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Rural Blog: Rural residents are having a harder time affording rent; analysis has data for every county

Change in percentage of county residents with severe cost burden for housing in 2010-17
(Stateline map; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version)

It’s getting harder to find affordable housing in rural America. “Nearly one-fourth of the nation’s most rural counties have seen a sizeable increase this decade in the number of households spending at least half their income on housing, a category the federal government calls ‘severely cost-burdened,'” Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. “Those counties, none with towns of more than 10,000 residents, have experienced housing cost increases significant enough to force families to scrimp on other necessities.”

The problem is job-related: residents struggle to afford rent in rural areas that have lost high-paying jobs, like coal-dependent counties in Central Appalachia. And in areas with an improving economy, the influx of new workers drives rents up, making them unaffordable for the poorer, Henderson reports. The second scenario is seen in areas riding the boom in hydraulic fracturing or wind farms.

Another reason for the rural rental-housing crisis: “federal incentives to include affordable units have all but disappeared, and those remaining are quietly expiring, allowing landlords to freely charge more when demand rises, according to a 2018 study by the Housing Assistance Council, Henderson reports. “More than 2,000 rental properties left the federal program, mostly in the Midwest, between 2006 and 2016, according to the study, as landlords paid off the loans.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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