During the Great Depression, Elizabeth Herring and Clay Cochran were among several notable activists concerned with the plight of farm families and their economic survival. Elizabeth worked for the National YWCA, traveling the rural south and Midwest training groups of women in community organizing, prior to bringing her knowledge of rural women to the national advocacy scene. Clay worked for the Resettlement Administration, relocating displaced farm families and workers into housing fostering security and access to agricultural employment.
Following W.W.II, Elizabeth, Clay, and others found themselves based in Washington, DC, sharing concern for the lingering needs of agricultural families and workers. Together with national church organizations concerned with rural living and working conditions, they formed the National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor (NCALL) as a lobby which could speak for rural people who had not achieved full participation in the growing national economy. As a national advocate, NCALL addressed the Fair Labor Standards Act's failure to protect agricultural workers. NCALL also successfully changed national laws prohibiting child labor, resulting in protection for children from long days in the fields during the school year.
With its success in garnering national attention for rural needs, the NCALL board decided their efforts called for creation of a related organization to undertake ongoing research and analysis of agricultural workers and formed the NCALL Research Fund in 1955 as a nonprofit, eligible for contributions and grants. The American Friends Service Committee, the National Catholic Conference, Church Women United, the Jewish Agricultural Committee and others contributed members to the board of the Research Fund. Elizabeth Herring worked as Executive Secretary and continued as the heart of the organization for many years. NCALL Research was a primary source of accurate and comprehensive information about the conditions and concerns of rural Americans, contributing considerably to Congressional hearings, studies, academic analyses, investigations, and efforts of new government agencies whose roles NCALL had advocated.
As new federal programs began providing resources for local projects addressing the needs of poor rural people and farm workers, NCALL ceased operations as a lobby and operated NCALL Research as a forum to explore rural issues of concern to its board. Elizabeth Herring retired, but provided information upon request from her Washington apartment.
Clay Cochran headed the Rural Housing Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to improving housing conditions in rural areas of the U.S. Together, Elizabeth and Clay were perhaps the most responsible for the national rural housing movement. By 1976, "RHA" was well established, serving as conduit for US Department of Labor Funds, channeling support mostly to local development organizations to improve farm worker housing by using expanded Farmers Home Administration financing. Clay was not always satisfied with the performance of the providers or FmHA, which he felt often made access to loans for rental housing serving migrant and seasonal farm workers too difficult.
RHA noted a lack of farm worker housing efforts in the mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. A conference was sponsored bringing together organizations in the region interested in rural housing, and found none up to the task of undertaking a significant development effort. Clay remembered that NCALL Research existed to take on worthwhile projects and held a meeting of the board to determine if they were willing to tackle this challenge with a grant from RHA. Clay also wanted a "field laboratory" for RHA to learn in greater detail the struggles of developing rural and farm worker housing and about working with local FmHA officials and the programs designed to assist the rural poor.
1976 Housing History
RHA had hired Jeanine Kleimo to coordinate the regional conference. Having worked with the Migrant Ministry of the Catholic Church on Maryland's Eastern Shore, she was familiar with local conditions and resources. At Clay's recommendation, the NCALL Research board revitalized the organization with dedicated and experienced members and "new" advocates from the region; and they hired Jeanine Kleimo to direct this new effort. She was provided with an $80,000 grant to employ herself and two staff for 18 months, after which RHA would assess whether local initiatives warranted continued support. With another recommendation from Clay, Jeanine spoke to Joe Myer by telephone at his office in the Mississippi Delta; and he agreed to come to work for NCALL. Jeanine opened a small office in Dover with a secretary/bookkeeper on May 2, 1976 and Joe joined them September 1.
The first steps of this small staff were to assess what affordable housing work was being done and by whom, talk to people about their housing needs, and see where FmHA's rural housing programs could work. As NCALL listened to families in need of better housing, as we met with churches, and as we conducted community housing workshops, we found that there were very few organized vehicles established that would be eligible to utilize FmHA's rural housing programs. There were virtually no housing authorities working in rural areas and none were using FmHA programs. Some for-profit rental development was starting, but it was serving the elderly population exclusively, with very little family housing being built. The program with the heaviest utilization was Section 502 Home ownership. Substantial Community Development Block Grant activities were starting, particularly for housing rehabilitation and public works projects. State housing programs were few and far between.
A significant void existed with no means for communities to shape their housing future. Almost no information was flowing to rural people about available housing programs and their complicated nature made them hard to access. Much of NCALL's work in the early years was helping communities and churches to organize and establish nonprofit housing development corporations and begin working on initial housing projects. Poverty and housing needs were so great, and so little subsidized rentals had been built, that the focus by most citizens groups initially was affordable rental housing. While the organizational process was different in each community/county, NCALL assisted at community meetings and with core groups began drafting organizational documents, meeting with ministeriums, holding "how to" workshops, conducting surveys and, together with committed local people, organized various housing corporations. Those organizations have all developed multiple projects and have made significant progress addressing local housing needs.
NCALL also worked hard to "demystify" the rural housing programs and the housing development process. Through newsletters, development manuals, fact sheets and regular training, information and knowledge about rural housing opportunities have increased dramatically. Model rental projects show that with proper planning, technical assistance, construction, property management, and local accountability afforded by nonprofit owners, apartments are an asset to the entire community.
NCALL's farm worker and self-help housing heritage kept pushing us to work at utilizing Section 514/516 farm labor housing for local and migrant farm workers and to help initiate self-help housing as an alternative form of affordable home ownership. Contracts with FmHA/RHS led to model farm labor housing projects in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Assistance was also provided throughout northeast/north central region to nonprofits that want to operate self-help housing programs. A technical assistance contract from HUD also enabled NCALL to provide direct project assistance to Delaware nonprofit CHDOs.
Gaps in services compelled NCALL to establish several components in Delaware which served low and moderate income families including home ownership counseling, FmHA/Rural Development mortgage packaging, and rental housing counseling for residents of emergency shelters.
More Recent History
The 1990's saw the establishment of NCALL's homeownership counseling program which has assisted record numbers of lower income households to achieve homeownership. Newark and Georgetown offices were opened for the services to be offered statewide. Continued rental development was undertaken including the Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects and a big push through the Delaware Rural Housing Consortium's two successful five-year plans. NCALL was lead agency for seven rural nonprofits seeking increased capacity and production.
One important aspect of NCALL is its collaborative spirit and willingness to provide leadership. Whether with the Delaware Housing Coalition, Delaware NAHRO, Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Delaware Community Investment Corporation, First State Community Loan Fund, and National Rural Housing Coalition, NCALL has always applied what it learned in the field for improved public policy.
The 2000's saw the purchase and renovation of NCALL's Dover campus. Work began with financial education, Moving To Work, Individual Development Accounts, and Finanzas. Asset management became an important service for nonprofit customers with multi-family housing. NCALL joined the NeighborWorks® America network of excellence as a chartered member in 2003. The Board of Directors after strategic planning sought to establish a significant Loan Fund in an effort to better serve our nonprofit customers. Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification was achieved in 2004. Thresholds of 5,000, 6,000 and then 7,000 first-time homebuyers were reached. Development of over 50 apartment communities was achieved. A new emphasis was started to offer more services and strengthen capacity for the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Foreclosure prevention counseling was started in 2007 in response to the housing crisis and recession. More recently in 2012, NCALL's $tand by ME® financial coaching initiative began. NCALL has become a recognized leader in affordable housing, homeownership, rental development, self-help housing, community development lending, and now foreclosure prevention.
Time marches on and many housing needs still exist, yet NCALL's years of results are noteworthy: having fostered significant nonprofit development, served thousands with improved housing, leveraged millions of attractive financing, became a community development lender, and sustained housing efforts through advocacy with our partners and stakeholders. We have been part of a unique and successful experiment that has given board members and employees an opportunity to put our beliefs, faith, and love into action in an effective and efficient manner.