Rep. Axne, Sen. Baldwin Announce Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Affordable Housing Options for Volunteer First Responders

July 7, 2021
Press Release

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced they will be introducing legislation to give volunteer firefighters and first responders access to affordable housing programs in order to help Iowa fire departments recruit and retain more volunteers.

The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would expand access to two existing federal housing programs for qualified firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program – in order to improve recruitment and retention for volunteer departments.

“Iowa’s communities are protected every single day by our volunteer firefighters. Iowans look to these brave men and women to protect their homes, their health, and in times like we’ve seen recently, to help in the face of public health emergencies and natural disasters,” said Rep. Axne. “Federal housing agencies already have programs in place to help provide affordable housing – and as our firehouses look to recruit the next generation of volunteers, it is only right that we expand that assistance to include those who volunteer to put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Iowans.”

“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,” said Sen. Baldwin. “For someone who wants to be a volunteer firefighter, or for someone who currently is, this bipartisan legislation would make owning a home more affordable and help with volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention.”

The legislation will be introduced in the House with Rep. Mike Bost (IL-12), Frank Lucas (OK-03), and Elissa Slotkin (MI-08).

“Many of our rural communities depend on their local volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to run toward danger during times of emergency,” said Rep. Bost. “As a former firefighter, I’ve seen how difficult it can be for these departments to recruit and retain qualified personnel. Our legislation will improve access to affordable housing for these dedicated first responders.”

“Our volunteer first responders make a pledge to keep our towns and cities safe, often at great personal risk,” said Rep. Slotkin. “I’ve met with plenty of these brave men and women in Mid-Michigan and have seen so many of them go above and beyond to serve our communities, especially over the last year during the pandemic. The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act is one important way for us to keep our end of the bargain by helping to make sure all our volunteer first responders have a safe place to live.”

The legislation will be introduced in the Senate with Sen. Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV), Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), and Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

“Hundreds of rural communities across West Virginia rely on volunteer firefighters and EMS professionals to keep their communities safe each and every day,” Sen. Moore-Capito said. “The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act works to address the staffing and retention issues many stations face by providing housing incentives. By providing these incentives, we can encourage these local heroes to continue their brave work in their communities, and this bill will help accomplish that.”

“Volunteer firefighters are crucial for keeping local communities safe and secure, especially ones in small or rural areas where it can be difficult to attract a sufficient number of volunteers,” said Sen. Cramer. “Our legislation would help encourage more people to step up and serve by making them eligible for federal housing assistance programs, which would make it easier for them to relocate and give these heroes one less need to worry about.”

More than 90% of Iowa’s 16,000 firefighters are volunteers, and 92% of the 850 fire departments in the state are volunteer.

Departments across the country are experiencing difficulty when recruiting the next generation of volunteers – especially in communities smaller than 2,500, where one of every three firefighters is over the age of 50.

The USDA Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program helps lenders provide loans to low or moderate income households in rural areas. The legislation introduced today by Axne and Baldwin would allow qualified first responders to deduct $18,000 from their incomes for the purposes of eligibility.

The expanded access included in this legislation for the Good Neighbor Next Door program would also give discounts on homes owned by HUD in certain revitalization areas to volunteer firefighters and EMS.

Support for the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act 

The bill has the support of the National Volunteer Fire Council, National Rural Housing Coalition, National Association of Towns and Townships, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and National Association of Counties.