Tester Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Combat Housing Shortage for Volunteer Firefighters and First Responders

Senator: “Our volunteer firefighters and first responders are essential to ensuring the safety of all Montanans—particularly folks in rural areas”

Amid a dangerous start to an early fire season, U.S. Senator Jon Tester this week introduced his bipartisan Volunteer First Responder Housing Act to 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.

In Montana, more than 93% of fire departments are made up of volunteer or mostly volunteer firefighters. These fire departments rely on volunteers to provide a wide array of essential services to all of Montana—especially in rural areas—and are critical to fighting wildfires. Recruiting and retaining volunteers has become increasingly difficult, and a lack of affordable housing has been cited as a leading cause.

“Our volunteer firefighters and first responders are essential to ensuring the safety of all Montanans—particularly folks in rural areas,” said Senator Tester. “With fire season already taking its toll on Montana, their importance can’t be stressed enough—and this legislation will incentivize more folks to volunteer, or keep volunteering, by giving them benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

This legislation makes it possible for more volunteer emergency responders to participate in the Single-Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program through 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, and the National Association of Counties.

Tester has been a longtime advocate for Montana’s firefighters and first responders and recently secured essential funding for Montana’s first responders in the American Rescue Plan. Additionally, in January he introduced the First Responders Fair Return for Employees on Their Initial Retirement Earned (RETIRE) Act to ensure that first responders receive full retirement benefits if they are hurt while on duty.

More information on the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act is available here.