Rural and small-town America has always been near and dear to me, so I was excited for this issue's cover story on the challenges and creative solutions to developing rural housing.
I grew up in Carroll County, Ohio, which is in the Appalachia region of the state. I lived on a chip-and-seal road with a hay field between my house and the nearest neighbor's, my town had horse-and-buggy parking and an old-fashioned Ben Franklin, and it was at least a 30-minute drive to the nearest movie theater or shopping mall.
However, talking with industry leaders and reading about the topic makes me realize that my hometown where I spent my first 18 years was nowhere near as rural as I thought it was. I was most startled when I read a Housing Assistance Council (HAC) report on poverty in rural America that it had released in 2010.
HAC, which has been helping local organizations build affordable homes in rural America since 1971, reported that rural households in poverty experience some of the worst housing in the nation and that more than 3 percent of all rural households live in a unit that has moderate problems, including inadequate services, such as kitchens and plumbing, and overcrowding.
And according to the 2009 American Housing Survey data, nearly a third of all rural households are costburdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs.
Colleen Fisher, executive director of the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, reiterates this, saying the incomes of residents within rural communities are very limited and much lower than what you would find in urban areas. Many of those with the biggest needs are the elderly and female heads of household on fixed incomes.
HAC examined the Census Bureau's 2009 numbers in its report and found that a higher proportion of rural households, 27.6 percent, are near poverty—households with incomes at 150 percent of the poverty line—as compared with 22.6 percent of metropolitan households.
Rural poverty was the highest in the South at 20.2 percent, followed by the West at 16.9 percent, the Midwest at 13.5 percent, and the Northeast at 11.3 percent.
According to HAC, the persistent poverty counties are clustered within several high-need rural regions, such as Central Appalachia, the Lower Mississippi Delta, the southern Black Belt, the Colonias in Texas, Native American lands, and areas with migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
Hats off to the developers and partners who are making deals work and providing housing for these rural residents.
Our rural coverage, which includes a look at the differences between urban and rural market studies by Cash Gill of Gill Group. We also look at a Travois New Markets assisted-living project in remote Galena, Alaska, which serves Alaska Native tribe elders.