Affordability remains the most significant housing challenge in rural America.
Even though housing costs are lower in the rural areas, an increasing number of families are struggling to pay their monthly housing expenses,
“Over 7 million households–three in 10–pay more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes toward housing costs and are considered cost-burdened,” said the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) in its new report, “Taking Stock: Rural People, Poverty, and Housing in the 21st Century.”
The incidence of housing cost burden increased by a full 6 percentage points between 2000 and 2010.
"As Congress and the administration determine the future of federal spending, ensuring adequate housing for all Americans must be a priority," said Moises Loza, HAC executive director. "HAC’s analysis of Census Bureau data shows how far we have come toward that goal, but also how much remains to be done. The U.S. must find the political will and dedication to ensure every American has a decent, affordable place to live."
Of the more than 30 million housing units in rural America, there are approximately 7.1 million renter-occupied units.
“The imbalances favoring owner-occupied housing in rural areas may not be based entirely on preference, as there is a dearth of rental homes and rental options in many rural communities,” according to the report. “With demographic transformations such as a growth in single-person households and the burgeoning senior population, the need for adequate and affordable rental housing looms large for rural America.”
HAC pointed out that rural rental housing differs from rental characteristics nationally. Nearly 43 percent of rural renters occupy single-family homes, twice the rate of urban renters. Rural renters are also living in older housing than rural homeowners. About 35 percent of the renter-occupied units were built before 1960.
The median household income for rural renters is about $25,833 compared with $49,141 for rural and small town owners.
Looking at housing costs, the report found that the median rent in rural and small towns is $487 compared with the national median of $756.
A full 47 percent of the rural renters are cost burdened, with nearly half paying more than 50 percent of their monthly incomes for housing.
While noting that housing conditions have greatly improved in recent years, the report revealed that substandard conditions remain a problem. In 2010, just over 600,000 units, less than 1 percent of occupied homes, lacked complete plumbing. At the same time, more than 30 percent of homes lacking hot and cold piped water are in rural and small town communities.
“In some rural communities, especially on Native American lands and in Alaska, the incidence of homes lacking basic plumbing is more than 10 times the national level,” said the report.