Rural America’s Silent Housing Crisis

This week The Atlantic did a feature on the rural housing crisis, bringing attention to the fact that safe and affordable housing is not just an urban problem.  Below is an excerpt from the article, which discusses the many ways this affects Americans and what is being to help in places across the country, including Vermont:

Conversations about affordable housing are often dominated with the question of how to get lower-income residents in expensive cities—like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco (and their surrounding areas)—safe, affordable places to live. That makes sense: Often urban hubs are a good bet for jobs and economic vitality, but they’re also prohibitively expensive for many—creating well-known housing problems. But cities aren’t the only places that are lacking when it comes to adequate housing at affordable prices. In rural America, it’s both prices and the terrible condition of existing homes that are problematic.

Few people think about rural communities—not only when it comes to housing issues, but at all. It’s mostly a numbers game. According to data from the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), in 2012 only about 21 percent of Americans lived in rural areas, which means that not many people outside those areas—or about 80 percent of Americans—probably feel much association with rural issues. And that can make it difficult to shed light on the problems that happen there. Making the case to divert funds and attention to parts of the country that house a mere 20 percent of the total population can be an uphill battle, especially in difficult economic times.

It can be hard to understand how finding affordable housing could be an issue in areas where housing is substantially cheaper than it would be in the nearest city or suburb. But the fact of the matter is, despite lower costs of living, income for many in rural areas is also significantly lower thanks to limited economic opportunities and struggling industries, like coal.

“When we are looking at areas that are most challenged economically we’re also finding some of the most challenging housing conditions,” says David Dangler, the director of Rural Initiatives at NeighborWorks America, an organization that advocates for affordable housing and acts as a network for nonprofit housing groups. Poverty is high in rural areas, with about 17.2 percent of rural residents living below the poverty line in 2012 versus 14.9 percent nationwide, according to 2012 data from the HAC. “Much of the affordable-housing stock in rural housing areas is old and in need of repair. Many of the people who live there don’t have the resources that they need in order to keep the houses in good repair,” says Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

To read the entire article, click here.