The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) released in November the fifth edition of its Taking Stock report. HAC publishes the report every decade following the release of data from the Decennial Census in order to provide a comprehensive overview of trends in rural housing around the country. The latest report discusses the demographic, socioeconomic, and housing characteristics of rural America based on data from the 2020 Decennial Census, as well as the American Community Survey (ACS), Census Household Pulse Survey, and other data sources from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and HUD.
The report finds that population growth for rural communities has stagnated over the last decade, increasing by less than 1% between 2010 and 2020 to 60.4 million people (roughly 18% of the U.S. population). However, this growth was largely driven by non-white individuals, contributing to the growing racial and ethnic diversity of rural communities. From 2010 to 2020, the rural Hispanic population increased by 19.7%. In addition, the number of multiracial individuals in rural areas grew by 148%, comprising about 4% of the total rural population.
The report emphasizes the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural communities relative to urban and suburban areas. The pandemic-era social supports provided by federal and state governments that served as a lifeline for many rural families facing housing instability have since ended, while the worsening shortage of affordable housing in rural areas remains an intractable issue. The total supply of homes in rural areas grew by only 410,000 units from 2010 to 2020 – less than a 2% increase. This meager growth was concentrated in about half of states, while the total rural housing supply decreased in other states. Furthermore, an estimated 1.4 million rural housing units are considered to be substandard in terms of plumbing, heating, access to electricity, and general maintenance.
Although the proportion of rural households who rent their homes is smaller than in urban areas – 27% versus 52%, respectively – this does not mean there is less demand for affordable, accessible rental housing. Taking Stock reports that rural renters tend to have lower incomes than rural homeowners, with over half of rural renter households having an annual income of less than $35,000 compared to a quarter of rural homeowners and that they are twice as likely to live in substandard housing. Nearly half of all rural renters are severely cost burdened, spending more than half their income on housing costs, with Black and Hispanic communities particularly affected.
The report calls attention to the critical role that “local nonprofit housing, municipal, and tribal organizations” play in connecting rural residents to resources that help them secure and maintain safe, affordable, accessible housing. It also highlights the unique barriers housing developers face in trying to increase the housing stock in rural areas, namely infrastructural limitations and a lack of access to capital, labor, and construction materials. Because of these challenges, the report emphasizes the need for greater federal funding for rural housing programs like HUD’s Rural Capacity Building program and USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative.
The interactive report can be found at: https://bit.ly/3N4NQEm