During the month of June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be highlighting National Homeownership Month with events across the nation. According to the USDA, the department helped more than 170,000 rural residents become homeowners and invested over $23.4 billion in loans, grants and technical assistance to provide affordable, safe housing for rural families in 2013.

USDA Rural Development programs support rural homeownership through direct home loans for very low-income applicants, guaranteed home loans for moderate-income families and home repair loans and grants that help rural homeowners make improvements or repairs.

According to Monroe-area Director for Rural Development Cathy Accardo, the rural development program is here to provide financing to low and very low income households. The parameters for qualification vary based on the size of the household and the parish in which the home is located. For example, a five-person family will qualify for a larger loan than a two-person family.

One of the more popular rural housing programs in northeast Louisiana is single-family home ownership direct loans. These loans are available to families and individuals and can be used to buy, build, improve, repair or rehabilitate a rural home as the applicant's permanent residence.

This loan isn't limited to areas that meet a dictionary definition of rural. The USDA offers the program to rural areas with populations of 10,000 or less and, under certain conditions, towns and cities with a population between 10,000 and 20,000.

In a provided release, the USDA shared one couple's USDA loan story:

"Donald and Priscilla Brookes of Lake Charles became proud first-time homeowners. They were struggling to make ends meet because of high rent, but worked with a local USDA housing specialist to apply for a direct home loan. They were approved in August 2012. Today, even with property taxes and insurance their monthly housing expenses are less than what they had been paying to rent."

Currently, the USDA is working to make changes to the guaranteed home loan program to help create jobs, allow more people to participate, spur new home construction and pump more money into rural economies. The changes are expected to take effect on September 1, 2014 and include increasing lender eligibility to allow more small community banks and credit unions to participate and construction-to-permanent financing that will provide funds when home construction begins.

For additional information about homeownership programs offered by the USDA in Northeast Louisiana and Morehouse Parish, contact the Monroe-area Rural Development office at 318.343.4467.