (FY) 2012 expires
  •  October 1, 2013 – start of fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget *Assuming Congress proposes Conference bill that gets President’s signature and Congress gets the appropriations bills through the same process.
  •  November 1, 2013 – The increase in SNAP benefits created by the 2009 Recovery Act will end.

What does Rural mean to you? A rose by any other name smells as sweet but we are talking about all sorts of flowers

Definitions can be tricky and the Census does not actually define "rural.” "Rural” encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area. Basically, whatever is not urban is considered rural.

The Census recognizes "densely settled communities outside the boundaries of large incorporated municipalities were just as ‘urban’ as the densely settled population inside those boundaries.” Their definition is tract based and does not follow city or county boundaries so it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a particular area is considered rural. They identify two types of urban areas; Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people and Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. Under this definition, about 21% of the US population in 2000 was considered rural but over 95% of the land area was classified as rural. In the 2010 Census 19.3% of the population was rural while over 95% of the land area is still classified as rural.

Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designates counties as Metropolitan, Micropolitan, or Neither. A Metro area contains a core urban area population of 50,000 or more, and a Micro area contains an urban core of at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000). All counties that are not part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) are considered rural. Micropolitan counties are considered non-Metropolitan or rural along with all counties that are not classified as either Metro or Micro. Under this definition about 17% of the population in 2000 was considered Non-Metro while 74% of the land area was contained in Non-Metro counties.

Clearly there are measurement challenges with both the Census and OMB definitions. Some policy experts note that the Census definition classifies quite a bit of suburban area as rural. The OMB definition includes rural areas in Metropolitan counties, for instance, the Grand Canyon is located in a Metro county. Consequently, one could argue that the Census Bureau standard includes an overcount of rural population whereas the OMB standard represents an undercount of the rural population.

To make this as clear as mud, the Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) accepts all non-metro counties as rural and uses an additional method of determining rurality called the Rural-Urban Commuting Area (RUCA) codes. Like the MSAs, these are based on Census data which is used to assign a code to each Census Tract. While use of the RUCA codes has allowed identification of rural census tracts in Metropolitan counties, among the more than 60,000 tracts in the U.S. there are some that are extremely large and where use of RUCA codes alone fails to account for distance to services and sparse population. The ORHP definition includes about 20% of the population and 91% of the area of the USA.

Having said all that, there are all sorts of rural communities. In Colorado we have a quite a few Resort or Mountain communities, which again do not have a rock solid definition. They are generally a town or area where tourism or vacationing is a primary component of the local culture and economy. Most resort towns have one or more actual resorts n or nearby, although some places are considered resort towns merely because of their popularity among tourists. Shops and luxury boutiques selling locally-themed souvenirsmotels, and unique restaurants often proliferate the downtown areas of a resort town.

Further, there are some areas in southwestern Colorado defined as Tribal. To be specific the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute near the four corners area. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has an office of Native American Programs responsible for housing and economic development which houses the Northern Plains Office of Native American Programs (NPONAP). NPONAP has jurisdiction over Colorado. More information can be found at their website; http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/ih. Again, definitions are tricky, while HUD recognizes Colorado in the Northern Plains the Department of Interior’s, Bureau of Indian Affairs shows Colorado in the Southwest region. Additionally, they have a wealth of information on their webpage, www.IndianAffairs.gov

At its base, the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, is any area where man-made improvements are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation, and where high potential for wildland fire exists. Wildfires in Colorado are a natural part of our ecosystems and help restore and maintain healthy forests although recent news shows how devastating they can be to rural, suburban and mountain communities. Federal wildland fire policy in the United States has been substantially revised over the past 10 years and new emphasis has been given to the wildland– urban interface (WUI), which creates a need for information about the WUI’s location and extent. You can find more information at the Colorado State Forest Service’s webpage; http://csfs.colostate.edu/index.shtml

Understanding how different agencies define areas by population is crucial, especially when applying or qualifying for certain funding programs. In the area of affordable housing, where we intersect with multiple professional industries and therefore many federal and state programs, it is no surprise that maintaining a consistent definition of "rural” is a challenge.

What Does Your Day Look Like? I would encourage you all to go online and explain what home means to you.

We all choose what our worlds look like, as much as we possibly can. What kind of pets we want, how many, do we have kids, how many, what kind of schools do we want them to attend, how we make a living, what kind of vehicle we keep as our "daily driver” is a tractor, maybe a bicycle. What kind of housing product would you and your family chooses if you could have your dream. What kind of housing do you all live in. All of these variables form your community, neighborhood, home. I would argue home is made by the people, culture and environment just as much as it is about the housing product.

You may remember, that the National Neighbor works Association has helped launch www.HomeMattersAmerica.com to help us all articulate what home means to us. I would encourage you all to visit them in cyber space and explain what home means to you.

So Different We’re Similar: Urban Areas and Rural areas can share many of the same issues but the form they manifest in and the best solutions are often specific to the local community.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food-insecure homes as those households that don't regularly have access to enough to eat for an active, healthy life, and the problem is more pervasive in rural America than in cities. These results come from a new study by the hunger-relief organization Feeding America, which has mapped county-by-county rates of overall food insecurity, child food insecurity, food-insecure homes unlikely to qualify for federal food stamps, as well as the uneven geography of what it costs these families to buy a meal when they can afford it.

In addition rural America must deal with population drain, poverty, transportation, jobs and crime just to name a few. Some of which are very similar to urban areas and others extremely specific to the area. Either way addressing these issues in a variety of rural areas can differ.

Special Circumstances Can Yield Special Opportunity: Please note the set of resources available to address the challenges and opportunities specific to Rural Development.

President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in rural communities growing stronger but it is important to remember that he is building on the work of past administrations. These investments, including housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure, have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities aim to support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers, and improve the quality of life in rural America. Remember, the USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results even as they implement the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act known as Sequester.

You may know that the USDA has helped rural residents purchase homes since 1949. Since the start of the Obama Administration alone, USDA Direct and Guaranteed home loan programs have helped more than 650,000 rural residents buy houses. USDA often works with partners like Habitat for Humanity and other non-profit housing developers to produce product.

Also, USDA is providing additional support for rural housing through a pilot program enabling USDA borrowers to refinance their home loans at today's low interest rates. This program has already enabled more than 5,500 USDA-backed homeowners to refinance $750 million in mortgages. They also administer the Housing Preservation Grant Program, Rural Housing Stability Assiatnce Program, Rural Business Enterprise Grants and the Rural Cooperative Development Grant. For information about Rural Development programs, contact your nearest Rural Development office http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html.

With 90% of persistent poverty counties in rural America the USDA launched the StrikeForce initiative in 2010, in 2011 it was expanded to Colorado, the goal is to increase partnerships with rural communities and leverage resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas to ensure that every community has equal access to USDA programs. The USDA StrikeForce Coordinator in Colorado is Randy Randall and he can be reached through www.usda.gov/strikeforce in addition to information about the variety of programs available to lenders, builders, communities and home owners.

Secretary Vilsack also said the Food, Farm and Jobs bill being debated in Congress would further boost the rural economy. The bill would enable USDA to create new opportunities for local and regional food systems, grow the bio-based economy and expand markets for agricultural products. Unfortunately the USDA appropriations package, affectionately dubbed the Farm Bill, recently died in the House.

Depending on whom you ask it was the best course given the content of the bill. It certainly demonstrates the links between rural, suburban and urban communities. This is, in my mind, a clear question of priorities and morals. Yes, dollars are involved so the cost can technically be quantified but, so much of the benefit of the "spending” is straight investment in our neighbors, in our communities, in the soul of our nation.

To see that the Federal government believes, for the most part, that rural America is worth investment is heartening. We all know that government is just a piece and I am extremely heartened that commercial interests haven’t given up on rural America, in fact, they are rather bullish. Just one example is Benjamin Moore’s Paint What Matters campaign to nominate and paint rural mainstreets. I would encourage you to go online and cast your vote for one of the two Colorado towns that are on the map, Delta or Greeley www.PaintWhatMatters.com Even Big Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt want to be a part of these sorts of programs because America is not America without our rural backbone. Moreover, the energy boom on the Niobrara has stimulated enormous population growth in some areas in Colorado which consequently has resulted in proportional investment from energy development companies.

Again, the strength of organizations like Housing Colorado and, indeed, our country, lies in our variety.

Some have argued, usually those from resource-intensive urban cores, that high risk populations should relocate to areas with resources, i.e. cities. The late Clay Cochran, one of the founders of the modern rural housing movement, called this Metropollyanna: the belief that eventually everyone will move to the city and live happily ever after. In "Battling Metropollyanna” (5/31/2013) Angelynn Hermes and Leslie Strauss addressed this sentiment head on,

"We believe that social service and safety net programs exist to help people wherever they happen to be ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ surely includes the liberty to choose whether to live in a city, a suburb, a small town, a remote mountaintop or someplace in between…It is foolish to abandon places in our country that have been so vital to our shared history and continue to contribute rich diversity to our national identity.”

Important to note, many low-income rural residents, like many low income people in cities have jobs. Further, a high proportion of rural residents, even low-income rural residents, own their own homes. What’s more, organizations like Colorado Rural Development Council are "committed to advancing rural interests identified by listening to the needs of rural people.” CRDC is one of 33 Federally Recognized State Rural Development Councils (SRDC’s) that belong to the National Rural Development Partnership, created by Executive Order by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Again, the issues we face are generally the same but the solutions we seek can take vastly different forms. Organizations like Housing Colorado can help us all articulate those issues and fight for common sense solutions that can help us all achieve better economic development in our communities while appreciating the special place we choose to call home.


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