Rural America got a lot of attention in 2017. The results of the 2016 presidential election encouraged journalists, policymakers, and others to consider the differences between rural and urban parts of the U.S. The Housing Assistance Council has known these facts for decades, of course, and has worked with partners around the country towards improving life for the lowest income rural Americans.
Economic recovery from the Great Recession is lagging in rural areas, with a lower rate of job creation than in metropolitan places. Most of the new rural jobs are in the service sector, with far lower salaries than past mining and manufacturing positions. Forty percent of renters in places with populations under 10,000 pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. While rural residents are more likely to be homeowners than city dwellers are, the homeownership rate for rural African Americans and Hispanics is 20 percentage points lower than that of white non-Hispanic rural households. Persistent poverty counties – those where poverty rates have exceeded 20 percent since 1990 – are predominately rural.
At the same time, HAC knows rural America’s advantages. The barnraising spirit is still strong: residents care deeply about their communities and they really do pitch in to help their neighbors. Rural places’ products and their natural resources benefit the entire country. Costs of doing business are often lower in small towns than in big cities.
HAC spent 2017, as it has spent more than 45 years, helping rural communities use these positive traits and resources to improve their residents’ lives. This has always been the hallmark of HAC’s work: HAC helps local organizations so that they can, in turn, help their communities – not only immediately, but for years to come. HAC builds rural resources, capacity, and knowledge by providing financing, training and technical assistance, and research and information. In 2017 HAC continued its special efforts to help provide housing for rural veterans and launched a new initiative on creative placemaking.
Whether the new attention to rural areas yields useful results or not, HAC and our partners on the ground will continue our efforts. Rural Americans will deserve decent, safe, affordable housing, as they always have.
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