Agriculture Under Secretary Participates in Kentucky Self-Help Housing Project

Katherine Belcher
Release Date
Jun 19, 2015

Agriculture Under Secretary Lisa Mensah is in Kentucky today to mark the 50th anniversary of USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program and celebrate the 50,000th home built through it.

Mensah’s visit is part of USDA’s recognition of National Homeownership Month to highlight USDA’s ongoing role to help residents of America’s small towns and cities purchase homes in rural areas. Mensah will join U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Kentucky Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen for a community build on two self-help homes in Monticello.

 “Buying a home helps rural families gain a foothold into the middle class by stepping on that first rung of what President Obama calls a ladder of opportunity,” said Mensah. “To help them succeed, USDA and its partners provide the financial tool: an affordable mortgage.”

The Mutual Self-Help program provides grants to help organizations carry out housing construction projects in rural areas. These organizations supervise groups of very-low- and low-income individuals and families as they construct their own homes. The group members provide most of the construction labor on each other’s homes and get technical assistance from the organization overseeing the project.

Rural Development State Director Tom Fern said this program helps people get affordable, clean and safe homes of their own by working with trusted local organizations like Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation. The Mutual Self-Help program is one of several housing programs offered through USDA’s Rural Development mission area. In 2014, USDA helped about 1,000 families realize approximately $25,000 in equity in their new homes through the Self-Help program. Here in Kentucky, the program helped build 18 homes last year.  

Homeownership provides a strong foundation to help build household wealth, start a business or fund education through home equity. Since the creation of USDA’s single-family housing programs in 1949, USDA has helped more than 3 million rural residents access the American dream of homeownership.

Throughout June, USDA employees across the nation will celebrate National Homeownership Month with events that demonstrate USDA’s commitment to provide access to affordable housing for low-and moderate-income rural residents.

Since 2009, USDA invested more than $117 billion to support rural homeownership. In 2014 alone, USDA invested more than $19.9 billion to help nearly 140,000 rural families buy and maintain homes. Rural Development homeownership programs include:

  • Direct home loans for low- and very-low-income applicants. Payment assistance is provided that can lower the loan interest rate to as low as one percent.
  • Loan guarantees for moderate-income families. The agency works with private-sector lenders to back the lenders’ loans.
  • Home repair loans and grants to help rural homeowners make improvements or repairs. Examples include making homes accessible for people with disabilities or removing health and safety hazards such as poor wiring or plumbing.

To learn more about USDA’s observance of National Homeownership Month, please visit or contact a Rural Development State Office near you.

Monticello is the county seat of Wayne County, which is one of the 73 Kentucky counties participating in USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity, which addresses the unique set of challenges faced by many of America’s rural communities. Through StrikeForce, USDA is leveraging resources and collaborating with more than 100 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support more than 7,400 projects with more than $500 million in USDA investments in rural Kentucky. USDA StrikeForce teams are actively rebuilding rural economies in 880 counties in 21 states and Puerto Rico. 

President Obama’s historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.