Around Arizona: USDA Rural Development Funding

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At the end of the last federal fiscal year, USDA Rural Development in Arizona reported a record $474 million in investment in housing funding for Arizona. That brought the five-year total to over $2 billion. Besides the housing funding, money was spent on tribes, towns, school districts, community centers, food banks, colleges, hospitals and small businesses. USDA Rural Development in Arizona State Director Alan Stephens will discuss how the funding has impacted the state.

Ted Simons: Federal funding for rural housing and development in Arizona hit a record $ 474 million for the last fiscal year, that brought Arizona's five-year total to over $2 billion. And here to talk about all of this is Alan Stephens, state director of USDA rural development in Arizona. It's good to have you here.

Alan Stephens: Good to be here, thank you.

So we have some $474 odd million in investments in housing and development funding, what exactly are we talking about here?

What we're talking about is more than 3200, loans to individuals through guaranteeing a bank's loan, or, or a direct loan, either for, for the purchase of a house, renovation, or serious housing affairs, in rural communities, so we're just talking about rural Arizona. And it's a stimulus for economic development in those communities, and housing is booming all over the state again, as you know, in terms of not so much construction but purchase of housing and families are looking again, thinking that they can afford loans now.

Ted Simons: How hard is it for some of these folks to get access to capital?

Alan Stephens: Well, it's very hard, and our program is designed for, for the larger program, our guarantee program is designed for moderate income individuals in rural communities, and who could not afford a loan in another case, they don't have to have a down payment, there is no title insurance, and the rates are affordable. And so, it's, it's affordable for real estate agents to work with these families and get them into the loans.

Ted Simons: How much regulation is going on because when people hear, you know, we heard that in the past and things got a little sideways.

Alan Stephens: We had to have a ratio of debt versus income that shows that they can repay the loan, this is not a gift program. It's a loan, so they have to repay it. And we have a very low, low, relatively low default on, on something ,175,000 loans we made across the country this year, our, our default is less than FHA.

Ted Simons: Wow, and impact on these rural communities, what are you seeing?

Alan Stephens: It's huge and, and, and whenever we have a situation like we did with the shutdown, we have a lot of calls and inquiries from the real estate community, which is a great indicator that, you know, the practice am is needed, and when we just get behind in terms of the processing, when we get just inundated with applications, we get calls, and I talked a few months ago with the head of the real estate association in the state, and it was inquiring about where we were.

Ted Simons: Wow, all right, and that is an indication, isn't it, that things are important, what you are doing and, and not just housing, now, for tribes, school districts, and towns, and such, talk to us about development. Money for development.

Alan Stephens: Well, we have money for, for water and wastewater, for instance. We're just concluding a large grant and loan program with the Navajo tribal utility authority to renovate a wastewater system that serves more than 15,000 people, in three chapters, on the Navajo nation, window rock, and we have got another six projects in line, and behind that, for funding, and all throughout the reservation, and that's going to have an immense impact to clean up the systems that, that had the EPA violations, or expansion for communities, so, that, that the people who have the adequate water system in the past, can get it.

Ted Simons: And other things, food banks and colleges, hospitals and these places --

Alan Stephens: We funded a number of food banks this year, for instance, the Yuma food bank, we funded an $80,000 grant to help them finish a roof. It's a very large food bank and serves a lot of people. And the same thing in arivaca, a similar situation and Ajo needed a kitchen.

Ted Simons: And we just talked about the previous, previously the Yarnell hill fire investigation. And, and the helipad?

Alan Stephens: We financed the grant for a helipad with the fire department. It hasn't been finally concluded but it will be a need in the community. And then also, we amortized a loan for a water system to make it more affordable given the fact that they have less users.

Ted Simons: And we talked about the impact to the smaller and rural communities, the impact on the economy in Arizona overall. Can you quantify that?

Alan Stephens: Well, Arizona is a state that, that has a lot of diversity in terms of the community. And, and we're the 10th poorest state, the report came out the other day, and a lot of that, unfortunately, is in rural communities. Where there is less economic opportunity. Our agency is about trying to transform that challenge into an opportunity. And, and in terms of the utility systems, economic development, and business development, and we also have, have a set of business programs to help businesses grow and prosper in rural communities.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, the USDA rural development in Arizona, I think a lot of folks don't know this exists. Talk to us about the agency, and what you do and, and how long you've been doing it.

Alan Stephens: Well, we've been doing it for, well, since the REA days, the rural electric administration, and morphed into the utility service, and we have the rural housing component which we talked about, which is a big part of what we do in Arizona, and the rural business programs, but together, what we call the rural development, and what we do is work in rural communities to help provide economic opportunity, again, utility service, business service, community development. But we work with the local communities and identify what they need.

Ted Simons: And record-setting las fical year, what do you see this time around?,

Alan Stephens: Well, I think we'll have equally a good year, we're beginning, the secretary is really adamant in the department of agriculture to push the resources in the communities that are most economically challenged. And so, that's what we're doing, reaching out to a lot of reservation communities, and border communities.

Ted Simons: And quickly, Congress is working on a new farm bill, concerns there?

Alan Stephens: Well, we're concerned that they get it done. And it has the authorization section for a lot of rural development programs, and a lot of energy programs, which, which are in great demand in this part of the country.

Ted Simons: And I'll keep an eye on that. Thank you very much for joining us.

Alan Stephens: Thank you very much. >

Ted Simons: And Thursday, on "Arizona Horizon" we'll hear from a children's advocacy group about the ongoing problems with child protective services, and a new director of the Arizona opera talks about his vision for the organization. That and more at on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, and thank you very much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Alan Stephens:Director, USDA Rural Development in Arizona;

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