Approaches for Improving Rural Housing Affordability
Approaches for improving rural housing affordability focus on strategies and mechanisms for improving residents'
access to affordable housing to reduce homelessness. Some programs implementing these approaches may
provide subsidized housing for residents directly or help people secure permanent, affordable housing.
Where you live, including the quality of your housing, can have direct impacts on your health and well-being. Homelessness
and substandard housing can make existing health conditions such as diabetes, a mental
illness, and HIV/AIDS worse. Similarly, a person with a chronic medical condition or a disability is
more likely to experience homelessness. Being able to afford housing that is safe and high quality is
an important first step towards living a healthy life.
Approximately 18% of the
in the U.S. live in rural areas, and many rural individuals are at risk of becoming homeless.
A lack of economic stability and a livable income contribute to the rates of rural homelessness.
Homelessness is associated with an increased risk of poor health outcomes, especially for individuals who find
themselves without stable housing for long periods of time. Certain populations experience higher rates of
homelessness in rural communities, including veterans and youth. Homelessness
for youth living in rural areas may be as widespread as in urban areas, and rural youth face increased
challenges to accessing services and support to find stable housing. Recent studies show that rural parts of the
U.S. have seen the highest increase in rates of
homelessness for public school students, with over 162,000 youth reporting that they have experienced
strategies included below have been identified to address rising rates of rural youth homelessness and
may apply to other rural populations:
Developing partnerships among health and social service providers and organizations working to end
homelessness to provide more support services
Expanding local outreach to help identify homeless populations and connect them with care
Involving local leaders and champions, especially faith-based organizations
Rural areas may offer limited affordable housing options, putting many more people at risk of homelessness. The
types of houses available to rent or buy may be older, and there are more
manufactured homes, like mobile homes and trailers. Historically, manufactured homes offered a more
affordable option for many rural residents, but increasingly, mobile
home parks are being purchased by real estate companies and other for-profit entities that can increase
rent on the land, in some cases, making it unaffordable for people to stay in their homes.
Much of the funding
to address homelessness comes from the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and funding amounts are determined by population
size. As a result, rural areas receive less financial assistance to address housing issues. Tenant-based
rental assistance programs are funded by HUD and are recommended as evidence-based by the
Community Preventive Services Task Force to improve health equity for low-income individuals and
families living in urban settings. These programs, which provide subsidies in the form of vouchers to use
towards rent each month, have not been studied extensively in rural settings. Community
organizations are often the ones who try to coordinate housing using HUD federal funding for rural
individuals and families facing homelessness. Funds from the HUD Continuum of Care (CoC) Program aim
to end homelessness and provide resources for communities to rehouse individuals and families.
Housing First is one promising
approach that has been successful in rural communities working to end homelessness. This approach
centers on improving quality of life and well-being by providing permanent housing to people
experiencing homelessness. The Housing First approach also offers additional support services for
those interested, like connection to transportation, employment, and healthcare.
Programs implementing a Housing First approach may offer different models for providing housing. Two
of the most common models include permanent supportive housing (PSH) and rapid re-housing. PSH
provides people experiencing long-term homelessness with long-term support and housing assistance.
Often, these individuals have a chronic illness or disability. Rapid re-housing focuses more on
short-term housing solutions.
For more information about the Housing First approach, as well as considerations for rural people experiencing
homelessness, see People
Experiencing Homelessness in the Rural Services Integration Toolkit. Housing quality is also an
important SDOH. For more information about substandard housing and associated health impacts see
Housing Quality Approaches.
Examples of Programs that Focus on Improving Housing Affordability
CASA of Oregon is improving the quality of life of underserved
farmworkers and rural Oregonians by developing affordable housing and programs that increase financial
well-being. CASA of Oregon was founded in response to the housing needs of migrant, seasonal, and
year-round farmworkers and their families. While CASA of Oregon continues to primarily serve the
farmworker community, they have expanded their work to develop other rural housing throughout Oregon.
CASA of Oregon operates a Manufactured Housing Cooperative Development Center. This program has
helped home owners in 15 communities to purchase their communities and operate them as Resident Owned
Rural Alaska Community Action Program,
Inc. (RurAL CAP) is a nonprofit organization helping to empower low-income Alaskans by providing
culturally appropriate advocacy, education, affordable housing, and direct services. RurAL CAP operates many
housing programs in Alaska to address SDOH. The Planning and Construction Division of RurAL CAP helps
improve housing affordability and quality of housing for residents, and also helps weatherize homes around
the state. They operate a Mutual
Self-Help Housing Program that provides affordable housing to Alaskans, including help for
low-income families and first time home-buyers. RurAL CAP's Supportive Housing Division provides affordable
rental housing opportunities for people with low incomes and limited credit histories, those experiencing
homelessness, people living with a several mental illness, and people with a substance use disorder.
Open Doors Homeless Coalition focused on ending homelessness for
in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The program used a Housing First approach which emphasizes the
importance of helping people find permanent housing first before attending to other needs. Through a
multi-county partnership, leaders in the region have helped reduce the number of people experiencing
homelessness by connecting people with housing and also providing wraparound services. Open Doors
Homeless Coalition acted as the convener bringing partners together to address the complex issues
facing veterans. Aside from housing, veterans were also connected with transportation and social
services to help address other needs.
The Pathways Vermont Housing First
Program is another program implementing multiple strategies to address SDOH and reduce
homelessness using the evidence-based Housing First approach adapted for rural Vermont. Although
providing permanent rental housing to participants is one of the key elements of the program, the
many coordinated support services made available to participants is critical to the program's
success. The rural
adaptation of the program uses local service coordinators who meet individually to build trusting
relationships with participants. This one-on-one coordination of services and support is an important
component of successfully integrating social services for these individuals. Participants in the
program have a severe mental illness, substance use disorder, or are recovering from trauma. Some
of the many services provided to participants include daily on-call support, access to a computer and
internet with training on how to use, telehealth access for medical visits, substance use treatment,
counseling and therapy services, as well as providing connections to job opportunities. The program
has saved the state money while also keeping participants in safe housing and out of hospitals and jails.
Considerations for Implementation
Implementing programs to address housing instability and affordability can be challenging in any
location, but rural areas provide several unique considerations. Although there are an increasing
number of rural people experiencing homelessness or living in substandard housing that they struggle
to afford, rural homeless populations can be harder to identify. Homeless shelters are more limited
in rural locations which may lead people to seek shelter outdoors or in indoor places that are not
safe for living. People may resort to sleeping in open fields, abandoned buildings, or vehicles which
are more hidden from plain sight. Many programs that aim to improve housing affordability and reduce
homelessness are often concentrated in urban areas.
Limited transportation access in rural communities can contribute to the inability to secure and
retain a job which is a risk factor for homelessness. A lack of transportation also limits the
ability of individuals to connect with community resources and housing opportunities. In addition,
limited access to healthcare services for the treatment of chronic illnesses or substance use
disorders can contribute to homelessness. People with a substance use disorder may struggle to afford
housing costs and may experience hospitalization. People may struggle to pay medical expenses and may
not have the resources to also pay housing costs.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Housing and Health
Describes how housing is linked to health and equity. Features programs based in U.S. communities
improving housing stability and quality for their residents.
Organization(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Homelessness: Strategies for Addressing Rural Homelessness
Resources and information for rural communities addressing housing instability and homelessness. Includes links
to toolkits with specific strategies for addressing and preventing homelessness in rural areas.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Provides resources about rural homelessness and healthcare. Includes reports about the scope of rural
homelessness as well as strategies to address the issue.
Organization(s): National Health Care for the Homeless Council