By Joni Foster, RCAC Housing and Community Director

USDA RD, RD State Directors, State Housing Directors, Self Help Grantees, RCAC, the moon, the stars, the sky all converged in Salt Lake City, Utah at RCAC’s Housing & Community Conference. It seems so simple and yet so complicated to have all of these actors sitting in chairs in the same room at the same conference. All of these actors come from the same premise: self-help housing is quite special when it is working properly. It’s good for the families, it’s good for the country; it makes us all feel good to have this collaborative process in the world. Yet, what it took to orchestrate that simple act was quite courageous on the part of so many.

Somewhere along the way the collaborative process broke down and it became hard to talk to each other. We have all said we want to be “partners” but we haven’t always worked in deep partnership together. The world is changing; the money seems to be drying up; politics get in the way; the players have changed. But there is still this hard-core group who refuses to give up, and who speaks from the heart that there must be a way to re-position, re-purpose, and re-imagine how to keep the self-help process alive, vibrant, and growing.

We took the first steps — baby steps — to sit down with the “hard-core” group and took a hard, respectful look at the places that seem to be getting us stuck. No name calling, no finger pointing, but just agree on where the problems are popping up. We identified five “buckets” of issues:

  • Need for a national branding/marketing effort around self-help housing
  • Problems associated with 502 loan processing
  • Issues around 502 loan qualifying and how they impact the marketing of the program and the performance of the RD loan portfolio
  • Desire to use green/energy saving features for the families, for the market and for the planet
  • Problem of political support for level – or even expanding– funding of the 523 program

RCAC is continuing to work toward solutions and we will update you when we identify opportunities for the network to get involved. We can’t fix the issues ourselves, but we can continue to offer the place where these conversations can happen.

We were delighted to host you in Salt Lake City and we hope you, too, took away something useful from our time together.