The Quiet Housing Crisis in Rural America

While housing shortages in major cities are grabbing headlines, rural communities are seeing higher rates of growth in housing prices and a silently spreading homelessness crisis.

2 minute read

March 20, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Dilapidated vacant wood slat house painted white in Louisiana

Sabrina Janelle Gordon / Home in rural Louisiana

The term ‘housing crisis’ brings to mind cramped urban apartments and tenants clamoring to sign a lease on an exorbitantly expensive piece of city living, or makeshift encampments sheltering unhoused people under a freeway overpass. But, according to an article in The Daily Yonder by Taylor Sisk and Jan Pytalski, a quieter, more insidious crisis is growing in America’s rural regions, where rising housing costs, changing demographics, and stagnant incomes are pushing many families into homelessness. 

Exacerbated by the pandemic, when professionals suddenly free from the confines of the physical office sought affordable homeownership, open space, and a small-town feel away from large city centers and suburbs, rural America’s housing shortage is putting a growing strain on longtime residents and newcomers alike.

Rural homelessness, says Adrienne Bush, director of the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky, is often less conspicuous than its urban counterpart. “It expresses itself through housing insecurity, folks doubled up with friends or family, people couch surfing because they don’t have a place of their own,” Bush explains.

But the crisis is growing fast: “Nationwide, homelessness rose less than a half percent from 2020 to 2022 but almost 6% in rural communities.” Meanwhile, a dearth of large-scale development in rural areas means the cost of construction is higher, making development less profitable.

The article describes efforts in some rural towns to stem the crisis and provide housing and shelter for residents, such as the Gary Leif Navigation Center in Roseburg, Oregon, a shelter that provides a variety of services for unhoused residents. In Kentucky’s Perry County, Kentucky River Community Care provides mental health services and housing opportunities. Activists in rural communities express optimism that the problem, which is often acute but on a much smaller scale than in larger cities, is largely solvable if given enough resources. However, the uncertainty of the post-pandemic housing and labor market leaves the future of rural housing unclear.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 in The Daily Yonder

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