Year 2008

Rural Definitions Affect Housing Programs’ Reach

Contacts: Leslie Strauss | 202-842-8600, ext. 141 |
Lance George | 202-842-8600, ext. 125 |

Washington, D.C., July 24, 2008 – When a housing program targets rural areas, or someone needs data on rural housing, what places are included? The way rural is defined can have a significant impact on who receives help or what the statistics show, according to a new Housing Assistance Council report. What is “Rural”? Working Towards a Better Programmatic Definition examines the most common ways of identifying rural places.

Three often-used classifications – nonmetropolitan areas, nonurbanized areas, and Census defined rural places – encompass between 75 and 98 percent of the U.S. land mass, and between 17 and 32 percent of the country’s population, HAC reports. Their poverty rates vary, as do their homeownership rates, median home values, and rates of inadequate plumbing.

“There are important policy implications in the choice of definition,” noted Moises Loza, the Housing Assistance Council’s executive director. “Rural housing assistance could be targeted, intentionally or unintentionally, to a particular population or housing problem, by selecting a definition of rural that emphasizes it.”

HAC’s research explores the subject in more depth by considering the impact of changing the definition used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rural Housing and Economic Development program. It also summarizes other ways of defining rural, including those used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural housing programs and by HAC itself for its rural housing research.

What is “Rural”? Working Towards a Better Programmatic Definition is free on HAC’s website, Printed copies are available for $7.00 each from HAC, 202-842-8600 ext. 120,

A national nonprofit corporation headquartered in Washington, D.C., and founded in 1971, the Housing Assistance Council publishes numerous reports, program manuals, and other materials on rural housing topics. HAC helps local organizations build and preserve affordable homes in rural America by providing below-market financing, technical assistance, research, training, and information services. HAC’s programs focus on local solutions, empowerment of the poor, reduced dependency, and self-help strategies. HAC is an equal opportunity lender. More information is available at

The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government.