United States Department
of Agriculture • Rural Development
3001 Coolidge Rd. • 2nd Floor North • Suite 200 • East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone: (517) 324-5204 • Fax: (517) 324-5225 •
USDA ANNOUNCES HEIR PROPERTY INITIATIVE
WASHINGTON, December 5,
2008 — Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Douglas Faulkner
today announced that $230,000 in funding will be made available to develop pilot
programs addressing the “heir property” issue, which has contributed to an
ongoing, multi-generational trend of land loss by African-American farmers. A
formal Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA), signed by former Under Secretary
Thomas Dorr as one of his last official acts prior to leaving USDA, was
published in today’s Federal Register.
“This is an old problem, and we’re looking for constructive new solutions,”
Faulkner said. “These funds will help develop creative approaches to clarifying
clouded titles and stabilizing ownership before it becomes necessary to,
literally, ‘sell the farm.’”
Because of a variety of factors in the post Civil-War era, many African-American
small farmers died intestate. In the absence of a will, property typically
passed to multiple heirs with undivided interests (tenancy in common), leading
over time to highly fractionated ownership patterns.
Fractionated ownership inhibits borrowing, raises barriers to expansion and
modernization, and leads to systematic underutilization of affected properties.
Very often, these difficulties prompt the sale of heir properties, as this is
the easiest way for multiple descendants to cash out their interests.
Consolidating title has therefore been identified as a key strategic goal by a
number of African-American land loss organizations.
In January 2007, USDA Rural Development published an Advanced Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking which solicited comments on possible approaches. The pending
announcement will invite proposals from private non-profit community-based
organizations leading to the development of concrete, measurable work plans to
address the heir property issue.
“Several years ago, then-Under Secretary Dorr identified this as a priority for
USDA and initiated a long-term strategy to resolve the issue,” Faulkner said.
“We are now moving forward with the next stage in that strategy, from research
and analysis to implementation. This is an important step toward untangling a
knot of ownership issues that have been passed along for generations. The
ultimate goal is to put affected farmers in a position to compete more
effectively in the future.”
USDA Rural Development’s mission is to increase economic
opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Rural
Development has invested nearly $111 billion since 2001 for equity and technical
assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development,
and critical community and technology infrastructure. More than 2 million jobs
have been created or saved through these investments. Further information on
rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by
visiting USDA’s web site at