Meeting housing needs in rural
areas—particularly for special populations like
the elderly and disabled—has been an ongoing
challenge, especially in the last decade or so.
“Far too many rural residents have struggled
with housing problems and inadequacies for years, if not
decades, before the national housing crisis
hit,” said Leslie Strauss, a Senior Policy
Analyst with the Housing
Assistance Council (HAC), a national nonprofit
corporation dedicated to improving housing conditions for
the rural poor in the United States. “Many high
poverty regions and populations are located in rural
communities across the nation. Often forgotten or hidden
from much of mainstream America, these communities
continue to experience decades of economic distress,
neglect, and poor housing conditions.”
Yet, throughout rural America, there are ongoing success
stories that demonstrate what can happen when community
leaders band together to meet demonstrated housing needs
in their regions.
The following organizations, featured in past issues of
the Rural Monitor, continue to address the housing needs
of their various populations by adapting and growing
their services. In Kansas, Interfaith Housing Services
and New Beginnings (featured in the Winter 2010 Rural
Monitor, no longer available online) continue to
collaborate in the provision of services such as
temporary and transitional shelter, permanent housing,
financial education and job training for people in need.
In Illinois, River-to-River Residential Corporation still
builds and staffs affordable assisted living facilities
(cover story, Summer 2009, no longer available online)
that make it possible for rural seniors to remain in
their communities when they can no longer live
KANSAS: Restoring houses and people
Local, non-profit organizations provide much of the
housing assistance in rural areas throughout the nation,
Strauss said. In Hutchinson, Kan., Scott and Eric
Saunders are benefiting from that type of assistance.
Last March, they moved into a new fully accessible,
ADA-compliant duplex after Interfaith Housing &
Community Services (IHS) came to their rescue. The
brothers, who both suffer from a degenerative
neurological disorder, couldn't afford housing that
accommodated their physical disabilities. IHS secured
grant funds from the Kansas Housing Resource
Corporation (KHRC) and used students in the
Hutchinson Community College building trades program to
provide volunteer labor.
IHS is a faith-based, nondenominational nonprofit based
out of Hutchinson with various programs covering one-half
the state of Kansas. New Beginnings
is a nonprofit that serves mainly the Hutchinson area. In
addition to addressing housing needs, both nonprofits
address underlying reasons that contribute to housing
crises by offering education and incentives related to
improving financial status through job training, post
secondary education and responsible money management.
KHRC named IHS its “Outstanding Housing
Advocate” in 2011 in recognition of IHS'
Creating Assets Savings & Hope (CASH) Program. CASH
provides financial education and life-skills training for
up to 200 clients annually. They must commit to attending
the classes and regularly depositing money in a savings
account for at least six months. Once clients meet
requirements, IHS begins matching $2 for every $1
deposit. Accumulated savings can be used toward
agreed-upon lifestyle improvement goals, such as home
ownership and postsecondary education or job training.
In an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty,
IHS has also begun sponsoring workshops that teach
children about responsible spending and saving. While
children are in class, parents meet separately with
instructors who try to help parents break the cycle of
living from paycheck to paycheck.
Because IHS is dependent on volunteers for its labor
pool, local donors contributed to rehabilitation of a
house that is being used to provide temporary living
quarters for up to 15 volunteers at a time. In addition
to local volunteers, skilled laborers from various church
denominations throughout the United States travel to
Hutchinson for extended periods to work on IHS projects.
Having a Volunteer House allows other faith groups to
join IHS in its mission of “Christ calling us
to serve our neighbors,” said IHS President
“Part of the beauty of volunteer labor is that
it allows us to keep costs low,” Scott noted.
“However, that purpose is defeated if extra
costs are incurred housing them.”
In 2011, New Beginnings provided shelter to 1,789
homeless or near-homeless people, 604 of them children.
Over the last two years, 283 families facing eviction
received New Beginnings' assistance to help them remain
in their homes. People between 50-62 are the fastest
growing segment in need, according to CEO Shara Gonzales.
“We teach people in poverty how to increase
income, pay off back rent and utility bills, and pay back
the community as they get on their feet again,”
Using city, county and state grant funding, New
Beginnings has begun a neighborhood stabilization project
known as the Anchor Homes Program. New Beginnings
purchases deteriorating homes, which volunteers and
contractors then rehabilitate. These homes are sold at
affordable prices to current and formerly homeless
clients whose median income is 50 percent to 80 percent
of the average.
Home owners, neighborhoods and volunteers all benefit,
according to Gonzales. Homeowners, who complete training
as peer counselors, invest in the neighborhood by helping
other residents access community resources. Volunteers
working on the homes learn job skills that can lead to
permanent job placements.
ILLINOIS: Keeping seniors in home communities
Residential Corporation owns and operates assisted
living facilities (ALF) that offer affordable rents in
rural southern Illinois where the population is largely
low-income. In a slight departure from its earlier ALFs,
River-to-River has opened two 50-unit supportive ALFs in
Marion and Anna, Ill., for seniors who qualify for
nursing home care but desire a homelike environment.
Because these seniors' health issues qualify them for
nursing home care, they require more assistance than
seniors living in the other ALFs. However, the Illinois
Medicaid waiver program covers program rent and services
because the ALF environment is more cost effective.
The Marion campus is being expanded to include separate
housing for residents able to live independently. When
necessary, they can choose to access ALF services on
campus and/or move into the ALF.
Partnering with Southern
Illinois University (SIU) Department of
Rehabilitation, River-to-River helps ALF residents with
dementia and Alzheimer's deter nursing home admission.
SIU rehab staff works with residents and trains employees
in skills that address residents' special needs. CEO
Sherry Hamlin said several residents who were being
considered for nursing home referral have already shown
“Our goal is to help seniors stay where they
want to be, in the places they've lived, worked and
raised their families,” Hamlin said.
“We work hard to target small communities and
build smaller facilities there.”
Assisted living options continue to increase in rural
areas, according to Lisa Gluckstern,
National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) Public
Affairs Director. In 2011, 16 states reported making
statutory, regulatory, or policy changes to improve and
broaden assisted living options. Gluckstern said almost
all states have some type of assisted living coverage
through Medicaid; however, some have long waiting lists
and there are still states that have no assisted living
Looking to the Future
Strauss said that federally funded housing initiatives
have declined steadily, and resources and mechanisms for
rural assistance are diminishing. If rural housing
opportunities are going to improve, she stressed,
continued public investment combined with sound policy is
Assisted living in rural areas faces an uphill battle
too, according to Gluckstern. “For assisted
living to be affordable in rural areas, the Medicaid
program plays a key role, especially because elders'
incomes tend to be lower in rural areas. To date, it's a
mixed picture across the nation for assisted living
services being covered by states' Medicaid home and
community based services waivers, state plans, or Section
1115 programs. Most states have Medicaid programs that
cover assisted living but a few do not. In some
states with programs covering AL, there are significant
Right now, nonprofit community-centered housing
organizations remain the most consistent resources to
address rural housing challenges, according to Strauss.
As of 2011, HAC had committed $285 million in loans and
grants awarded to more than 750 organizations across
rural America to support construction or preservation of
affordable homes. HAC has also launched recent
initiatives to improve housing for low-income seniors and
to help rural organizations help veterans.
“Despite capacity and funding limitations,
community-based organizations are often the catalysts
that transform public and private funding into affordable
homes,” Strauss said.