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Shonterria Charleston: Serving Rural Communities Through Safe Housing

Posted by The Equity Team in Equity Initiatives
May 15, 2024
Equity Commission (EC) Rural Community Economic Development (RCED) subcommittee member Shonterria (“Terri”) Charleston

For Equity Commission (EC) Rural Community Economic Development (RCED) subcommittee member Shonterria (“Terri”) Charleston, what began as a pursuit to bridge a gap between those in need and the Department of Agriculture turned into the fulfillment of a prophecy set by her mother.

“I grew up with the understanding that ‘The work of serving others is the price that we pay for our space on this earth’, as eloquently put by my mother,” Charleston recalled. When she transitioned from the Army, her commitment to serving others continued as a way of giving back to communities. “Thanks to my mother’s guidance, service comes naturally to me. Luck drew me to the Housing Assistance Council but it’s the work that we do for disinvested communities that really drives me.”

As the Director of Training and Technical Assistance for the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a national nonprofit supporting affordable housing efforts throughout rural America, Charleston focuses on capacity and skill building to ensure that nonprofits are sustainable and equipped to survive the challenges of housing development. Through HAC, Charleston works directly with USDA Multi and Single Family Housing Programs for various initiatives across rural community development, community facilities, multifamily programs, and more. Across these work streams, she’s been the connector between USDA and the communities by explaining the policies and programs available that meet their needs and communicating with the Department on the challenges people are facing and areas of support. Naturally, Charleston was interested in the work of the Equity Commission as someone who interacts with underserved communities daily while amplifying the programs and services of USDA.

“What interested me most about the Equity Commission is that it was one of the first times that I've really seen federal agency, national office leadership fully engaged, and an opportunity for people to participate and make an impact through this process,” Charleston said. “I work and interact with a lot of nonprofits across rural America, many of whom don't normally have an opportunity to engage with USDA leadership when it comes to “on the ground” implications of agency policies or programs, so the EC provided an opportunity to participate and bring forth the stories of communities I work with in driving how the policies and programs can better serve lives in rural America.”

Being part of the Equity Commission, it was important for Charleston to hone in on housing in the development of the recommendations to address issues and concerns related to rural development, persistent poverty, and underserved communities. “Everyone deserves to have some portion of the American Dream. To prosper, having decent, safe, and sanitary housing is a necessity,” Charleston said. Her recommendations in the final report (PDF, 2.0 MB) focus on establishing housing as infrastructure with increased investments, raised program standards, and equitable and affordable housing, and serve as a reminder that shelter has to be a foundation for improving urban America and developing rural America. With May being Building Safety Month, Charleston is especially cognizant of the need to invest in appropriately built housing. “Housing is the most valuable infrastructure that exists and should be prioritized just as much as the development of safe roads, clean water, and other necessities to survive and thrive,” she said.

USDA echoes her sentiment and believes that well-built, affordable housing is essential to the vitality of communities across rural America. The Department is committed to the breadth of services and programs through Rural Development to support the development of rural communities and their housing. Resources like the multifamily housing construction monitoring checklist, affordable housing near you, loan specialist contacts, and more are available at

When it comes to equity, Charleston remarks, “It’s not about making sure everyone has the same opportunities; it is about making sure those who haven’t historically had the opportunity are at the forefront to receive unimpeded access to opportunity.” Looking forward, Charleston is thrilled to join her peers of the Equity Commission at the Regional Convening: Southeast hosted by the Sherrod Institute to discuss USDA’s efforts to increase access to resources, climate-smart agriculture, and local production practices while exploring rural issues in her home state of Georgia. While our work on the Equity Commission might be done, Charleston reflects on the wisdom passed down from her mother, knowing that the service to others must continue. To learn more about upcoming regional convenings, visit

For more information on the next Equity Regional Convening, visit the Equity page. The Equity Commission Final Report is available in both English (PDF, 2.0 MB) and Spanish (PDF, 1.7 MB).

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives
Tags: equity USDA