The U.S. Department of Agriculture will extend through Sept. 30, 2013, a waiver that allows eligible applicants to apply for Rural Development loans to purchase or build a home in Jasper and Newton counties.

It’s the type of loan that Wade Harper and his wife, Kelsey, used to build their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the 2000 block of South Texas Avenue in Joplin. Harper, who was living at his parents’ home when the May 2011 tornado hit, leaving the house uninhabitable, said he jumped on the program even before he and his wife married in May of this year.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for us,’” he said.

Before and immediately after the tornado, the USDA primarily issued business and industry loans in the Joplin area, although the Rural Development guaranteed loan program for single-family homes — given in rural areas based on population — was available in some outlying parts of the counties, said Janie Dunning, director of the program in Missouri.

The program received the initial population waiver to provide Joplin residents access to the loans in December 2011 because of the number of people left without housing after the tornado, opening up the loans to all eligible applicants across Jasper and Newton counties to go toward the purchase or construction of a home.

“It started off a little slow, but in April, things kicked,” Dunning said Thursday at the announcement of the program’s extension at Missouri Southern State University. “I have just been so amazed at what’s been happening in Joplin with this recovery effort.”

Since the waiver was granted, about $552 million has been given in the two counties in single-family guaranteed housing loans through the program, Dunning said.

Debbie Barlos, president of the Ozark Gateway Association of Realtors, said 197 Rural Development loans were closed in the area between January and December 2011. To date this year, more than 300 of the loans have been closed.

“That’s how really important your alliance with our community is,” she told the program’s directors Thursday.

Doug O’Brien, the federal department’s deputy undersecretary for the Rural Development program, thanked local banks and lenders for providing the loans to families who needed housing.

“We recognized that this program is an important piece of the puzzle to the recovery,” he said. “At the end of the day, it really means some families with a roof over their head in this town that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who was in Joplin for the announcement, praised residents for their determination to rebuild.

“The volunteers have done what they do; the people in the community have stepped up to do what they do,” he said. “I also want to thank all of you who are lenders who are making this program work. I’m certainly grateful now we have another year of this program to work with.”

Representatives speaking on behalf of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Billy Long also shared statements of support.

“The resilience and courage they (the people of Joplin) have shown in the aftermath of this tragedy is an inspiration — and while we’ve so far been successful at securing the resources needed for recovery, I plan to stick by them and make sure they have the tools needed to continue building an even stronger Joplin,” McCaskill said in a statement.

The Harpers moved into their new house in August, and Wade Harper said he was happy with the loan steps.

“We got into a nicer house than if we had gone through conventional financing,” he said. “It’s a great program. It’s hopefully going to help a lot of people.”

Program review

A REVIEW of the Rural Development loan program in the Joplin area will be conducted before September 2013 to determine if another extension of the population waiver will be needed.