Rural Housing Service Clarifies Eligibility for Disaster-Displaced Residents

Regulation | March 02, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

Rural Development clarified that disaster-displaced residents immediately jump to the top of the waiting list; communities can also request waivers for temporary exceptions to occupancy criteria.

On March 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a policy clarification for Rural Housing Service Multifamily properties and residents affected by the recent storms in Texas.

The policy guidance, which applies to the disaster response in Texas and to other disasters in the future, clarifies housing access for disaster-displaced tenants. Letters of Priority Engagement (LOPE) are issued to tenants of Rural Development properties with units that become uninhabitable because of a natural disaster, including Presidentially Declared Disasters.

Rural Development’s LOPE letters are separate from FEMA registration letters certifying displacement, which are issued to both tenants of Rural Housing Multifamily and non-Rural Housing households during a Presidentially Declared Disaster.

According to Rural Development’s policy clarification, either a FEMA registration letter or a LOPE letter grants the applicant priority access at a Rural Development Multifamily building. A displaced applicant can go immediately to the top of the waiting list for occupancy.

In addition, property owners and management agents may request Special Actions and Waivers that can be provided by the Agency, including waivers to allow for temporary housing of displaced persons who do not otherwise fit the occupancy criteria; for example, a family may temporarily move into a building with an elderly designation.

Rural Development’s communication also include a thank you to communities helped to house displaced households during the current and future natural disasters. Properties can contact their assigned servicing representative for waivers and other info; contact info by region can be found here under the “contacts” tab.

HUD has not issued a similar clarification for HUD-assisted communities, but guidance provided during previous disasters has reiterated owner requirements and responsibilities under Chapter 38 of the HUD Handbook.