Moises Loza is executive director of the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to improve housing conditions for the rural poor. HAC has been helping local organizations build affordable homes in rural America since 1971.
Loza has experience at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service. A member of a migrant farmworker family, he grew up in Texas and traveled with his family seeking farm work through the South, Midwest, and West.
Tell us a little about growing up in a migrant farmworker family. What kind of housing did your family have?
I expect my experience growing up in a migrant family is not much different than many others who have lived that life. The instability that comes with moving around the country pursuing work and the uncertainty of finding it were stressful for the whole family. Of course, the work itself was physically demanding while the compensation made it hard to make ends meet. The housing was nothing to write home about. Sometimes we slept in the car, other times under the trees, in abandoned barns, and at times in housing that wasn’t all that bad. Despite all the difficulties, I always believed that things would get better. I have observed that inherent belief in all the farmworker families I have known. Hope runs deep and strong in the farmworker community.
How has that experience shaped who you are today?
I hope it has made me better aware and understanding of the housing problems many families endure. It certainly has made me appreciate indoor plumbing and having hot water when I want it.
What was your path into working in affordable housing?
I was interested in going into education, but out of college I accepted an internship at what was then a recently created Department of Housing and Urban Development. During the internship, many of my friends from my activist past began to call on me for help with their housing issues. I decided that I needed to learn more about affordable housing so I could be responsive and helpful.
What's HAC working on this year?
Our most important work is supporting a network of rural housing organizations doing their best to improve housing conditions in their communities and doing what we can to build capacity in the many communities where it is lacking. To help accomplish that, our revolving loan fund is working to develop loan products that are more responsive to community needs. We will revisit our organizational structure to be more responsive to our customers. Finally, we will assess our technology to enhance our ability to do our job better and provide better service.
How has the organization changed over the years?
Our mission has not changed, but parts of our approach have. We are more cognizant of the need to collaborate; we are working to strengthen the network to withstand the uncertainties they face; and we are looking for ways to bring in a new crop of leaders and workers into our line of work.
Share with us an interesting statistic or fact about rural housing.
A disproportionately large number of persistently poor counties are rural. These are counties that have had poverty rates of 20% or more since 1990. In 2010, there were 429 persistently poor counties in the U.S., and 86% of them had entirely rural populations. Overall more than 21 million people live in persistent poverty counties, and almost 60% of them are racial and ethnic minorities. In these counties, the median household income is more than 40% below the national median income. The challenge for many families in these counties to find affordable housing, and meet other basic needs, is enormous.
How is the development or financing of affordable rural housing changing?
It seems to be getting worse. The consolidation of banks and closing of branches has made the accessibility to credit more challenging. The economy has not fully recovered in many small towns and rural areas while credit has tightened. Additionally, cutbacks to housing assistance programs in rural America have not helped. The developments that do take place are for a higher market looking for the open spaces and amenities many rural communities provide.
Besides more funding, what’s one change that would make it easier for developers to build rural housing?
Partnership with, support of, and expansion of nonprofit communit- based groups would help. This would require a commitment. Nonprofit groups can help penetrate communities and provide services beyond just housing.
If you could have access to any expert to get advice, who would it be and why?
There are many people whose advice and guidance I could use. I would like to learn from Cesar Chavez how to mobilize a community and have unwavering commitment to a cause. I would like advice from former Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez on how to courageously move forward despite the obstacles. Clay Cochran could teach me how to tell stories and with words and wit paint a clear picture of rural life. And, I could learn from Arthur Collings how to take our work seriously, but not ourselves.
Favorite way to spend a Saturday:
Reading the newspaper; having a leisurely breakfast with my wife; spending time with the grandchildren; going for a walk; and doing some gardening.