Thank you to everyone who joined us for part 1 of our series on rural housing in the time of COVID-19: “What was the rural housing landscape like before COVID-19 and where are we now?” For those of you who could not join or who would like to revisit the conversation you can find the recording as well as the complete transcript below.
If you did not already sign-up for part 1, you can still sign-up for Part 2 of the conversation: “Has the Government’s Response Been Adequate” on Tuesday, June 16 at 2 PM ET. Find out more and sign up here.
Transcript: Rural Housing in the Time of COVID-19, Part 1
David Lipsetz: Hi. Well, it looks like I think we’re going to get going here. Hopefully, y’all can hear me. My name’s David Lipsetz, I’m the CEO for the Housing Assistance Counsel. Before we get going, I do want to give a big thank you to our friends at Rural Assembly and the Center for Rural Strategy; Mary, Sketch, Joel, Adam, Jan, Marty, Whitney, Dee, all you guys. You do phenomenal work, and we’re thrilled to host the Housing Assistance Counsel, thrilled to host this event for you.
We also, I don’t think, can start out what we’re doing today without talking a bit about the demonstrations and raw emotion that’s coursing through all of our small towns and big cities that’s triggered by the Minneapolis police killing George Floyd. It’s hardly news to point out to anybody that policing is not the only institution out there that has a history of hurting minority communities. We’ve had years of racist housing policies that have left a mark on all of us, wittingly or not. Our housing system has been channeling wealth to white families while contributing to the poverty and poor health of black and brown families for decades and decades throughout our history. So taking a moment just to recognize that, understanding the context that we’re going to talk today about COVID-19’s impact on housing and rural communities, I think is about the least we can do. I know all of our organizations have been talking out loud about what we can do moving forward and how we can better recognize the challenges we’re up against and the effort we got to make.
So with today’s panel, fantastic group of friends that are here, we’ll try to weave into that conversation some of what I just said there, so we can create a safe space where our panel is going to get a chance to comment, and viewers and others, just to share out these feelings and make sure that all of us here recognize our commitment to get more done on that front.
Okay. So for those of you who don’t know, my organization, Housing Assistance Counsel, our friends call us HAC, who service some other people. We’re the only national organization focused exclusively on housing in small town and rural America. We’ve been around for 50 years and worked with thousands of local organizations across every rural region in the country. We provide training. We help them answer technical questions. We lend them some money at below market rates so they can build up quality houses and apartments. Our goal in all of that is to help the local groups grow and thrive. Do you need to say it? Well, sure I need to say it. Local groups know best, right? They know their community needs. So if we can walk in and help build some capacity and support them in what they’re doing, they’ll be able to do good things for years to come. We really proud of that history here and with our headquarter in DC, to take what we learn on our work around the country and try to put it together with some high quality research. I feel like we’re doing some work here to represent the needs of rural places and inform sound public policy here, inside DC, but for people all around the country.
All right. So if you’re watching or listening today and think we can give you a hand at HAC, please check us out at ruralhome.org. If you’re also on and Tweeting or on social media, you can hit the hashtag rural conversations and rural housing, that would be fantastic. So let’s introduce the topic at hand today.
COVID-19 has put a pretty bright spotlight on the inequities that exist in our country, and frankly is making them worse. That’s not news. Rural places, especially the poor rural places in which many of us are working and living, are suffering dearly. I was looking at data last night showing that 19 of the 20 top counties for infection rates per person are rural, and we can talk a little bit about why that is with our panelists.
So, you’re going to get a chance to hear, I think, from a group of rural housing and health experts here today about the impact of this pandemic and what it’s really done in the world of rural housing and how the housing providers that we work with are responding. Once again, hashtag rural conversations and rural housing, if you want to get in out there, on Twitter and we’ll have a survey after the event that you can fill it out. We’d appreciate your help there. Just, it helps us get some feedback on what to work on.
So with no further ado, thrilled to introduce Lance George, director of HAC’s research and information. He’s got some recent work that we’ve been doing to examine COVID’s impact on rural communities. Take it away, Lance.
Lance George: Thanks, David. I’d like to echo David’s sentiments and thanks to Rural Assembly. Really, I’m looking forward to today’s discussion to hear from the participants and everyone on the call about what’s happening in rural communities. I’m really looking forward to that discussion. We thought we might provide a little bit of context and give some overview of some larger issues, again, to provide some context for the larger and general discussion today.
I don’t think I’d be a researcher if I didn’t put footnotes and end notes and caveats. Many of you, you’re a rural audience. You know that in rural communities we struggle with data and information more so than other places. There’s a lag, sometimes there’s not information. It’s been really compounded candidly by some of the turbulence in economic reporting as of late. I think a good example was last Friday’s unemployment figures where almost every economist had estimated more than 20% or 20% unemployment, and the unemployment rate actually fell. So I think that’s a good indication. I often say I’m good at bad analogies. This is the proverbial 30,000 foot view, but there are a lot of clouds, I will say, kind of looking down and a little bit of turbulence here and there. So not trying to undercut the argument, just letting you know and being honest with you. There are a lot footnotes and end notes, but we just kind of wanted to predicate some of the presentation. I do think we’ve done a good faith effort in trying to understand conditions over the long term and in the more immediate short term.
I wanted to start with looking at the genesis of the conversation today, which would be COVID-19. I know there’s been a lot of reporting and a lot of really good reporting, especially from the Daily Yonder on this. We look to that as a source, so it’s been really good. But at the same time, I do think it’s obviously salient to today’s discussion, and it is a femoral. Right? These numbers change on a daily basis, so just presenting that very quickly. As of last night, we ran the most recent numbers. The estimates are there were about 157,000 reported cases outside of metropolitan areas. I think reported is the operative word. We all think that’s probably an under count, but the graphic we’re presenting there is just a quick histogram to show you new cases by day starting out from early February. The trajectory and the projection has been a little different in rural communities, so each of those days is a new case and I think it has manifested itself obviously different in rural communities. The yellow lines are the reported associated deaths, so about 5,700 deaths and a 153,000 reported cases as of June 7th.
Just to give a quick … It’ll take a few seconds for the map to load here, but a quick geographic perspective of this. It’ll load here in just a second. These are relatively large maps. But, the initial map is the reported COVID-19 cases of March 16th. Now it’s a really arbitrary date, but that’s the day the CDC issued social distancing guidelines. You’ll note most of rural counties, these are outside metropolitan area counties, were gray, indicating there were no cases. There are a spattering of yellow counties, counties colored in yellow where there probably less than 20 reported cases. If you just fast forward to the most recent date of the June 7th data, you’ll see this.
So, I think there are two kind of quick observations here. The first is, it’s been widespread. It’s impacted almost every rural community. The second is, I’m not an epidemiologist, but I think has been the story of this issue and this virus, is that it has been very uneven in some instances. Right? So the areas in orange indicate a much larger number of cases, and the areas in darker orange and red indicate more than 1,000 candidly. So you see some communities … If you go on HAC’s website, we have more detailed data on actual case rates that David was mentioning before. But you’ll see there’s been a larger impact in certain communities, notably the rural southeast and particularly African American communities, some Midwestern counties that have very high rates that are often associated with meat production facilities, and some Native American communities in the west and lower southwest. All of those communities, kind of to point very quickly to David’s statement, are disproportionately these impact minority communities. So you’ll see this kind of uneven trend within the data.
The very last slide is just to show maybe the difference in the trajectory. Again, I think this graph shows a couple different things. The gray bars here are metropolitan reported cases, and the orange bars are outside metropolitan areas. Again, not being a medical scientist, but there’s somewhat of a decline in the metropolitan cases, but you’ll see an increase as a share, even though it’s relatively small, in rural communities. So over the last 30 days, the rate of cases are nearly doubled. But at the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s still, at the most, probably eight percent of cases and about four percent of deaths. That’s a larger discussion, how this disease has really bifurcated out of certain communities, but I just wanted to acknowledge some of those larger scale dynamics before we got into the larger discussion.
I think kind of the first order impacts of this are health and safety and security. Right? That’s the main thing. The second order impacts are this obviously ground the entire world economy to a halt. Right? So you have major economic fallout. Then thirdly, hopefully we get into some of the potential housing ramifications. It’s, I think, important to note that … Not important to note, I shouldn’t acknowledge this. But housing was probably, if not the cause, at the center of the last recession. Now, there’s a different order of things. Just a side note, yesterday we were officially, even though … I mean it’s obvious, but yesterday was official announcement that we are now in a recession from the Group Economic Board of Advisors.
We just really quickly wanted to look at this second order kind of leading into housing. Because if you talk to economists, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. This could have a huge impact on housing conditions and provision. So this is just a typical line showing the last basically year of unemployment. Now unemployment has always ticked slightly higher than the national rate in rural communities. You see it was slightly advancing in March, but it jumped from 4.7% in rural communities to 13.7%. So these are new data, they were just released last Thursday, but you’ll see that huge jump.
I just wanted to quickly again show another geographic illustration to show how that’s playing out, because there are a lot of disparate markets, and how this might impact your community. You’ll see, this is the map for March. So it’s somewhat consistent. We can look at the legend very quickly, and it’s got … Most counties are in the four to five percent unemployment rate. But if you switch to April, and the red counties are above 10%. There are very few of them. If you look at just one month’s change, you’ll see the kind of dramatic geographic display. I just liked to show an example. It give me an opportunity to think about home, but I am from Lewis County, Kentucky. Now Lewis County always had a relatively high unemployment rate. In March, it was above 10%, and the legend’s showing just a little differently here. Sorry, there’s the data. But then if you look at Lewis County in April, it jumped to 20%. So that’s a good illustration of just this impact on communities.
Now, we want to follow this trend. These are, again, the April data. They don’t really reflect the May data that we just presented at the national level on Friday. But this is a leading indicator, especially for the housing markets. I think the major implications are many unemployed households have been bullied by very helpful and needed economic stimulus and unemployment benefits. To some respect, there is what we almost call a waterfall or a cliff. Those are slated to end in the next few months, and the implications for housing could be dramatic.
So I just wanted to give a few housing characteristics that we look. These are just basic housing starts and completions in permits. You’ll notice, as of February into April, you see a dramatic decline. Now these are not for rural areas, this is for the national. This is the only data that you can get, but you can see the supply side has been impacted. The entire housing ecosystem has really been impacted.
I’m going to harken back to it, I just want to highlight one particular element with housing, is yet again to mention that this might be an uneven impact or an uneven event in how it impacts rural households, notably the difference between renters and owners. Rental rates are lower in rural areas, but there’s, I think, a mountain of evidence that lower income households and renters have been more disproportionately impacted through economic job loss. They have less stability to start with, so you could see a much larger immediate impact on renters, especially if unemployment benefits go away and unemployment stays relatively high. That’s one thing I think we’re immediately concerned about. I think there are also longer term implications on home ownership.
I wanted to point to one specific factor that I think people don’t often acknowledge within the rural housing market and the rental market. Rental housing looks different in rural America than it does elsewhere. Notably, there are a large number of single family rentals, as opposed to multi-family structures. This is important for a couple of reasons. One, many of the protections that were put in place by states often times were protections for renters who own more than four units, so there are probably less protections. Then secondly, those owners, talking about the entire housing ecosystem, the supply side, who own single family rentals or smaller developments, they probably are less likely to weather a loss of rents. In the entire housing ecosystem, there could be major impacts here, so I wanted to highlight that specific smaller issue that we might want to look at in rural markets.
Then finally, I just want to focus on something that’s a longer term issue. It’s the biggest issue in the room, right? Regardless of whether we have a health pandemic or not that housing affordability is by far the largest housing challenge in the nation, but in rural America as well. I think there’s often times a narrative that maybe it’s substandard housing or it’s another issue, but the ability to afford housing is by far the largest housing challenge in the United States and will likely be exacerbated by the current condition that we’re in.
Some of the projections and some of the data that we present before, we were very short term, month to month change. We’re taking a much longer look back here, back to 1980. So this map illustrates any county colored in the shade of orange or red had more than a quarter of its residence, what we call, housing cost burden. Now, I apologize. I’m guilty as charged. I’m a houser, and we often use our own vernacular and terminology. But in very general terms, when you’re housing cost burden, that means you pay more than 30% of your monthly income towards housing cost. That’s kind of a general measure of your paying too much. So in 1980, these areas, more than a quarter of residence were housing cost burdened. The darker the colors, the more housing cost burden. So if you fast forward to the most recent data, again that’s a longer term look, you see a dramatic … This has been the largest issue and the largest challenge and will only kind of continue and exacerbate. So I think this is a very big issue that we also keep our eye on, regardless if we’re in a major health pandemic or not.
Then finally, I’m really looking forward to the discussion. I just wanted to note, and David noted this before as well, the Housing Assistance Council, you can find most of this information on our website, either at www.ruralhome.org or on our data platform called The Rural Data Port. So with that, I’ll turn it over to the next speaker, but thank you very much. Or, turn it back over to David, but thank you very much. If you have any questions, and I’m looking forward to the discussion. Thank you.
David: Lance, thanks. You are definitely one of my favorite exports from the great state of Kentucky. So we’re going to get to our panel here. I would encourage folks to put stuff in the YouTube chat and questions and such. We can get to as much of that as we can. Joining us today is Myra Martinez, Deputy Director of Affordable Homes of South Texas. They have been helping thousands of families across the valley, the Rio Grande valley, for a lot of years. They’re doing so by building and rehabbing houses, but so much. Myra, give us a hey. Paola Gutierrez joins us from South Carolina. Hey, Paola. The South Carolina Office of Rural Health, where she works doing cross cutting collaborations, pulling together different sectors of who we work with to get good health outcomes for all South Carolinians. Last, but certainly not least … Hey, Sara. We have Sara Grimes from the Housing Assistance Corporation in Hendersonville, North Carolina, not far from where I got married just a couple of years ago. Housing Assistance Corp provides safe and affordable housing opportunities in and around the county, and helping North Carolina prosper and thrive. So with that, Myra, maybe we can start with you. If you could tell us a little bit more about your organization and the communities you work in.
Myra Martinez: Great. Can everyone hear me? Yes? Great. We’re testing out some new equipment, so I’m the guinea pig. So Affordable Homes of South Texas has been around for 43 years, well going to be 44 at the end of this month actually. We started off as a mainly rehab organization improving substandard living conditions in the city of McAllen, but soon it was very evident that we needed to go beyond that and create affordable housing opportunities, and not just in the city of McAllen but in the area, the Rio Grande valley, where we are. So we started a slow progression on that, and now we serve Hildago County and Starr Counties. We are a lender, construction, home buyer development, or rather high counseling agencies, and a loan servicer as well. In a nutshell, that’s quick.
David: That’s a great nutshell. Can you tell us a little bit about how your community’s been impacted by COVID?
Myra: Sure. So one thing you kind of have to know about … Well, it’s actually pretty self-evident in rural communities in general, is that things take a while to get to the towns. Things take a while to get to us. So we usually lag about maybe a month or two behind the rest of the nation whenever there’s some trend, or in this case, a pandemic coming through. We saw it coming. We knew it was going to hit us, and we braced for it. So we reacted quickly enough that the counties had very strict shelter in place orders right from the get go, and so we didn’t really experience the spikes initially as other cities did. However, now that the state is reopening and we’re all going back to work … In fact, our organization is full staff, full back, back at AHST. You’re starting to see the spikes, and you’re starting to have double digit, positive confirmed cases in Hidalgo County. We knew that going in. Everybody kind of expected it, that as people started to get back to work, try and get back to normal, businesses started to reopen, that there were going to be some peaks.
I think one of the first things that people down here did was head to the beach for Mother’s Day. It was on the news, and you saw the beaches just covered with people, and no masks really. About two weeks later, two and a half weeks later, came our first big spike. So I think we’re going to feel the effects of it now, but we’re ready for it. It gave us time, I think, to prepare not just our services, but for the community to prepare, get used to it. So we’re bracing for it now.
David: Myra, you guys do awesome work. I’m proud to be associated, all of you guys. We know your staff is leaning in, in a really hard time, and so thanks for all you’re doing. Pass that back to your staff. We look forward to continuing to work with you. We’ve got some more questions coming for you. Paola, tell us a bit about your organization, the communities in which you work.
Paola Gutierrez: Hello, everyone. Thank you for having the South Carolina Office of Rural Health join. We are a non-profit. If I’m not mistaken, we’re one of three in the whole nation that is a non-profit. Most are tied to the government. We started off as an entity that focused on healthcare providers, and then as we looked into the community, we opened up a program centered around birth outcomes and that is family solutions. Then we kept expanding into what is going to accurately capture the posts of rural areas in South Carolina, and the Rural Health Action Plan was born. The rural health strategists … My role came about, and in my role, that’s what we’re doing. Our office, we’ve gone from healthcare, realized that there’s a whole lot more to a person’s health than the actual healthcare. We’re expanding. We are now in this new initiative, the Rural Forward South Carolina, and we’re very excited to see what that develops into. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hindered exactly what Rural Forward South Carolina’s going to look like, but it definitely is the celebration of the wonderful outcomes and services and life that rural South Carolina has to offer.
David: Yeah. So the work that your organization’s done is leading edge. It’s fantastic the way that you guys, as a non-profit, has taken on that statewide role that often a public agency does. You’ve been extraordinary at pulling organizations together. So you’re talking to a lot of folks, we know that. What stood out about the way parts of your community have been responding to the pandemic?
Paola: I’d like to start with how our agency decided what we’re going to do. One of our biggest concerns was the PPE for our healthcare providers. As you know, a lot of rural hospitals and healthcare centers have been closed over the years. In South Carolina, I believe, since 2010, five have been closed. A legitimate fear was are there going to be healthcare facilities closed as a result of COVID-19? We were not going to allow that to happen, at least due to PPE or funding. So we really kicked up our services and did our research on funding opportunities, and also where we could access PPE. We had a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and we were able to access thousands of masks and distributed them to different healthcare providers in rural South Carolina. Through our different programs, responding as well. We want to make sure the health care is open, and also tele-medicine, broadband, making sure that our schools are able to have the same opportunities our urban schools in South Carolina have. There are many schools that have the parking lot, they drive up to it, they have the access and the food. Not all areas have that same story for being able to have that quick and easy access to internet because transportation is an issue, and all families are not at home, they’re also working.
David: Thanks, Paola. All right, Sarah Grymes. It’s so good to see. I hope you’re well. Tell us a little bit about your organization, communities you work in.
Sarah Grymes: Yes. We started 32 years ago in Henderson County, North Carolina, in the mountains. I grew up here, so very excited to still live in the place where I grew up. We run three programs, well four. Our first program was a multi-family project for year-round agriculture labor and migrant worker housing, and then home repair was the next focus of ours. It started with a lot of different partners in the county, and then we grew into doing single family development. We’re the longest running self help group in North Carolina. We also run the new homes programs, and then we actively do home repair and single family in three counties. We do multi-family projects. We’re working in seven counties, do a lot of partnerships with you all- HAC- and USDA. So we’re happy to be partners. We do kind of a lot of range, but we’re always up for partnerships where we can be valuable.
David: And you are, it’s fantastic what you do in that region. Lance’s comment about how us housers can get a little esoteric sometimes. For anyone who’s listening who’s not deep in the housing world, Sara, can you say what self-help housing is?
Sarah: Yes. It’s a USDA program we partner with. We have a TA grant which basically helps us do housing counseling to prepare people to be homeowners. Then our construction staff works with them while they put their own sweat equity into their home to make it affordable, so we’re proudest of this program. We actually run two different grants. We do one in Henderson County, and then another shared grant in two counties, Transylvania and Polk.
David: Yeah, it’s a remarkable program. We’ve been involved with it for years as well. You’ve got families coming together who are going to own these adjacent lots. They’re putting in sweat equity, helping each other build these houses. It’s been a powerful program across the county. So, Sara, take us back a little bit to October of last year, before at least I was hearing much about coronavirus, and I think many people. What were the challenges your organization was facing? I know a couple of things you’re really good at, but what kinds of things were going great? What did the needs around your community look like?
Sarah: Well, I have a finance background, and I love economics, so I was watching. I’m married to a banker also, so we’ve been watching strategy. We saw that there were more issues coming and that the coronavirus was really the X-factor. So we started working with our board early on in the year doing some preparations, and if this does come, what would that look like? So we were prepared. We had planned. We knew, as home repair, most of our clients do have health issues or are elderly, so we started preparing them early to say, “We’re going to start on the track, but we don’t know what that’s going to look like.” If we get to a situation where health would be compromised, had our single family home owners prepared for if we had to work at distances or whatever that would look like based on what the governor said. Then multi-family, our first … Henderson County especially is a big retiree population. A lot of the COVID outbreak has been in retirement homes, so we immediately partnered with local churches and other non-profits and got food delivery to all of our senior sites so they wouldn’t have to go out, or anyone who was health compromised.
Our area has done a really good job of non-profits and local governments and things coming together. Where we’re seeing issues, we don’t have an issue. Usually our apartments have a pretty good reserve based on the tax credit properties that were done in the 90’s. They had lower reserves, so we do have properties that we are on the watch because those are the most volatile as far as incomes go and ability to pay rents. We’re noticing that we’re getting to the point where unemployments are going to start running out and businesses that had PPP money … We’re looking at possibly 34% of those businesses not reopening, so we’re trying to come up with plans for debt relief with different foundations, rent relief, different things like that. So we’re trying to get ahead of the next wave that see coming September, October.
David: Yeah, thanks for putting a note on that. For most of the folks in the housing world, we really have talked about how unemployment insurance and payroll protection loans, hopefully they convert to grants, have been a saving grace at this immediate hit, but we’re starting to see a climb in delinquencies and missed rent payments and have a fear for the end of summer when those other sources are running dry and landlords need to be able to get a resource to keep their buildings up. Folks need to be able to pay the rent to stay in them. When you’re working in the affordable housing world, the margins are pretty tight. So good for you, Sarah. Really appreciate the work you guys do down there.
So it’s going to be a little stilted, but I do want to take a quick turn back to some of what I was saying at the beginning. In the middle of a pandemic, we’re all scrambling. Our organizations are scrambling. Yet, now we’re seeing this extraordinary outpouring of nationwide demonstrations in response to police violence. We know that us housing folks, we’ve got a long history in this field as well. I’m wondering what, if any of the three of you, you’ve seen your organizations do in response to just the events of the last week or two.
Myra: Well, as far as Affordable Homes of South Texas, again our area is a little bit insulated or a little bit more removed from what you would experience in the bigger cities, just population wise. We have seen protests down here, which has been great because it’s definitely something that has impacted everyone across the nation. But it’s good to know that in an area where we don’t have a high black population, that the support for Black Lives Matter and the support for just human rights in general for that population is supported down here. We support it as well. We’ve kept an eye on it, just in terms of what additional support we can provide and making sure that it’s not something that we shy away from. But we have open dialogue with our employees as well, even though it may not be in our backyard per se, if we can change the mindset of some of our staff just by open dialogue, then we’ve done our part as well in righting the wrongs of the nation.
David: Mm-hmm. All right. Well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s turn Myra back to a question. I mean, we’ve all transitioned that staff really quickly. Most of us are working remotely, our partners and peers are doing the same. I know our jobs have changed a bunch, and our actions. What kind of changes are seeing in the servicing of loans? Again, for non-housing folks, Myra’s who you send your check to. I know their practices. If you’re a little late, they’re a very gentle servicer. They’ll call you and ask you how you’re doing, but they do need to keep payments coming in rents, mortgages, so that they can take that capital and get it back working again for building even more affordable homes. So what kind of impacts are you seeing in your servicing work?
Myra: Right. So initially, when we knew that it was inevitable, that we’d have an impact on our mortgage payments, we basically decided, okay, we’re going to offer a rollover program for those that are impacted by the COVID for April. So we put a form out on our website and said, “If you have problems with your mortgage payment for this month because of COVID, please download this form, fill it out, and then we will try assist you as best we can.” We were very flexible in what documentation … In fact, we were pretty much trying to verify to the best of our ability that they were impact by COVID without making them jump through unnecessary hoops and lots of red tape because we are in a unique situation. There’s stress already from losing jobs or reduction of hours. On top of that, if you make them come in with all sorts of documents just to prove that they were impacted by COVID, it just leads to some undo stress on top of that as well.
We did it for April and we did it for May. We service a little over 2,300 loans we service, and we had about 140 requests for assistance or payment rollovers. We went ahead and decided last week that we would do it one more time for June. We’re still hovering around the 150, 175 in terms of impacted by COVID. But again, we are bracing for July, August, September. We do feel that the brunt of the impact on the ability for someone to make the mortgage is coming. Initially, we thought maybe the front end of it would be the biggest hit, but we feel that July, August, September would be the one where we’re going to see the highest request for assistance. If we don’t, great. We would love to be proven wrong, but we are bracing for those months in particular in terms of people still being impacted by COVID, maybe not being able to pick back up their full hours, and maybe businesses not even being able to open back up. So that’s when I think that we’ll have a better sense of the true impact of COVID long-term.
David: Got it. All right, thanks. I mean, you could be on next week’s panel as well, where we turn this same topic to the attention of what’s the Federal response been, and encouraging policy makers to recognize that housing’s going to face a real cliff coming up here. That’s, I guess, a reminder. Next Tuesday at 2:00, we’re right back, same [inaudible 00:40:22] channel here, to have some more conversation. We’ll turn our attention to what has been the public policy response.
So I’m seeing some questions come into the YouTube chat, and want to turn to those. I know we have a couple more topics that we’ve thought about as a panel. But, Paola, can you tell us does every state have an office of rural health? What specifically differentiates that, and what exactly do y’all do?
Paola: I believe every office of rural health differs in some way. What sets us aside is what I mentioned earlier. We’re one of three nationally that is a non-profit. We’ve been in existence since 1991, taking a look at rural healthcare specific, and expanding it to community service and also investment. We have a fantastic program as a blueprint for health among many others. We want to avoid prescribing what a community needs, but rather going into a community through an application process. So those communities who are interested in participating, they apply. They go through the process, and they go through this training and formation for leaderships, and also identifying what would be the best project for that rural community to receive funding for. That project could be a playground, or it could be something really to food access. Each site differs. It’s been a fantastic program, but I mean, we also have programs related to behavioral health, quality improvement for the healthcare facilities that our technical assistance provides. Also, Healthy People Healthy Carolina’s looking at chronic disease, and also an arm of that, food access. We have a great partner that is Food Share South Carolina. That’s one of many. We’re very thankful to have all these partnerships.
I couldn’t speak to all of the offices of rural health throughout the country, but in terms of for us, we are involved in many different conversations that are multi-sector. In my role, I know I especially do that to make sure that rural has a voice at the table. I know that, for all of the offices of rural health, they want to make sure that rural has a voice at the table from policy to boots on the ground.
David: Yeah, hugely important point. Yeah. So if any peers or folks interested in that intersection of health and housing are listening in today, do we have the way that they get in touch with you? Paola’s an amazing resource. I don’t want to fill up your email box, but whenever we contact her, she can get right back to and has really a leading ability to think about how these things intersect. So folks, reach out to Paola if you need help in that area.
Paola: Absolutely. Our website, score.net, and you can find me, find the different programs that we have. Housing with rural health, there’s so many avenues to look at it. I’m sure we’ll have more questions to dive into that, but as I prepared or thought about this conversation, I thought, “There’s no way in this conversation we can talk about all the way an individual’s health is impacted through inadequate or lack of housing.” Knowing that South Carolina, we have the highest number of evictions in the country. That was before COVID-19, so imagine all of the calls with United Way 211 as a result of …
David: I find myself using that and other stats with what’s generally a suburban and urban crowd of folks who do housing work, talking to them about where poverty truly lives. 86% of persistent poverty counties being rural, high eviction rates, deeply divided communities. In some ways, we’ve got a lot of the same challenges. Fantastic things as well, obviously. All of us have some real love for the small town and rural places that we live or we’re from. Right? Or we probably wouldn’t be in this work. We’ve seen so many vibrant and wonderful places, but the challenges are real as well. Bringing attention to them through your work and other people’s work, it’s fantastic. Much appreciate. So, Sarah, another question came in here. What impact has the CARES act had on your properties? What’s been your experience with USDA and HUD in implementing any of those pieces of the programs that you use?
Sarah: Well, a couple of different ways actually. CARES Act specifically and programs like that, the management company did apply for a PPP loan that is able to help. Right now, we’re being very cautious with those funds, of course. Making sure that salaries are covered, but then also preparing for other things. So like I said, pretty much we’ve been able to keep everybody at work. We have had some employees that health compromised or different things like that, we were able to have them work from home or different things like that, and still keep up. So that was one way. North Carolina Housing Finance Agency did a three month mortgage relief on a couple of our properties, which helped. So we’ll pay it, but in future years. So we were able to put some money aside to help with rent relief and different things like that, if we get to that point. USDA, for our self-help TA grant, they were offering extensions or delay. So we were able to apply for a six month there. Pretty much all of our home repair funders, we were able to apply for CARES Act money and our grants were extended as far as timelines go. So really there’s multiple different things that a lot of the different funders are going for.
As an agency, we were able to keep working either at safe distances … One person in the house at a home, or work remotely. So we didn’t have to do that. We wanted to leave that money for others that desperately needed it. But like I said, I really feel like the agencies and funders are coming together to make it work. I feel part of a team, not left on an island, so it’s good.
David: That’s great. Yeah. Many times, those of us who work in these fields grouse a bit about our relationships with the agencies and the departments in DC, but they are full of a bunch of people who are trying really hard to make sure that these dollars hit the ground and are in service to the communities that we’re also trying to help.
Let’s see. I got a couple more questions that have come in here. So we’ve got someone who reports on a rural county in my neck of the woods here, near DC. Their real estate analysis shows that people maybe looking to move out of cities to rural areas as a result of the pandemic. Have you heard that? Do you see that happening? Do you think it will have an impact on the markets in which we work?
Sarah: Yes. I would definitely … My board share is actually a realtor, and he has just said they’re getting more interests in people wanting to move to our area. We were a retiree area, but they said the western North Carolina Realtors Association has seen more families put out feelers than ever before.
David: Yeah, I got a similar report from a friend in the organization out in Montana that was talking about the same kind of thing happening. Hey, Lance. There’s a question here that asks what kind of data you wish you had that you don’t, that you could use to impact Federal policy? I don’t know if that was one of your…
Lance: Yeah. No, how long do you have? So do we have another couple of hours? No. As I noted before, I think there has been a really good faith effort by some entities. There was an email popped up that there’s going to be some more data transparency around Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. As many of you know, they service a large number of loans related to COVID-19. It’s been interesting times in the data world, because sometimes we don’t have access to this, as I noted, daily data where we’re getting information on the virus itself. But at the same time, we could always use better data in rural communities. There are a lot of constraints and a lot of lags. I would say on the immediate concern, if we had a wishlist, at the top of that would be we’d get some immediate indications from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on their forbearance requests. That’s somewhere apparently hovering around seven or eight percent, and it was almost in line with Myra’s number. I did the quick math on 150 divided by 2,300.
But I would say what we would really … I think to help us would be there often been a lag in mortgage applications and just housing demand from the FFIAC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and a lot more information. I think the agencies have done a really good job of actually responding to this, but we could always use more data, and just understanding that some of the constraints in rural communities and making even more concession there.
David: Myra, you guys are building up a pipeline of potential borrows. I mean, these are the individuals that, all of us, our missions are dedicated to trying to get to. It’s extraordinarily hard work. You guys are some of the best at it. What are seeing for the folks who’ve been trying to queue up to get a mortgage from AHST and/or other organizations like this? Have there been impacts to that group?
Myra: Yes. Initially, not as much as we thought. Again, I think that’s one where the biggest impact is going to come later in the year. But initially, we started off 2020 with a bang. January was our highest number in profiles and applications submitted, with over 400 applications. That’s in the history of the organization. So we thought 2020 was shaping up to be a great year, and then COVID came. So February was still high, not as high as January. March, however, was dismal. We thought, “Okay, this is it.” Interest into home ownership has shifted, rightly so, justifiably so. So what are we going to do? So we decided quickly to start pivoting into some other areas that we might help; for example, tenant based rental assistance. If we could participate in that, if we could participate in other things, so we could remain relevant and not go away during this time.
We did some other outreach not related to home ownership, just so we could stay in people’s minds. So March was dismal. April was surprisingly better than we thought, better than March. May was even higher than April. So I can’t crack that nut. I was thinking about it yesterday, and thinking I just expected a decrease all the way down in interest of home ownership. It took a dip, and it’s back up. But again, I’m thinking that’s going to come later in the year, the impact.
Now for those that were already approved for the loan and the home was being constructed and they were getting ready to close, yes, we have had probably maybe four or five people that had lost their jobs or hours reduced. So because we use our loan product, we finance our own mortgages with our own loan product with our underwriting guidelines, we’re able to be a little bit more flexible. So we’ve allowed some extra time for them to hopefully have those hours come back up. Some of them have. Some of them have been able to go back to work and are now able to qualify or afford the house payment, and so we’ve been able to close on those. One of them, sadly, was not able. So that one, she had to withdraw.
So again, I think the impact … I think we’re going to see the numbers increase July, August, September, and late in the year. But so far, it’s been little, but there has been some impact.
David: So we’re reaching near the top of the hour. We’re going to run over for a couple of minutes. I want to remind folks that a survey will go out after this. If you have other questions, get them in the chat. We’ll get back to you. Probably got time for one other with Paola about housing as healthcare.
But, Myra, I had a conversation with … USDA has a fantastic single family housing staff, and I was on the phone with them I think it was just last week. They were saying they were having the best year that they had in a long time. What that means is they have a limited number of low cost mortgages that they are getting to families in need, and they said they were way ahead of pace. We were starting to pull it apart. Silly us, it dawned on us after a minute. The resources that we have out there for affordable housing are minuscule. We sink as much into a mortgage interest reduction as we do into all affordable housing programs put together in this country. Guess what? A whole bunch of people who’ve been on that razor’s edge of one sickness, one lost job, one water heater exploding, from really having housing challenges. Those folks are streaming into that population that we serve. So while there will be real effects on the people who are already in line as they lose their jobs and fall further through the cracks, I would expect our world’s going to face a whole influx of folks who desperately need these resources and a need to build them and grow them.
So, Paola, I’ve heard you say housing is healthcare. Of course, I think that’s a fantastic way to frame how there are social determinants of your health outcomes. Can you say a little bit more about how housing is situated amongst those other factors, and what we can really do as housers to improve those outcomes that you and your agency looks closely at?
Paola: Well, to answer it and to piggyback off a comment that came from the chat, I really like the comment about, “What does it look like? Are people moving to rural areas in general?” We have an arm of recruitment and retention for healthcare professions, not just doctors or physicians, but everyone related to healthcare, including community health workers. In addition to that, we’re looking at retention and recruitment for the people who live in rural areas and making sure that we … I mentioned this before, how we celebrate rural areas and the culture and the resources that they have right now. We definitely want to make more resources available, and also highlight those areas that have already something and build upon it.
So when we look at housing as healthcare, when we’re thinking about COVID … Think about yourself at your house and not being able to go to the store or go out and do the normal thing. Let’s say you’re confined to your home. Now if we’re looking at disconnected, de-fragmented systems in a rural area, there’s a lot to be desired for transportation, for broadband. If we just take out one thing of housing and broadband, then a household will automatically … Their health will be deteriorated because perhaps they’re going to be afraid of going to the hospital because they’re thinking they’ll get exposed to COVID-19. That could be a thought, or they don’t have the proper equipment. They don’t have the broadband to have an assessment with their healthcare provider, and so their healthcare could deteriorate. Then also with the children, with their schooling, that is also something that sets them back. If we think about joblessness, I mean everything is exacerbated.
So I mean, when I first started in this role, I started with … I believe our CEO mentioned the conversation or he said it himself, without a job, someone can’t be healthy. It was one of the first things that really caught my attention. It’s true. I don’t have a job, how can I have a car? How can I buy a house? How I can do these things? How can I provide for my children? So that was one of the first things. Then of course with inadequate housing, if you don’t have food within the house, if you don’t have the broadband within the house, if you don’t have clean water within the house … That is still an issue. With the environmental justice programming out of [inaudible 01:00:17] in South Carolina, there’s so many things and funding opportunities for the schools, for homes, people who still have water that is unfit to drink. These issues are caught at schools, because a child is not feeling well or their school performance.
Like I said earlier, it’s impossible to really hit the nail on the head with housing as healthcare because there’s so many things. If someone is asthmatic, if someone doesn’t have these different avenues for access, then chances are very slim. If you could ask me something more specific about housing as healthcare, I think I would be much more useful, but there’s so many things. I think that’s a good thing. It’s good because it’s an opportunity for more people to get together, and that’s where the value is. I actually received an email from someone in the YouTube audience saying, “Hey, I had this conversation last week. I would love to hear your feedback.” So that’s what we need, we need the feedback at a national level, hearing what’s going on so that we can alleviate and educate people multi-sector to allow them to see how they can help in housing and how they really are a part of it; whether it’s mental health, or employment. The unlikely partners are what we need to have together in order to really open up and see how housing is healthcare in rural areas.
David: Well said, Paola. That’s a great one. I think we’ll wrap it up following that. I love the fact that you guys joined in today. It’s an honor to work with the four of you. As we keep up our work, Myra, Paola, Sara, Lance, thank you guys. Thank you Rural Strategies and the Rural Assembly for being able to put this thing on. We’re back here next week, Tuesday at 2:00 PM. I got a couple of great guests, and we’re going to talk about the Federal response to the pandemic and the challenges its presented to housing. To anybody out there, get in touch with us, follow these folks on Twitter, and hit us a note if we can be of any help to you or your organization. Thanks, everybody. Really appreciate your time today.