Housing Needs in Rural Communities

Article excerpt

This study explored housing in small rural communities in an attempt to understand the available housing stock, perceptions of the need for housing, and perceived barriers to housing development. Data were collected through computer-assisted telephone interviews with key community informants. Interviews included forced-choice as well as open-ended questions. Housing issues are described through the words of community leaders with the goal of understanding communities' needs and constraints. Lower cost housing for both renters and owners and housing options for elderly individuals continue to be areas of need in rural communities.

Small rural communities in the United States have unique housing problems that need an increased level of attention (Dolbeare, 1999; Housing Assistance Council, 2000). These problems result from the combined influences of the demographic characteristics of rural residents and the housing characteristics of rural communities. In comparison with residents of metropolitan areas, rural residents typically are older, have lower incomes, and are less educated (Glasgow, 2003). In addition to being larger in size, rural housing is more likely to be owner occupied, single family, and less costly than housing in metropolitan communities, and a higher proportion of nonsingle-family units are mobile homes (Dolbeare, 1999).

In recent years, housing conditions in metropolitan areas, long characterized as worse than housing conditions in nonmetropolitan areas, have improved. However, housing quality and affordability issues continue to influence rural communities, and approximately one fourth of U.S. counties are classified as suffering from housing stress. A county is characterized as housing stressed when 30% of its households experience one or more basic housing problems such as cost burden (more than 30% of household income devoted to housing costs), overcrowding (more household members than rooms), and incomplete bathroom and kitchen facilities (Mikesell, 2004). The majority of counties in which 30% or more of households suffer from housing stress are in rural areas (Mikesell, 2004). Housing-stressed counties are more common in the southeastern and western regions; however, counties in each of the midwestern states included in the study described here met housing stress criteria.

Housing costs for both renters and owners are higher in metropolitan counties than in nonmetropolitan counties (Housing Assistance Council, 2000). Housing cost burden is the primary component of housing stress in nonmetropolitan counties; according to Mikesell (2004), fewer than 10% of households are crowded, and only 2% lack complete bathrooms or kitchens. A contributing factor to housing cost burden among rural households is higher interest rates on mortgages financed in rural areas; for example, in 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reported that interest rates were three points higher on average in nonmetropolitan counties than in metropolitan counties. In addition, average mortgage length is somewhat shorter in nonmetropolitan counties, which may partially explain larger average monthly payments (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2005).

Differences between rural and urban mortgages reflect the difficulty in financing rural properties and the types of housing common in rural areas. For example, 14% of homes in nonmetropolitan areas are mobile homes, as compared with 5% in metropolitan areas. Financing for mobile homes is generally structured with shorter terms and higher interest rates than is the case with traditional detached single-family homes.

In the United States during the 1990s, home prices rose more rapidly in nonmetropolitan areas (43% increase) than in metropolitan areas (19% increase) (Willis, 2002). Furthermore, housing prices rose most rapidly in nonmetropolitan areas of the West and Midwest, by 57% and 55%, respectively (Willis, 2002). …