WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide affordable housing opportunities for volunteer firefighters and first responders in order to help recruit and retain more volunteers, particularly in rural and under-served communities.
According to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2017 U.S. Fire Department Profile, 65 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers, and fire departments rely on these volunteers to help respond to a wide array of local emergencies. Recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters is critical for thousands of communities, yet local volunteer fire departments, especially those serving small and rural communities, find it difficult to meet staffing needs and attract younger volunteers.
The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would expand eligibility for qualified volunteer first responders to participate in certain federal housing assistance programs and provide a greater incentive for more volunteers to stay and continue to serve their communities.
“Hundreds of rural communities across West Virginia rely on volunteer firefighters and EMS professionals,” Senator Capito said. “This bill works to address the staffing and retention issues many stations face by providing housing incentives. The goal is to encourage these local heroes to continue their brave work in their communities, and this bill will help accomplish that.”
“Fire departments in Wisconsin and throughout the nation rely heavily on volunteer firefighters and EMS first responders. We need to make sure that those who volunteer their time to serve have affordable housing in their community,” Senator Baldwin said. “For someone who wants to be a volunteer firefighter, or for someone who is currently is, this bipartisan legislation would make owning a home more affordable and help with volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention.”
“Expanding the eligibility for qualified volunteer emergency responders to participate in federal housing assistance programs has a number of benefits,” Senator Rounds said. “It encourages volunteering, provides agencies with a recruitment and retention tool, makes it easier for volunteer responders to remain living in their communities, and is a great way to say ‘thank you’ for their service. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this legislation to support our volunteer emergency responders.”
“Volunteer first responders risk their lives to keep our families safe and our communities secure – with no compensation for their efforts,” Senator Tester said. “This bill will make recruiting volunteers easier, and will help the men and women who respond to trouble afford to live in the communities they so bravely serve.”
“The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act will help incentivize people in rural areas to volunteer for this critical service,” Senator Roberts said.“Many communities in Kansas are exclusively protected by volunteer first responders and it’s critical we provide incentives like this to help recruit and retain these volunteers.”
This legislation makes it possible for more volunteer emergency responders to participate in the Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. This existing program assists approved lenders in providing loans to low- and moderate- income households to build, rehabilitate or improve a home in eligible rural areas. The bill will allow volunteers to participate in the loan program even if their income exceeds the maximum allowable income level by up to $18,000.
It also makes volunteer emergency responders eligible to participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program. This existing program gives law enforcement officers, teachers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians a 50 percent discount from the list price of a home located in a revitalization area.
The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act is supported by National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Housing Assistance Council, National Rural Housing Coalition, National Association of Towns and Townships, National Association of Counties, Wisconsin State Firefighters Association, Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association.
More information on the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act is available here.