Conference Recap: Housing Assistance Council’s 2016 Rural Housing Conference

On November 30th and December 1st, PolicyMap attended the Housing Assistance Councilblogpost_20161212_hac_logo (HAC) 2016
Rural Housing Conference to learn about housing and community development trends in rural America. This conference brings together interested stakeholders from federal agencies, state and local government, nonprofits and industry experts to network and discuss issues related to rural affordable housing. The theme of the conference was Building Rural Communities, and many of the sessions and workshops focused on strategies for creating rural communities that are healthy, sustainable and vibrant places to live, work and stay.

There were a lot of great workshops, but some of the conference highlights included:

  • John Henneberger, from Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (and a PolicyMap Mapchats alum), discussing “Neighborhood Rights” which he described as the foundation for equitable community development;
  • HAC’s Lance George displaying some colorful maps on the demographic shifts and changes currently underway in rural America – aging population, increasing diversity, outflow of working age adults, and worsening housing cost burdens;
  • Daniel McCue from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University talking about how today’s housing stock is ill-equipped to meet the housing demands of tomorrow, given the massive demographic shifts expected over the next several decades;
  • Representative Keith Ellison discussing the imbalances in federal assistance for housing as well as some of the challenges and opportunities for rural housing with the incoming administration;
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressing the opioid epidemic in rural America and how the USDA is looking at creative ways to use their programs to help mitigate this crisis. Note: PolicyMap recently worked with the USDA to visualize data related to the opioid epidemic and treatment resources; and
  • A number of interesting discussions pertaining to rural housing needs specific to Native American communities and veterans in rural America.


PolicyMap’s partnership with the USDA Rural Housing Service (RHS) was certainly a primary driver for our interest in learning more about rural housing trends at the HAC conference, and we were definitely pleased to hear this work mentioned in several of the workshop sessions. It sounds like the USDA RHS data currently available in PolicyMap, including investments in rural multifamily housing and single family housing, are helping to drive useful insights into federal housing assistance in rural communities.

It was also useful for us to hear about the unique data challenges and needs facing rural stakeholders. Some of the common issues raised were:

  • Needing to have data available at a finer geographic level particularly for large rural counties in the western half of the United States, which in some cases are larger than entire states;
  • Strategies for dealing with large margins of error in American Community Survey (ACS) data in rural areas due to small population samples;
  • General inaccuracies in public data displayed for tribal areas; and
  • Certain datasets not fully representing rural places (eg. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data not including small lenders that operate in rural communities).


One of the most commonly cited data needs was a comprehensive dataset on the quality of the housing stock. This is likely on the wish list for almost everybody working in housing and community development throughout the country.

We learned a lot about affordable housing development in rural America at the HAC conference and it was great to meet some of the stakeholders working hard to pursue this mission.