U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide affordable housing opportunities for volunteer firefighters and first responders.

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.

“The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act will help incentivize people in rural areas to volunteer for this critical service,” said Senator Roberts. “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.”

“Expanding the eligibility for qualified volunteer emergency responders to participate in federal housing assistance programs has a number of benefits,” said Senator Rounds. “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.”

The 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 legislation 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 and National Association of Counties.