Rural Seniors Get Housing Help from USDA

HAC’s Joe Belden published a post on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health and Housing Expert Forum: Aging in Place in Rural Communities.

For older adults living in rural communities, the challenge of aging in place is often magnified. What specific programs and policies have proven successful and could be replicated?

Almost 26 percent of the nation’s seniors live in rural areas. As the baby boom generation continues to age, unique challenges will be placed on housing and supportive services for rural seniors, who experience more poverty than seniors nationally. Rural America is also aging faster than the nation overall, due to both natural population change and the continuing exodus of younger adults. Housing conditions are different for rural senior renters and homeowners. Rural seniors typically own their homes, many of them outright. While most seniors are happy with their homes, the physical changes of aging can impact the capacity to age in place successfully. Rural seniors who rent are also significantly more likely to experience problems with housing affordability than those who own.

Read the full post from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

woman-on-porch-oregonPhoto: CASA of Oregon

Rural Seniors and Their Homes: Planning for a Rapidly Aging Rural America

Material Posted

Power Point Presentation | Webinar Recording | Housing an Aging Rural America

With the Baby Boomer generation turning 65, the United States is experiencing growth among older adults that it has never before seen. According to U.S. Census projections, the over age 65 population is expected to grow by 30 million individuals by the year 2030, jumping from 13 percent of the national population to 20 percent. This is a staggering 35 percent increase over the next twenty years.

Rural America is older and aging faster than the nation overall with 15.7 percent of the rural population over the age of 65 compared to 13 percent nationally. The relatively older composition of the rural population is not solely a factor of natural population change but is also impacted by economic conditions. The increasing senior population in rural America will add new stresses to housing, health care, and social services that will be felt by our parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even us. We must remember that this demographic change is not a negative development, as long as we plan and prepare for it. To ensure all individuals are able to live safely, comfortably, and in dignity as they age, we must first understand the issues, concerns, and trends that exist.

Join us on Tuesday, January 13th, for HAC’s upcoming webinar, Rural Seniors and Their Homes: Planning for a Rapidly Aging Rural America to learn more about the demographic, economic, and housing trends of seniors and near-seniors in rural America as well as their housing options. Housing provides shelter and often economic security, but for many seniors the home has even greater value. Homes contain reminders of life experiences and serve as a catalyst for active and healthy lifestyles. Seniors have special housing needs: access to health services, supportive services, and even companionship become critical and must be considered. The impacts of these issues play a considerable role in our seniors’ quality of life and cannot be overemphasized.

Rural Seniors and Their HomesDownload HAC’s Report, Housing an Aging Rural America: Rural Seniors and Their Homes.

"I've lived here my whole life"

Leslie Robbins, Jr.

Rural Voices - Fall 2014This story appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Rural VoicesFor over 70 years, Leslie Robbins, Jr. proudly handled his home and affairs without outside assistance. As a veteran of the United States Army, he was prepared to serve his country in the Korean War, but was injured in a training exercise just weeks before deployment. An unexpected landmine detonation left him hospitalized for four months. Those injuries still bother him to this day.

“Up here in Maine, you go to work right out of diapers and you work all your life.”

After being released from the hospital, he made his way back to his native Western Maine and started working as a truck driver while growing his family. Leslie was no stranger to hard work. “Up here in Maine,” he said, “you go to work right out of diapers and you work all your life.” The job kept him away from his wife and children, as he traveled to 48 states and Canada, but it was good work for someone who “didn’t have much education.”

Unfortunately, when Leslie reached out to the local Veterans Affairs office (VA) for assistance with his home, he was told that his records had been destroyed in a fire and he could not qualify for any programs. Despite this setback, Leslie managed to build his own home for his family and watch his three children grow up and move out on their own. That home served him well throughout his life, but as he aged and moved into retirement, his home aged too and began to need repairs.

Leslie Robbins, Jr.Leslie Robbins, Jr. outside his home in Western Maine

With only Social Security Income to depend on, Leslie was unable to afford the necessary repairs on his home. That is until he came in contact with Western Maine Community Action (WMCA). WMCA helped Leslie secure the necessary financing through a combination of funding from the Housing Assistance Council and the U.S. Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program.

With repairs and renovations from WMCA, Leslie now has a new front-entry staircase, new electrical system, a repaired chimney, and his home has been weatherized to better deal with the cold winters in Maine. He says he is saving money on his energy bills and they helped “keep my buns warm in the winter.” Because of WMCA, Leslie is able to age in place, in the same place he has called home for his entire life.

Western Maine Community Action (WMCA): is a social service agency that has been providing services for over 45 years to people living in the western mountain region of Maine. The organization is dedicated to the principle that poverty should not be a permanent condition of people’s lives.

What does affordable housing mean to you? Rural families share their stories

The Fall 2014 issue of Rural Voices presents the perspectives of rural families, their challenges of living in unaffordable or substandard conditions, and how they ultimately utilized federal resources to obtain quality housing. These success stories almost always involve innovative community-based organizations that provide the vital link between housing resources and the families who need them.

What does affordable housing mean to you?The Fall 2014 issue of Rural Voices presents the perspectives of rural families, their challenges of living in unaffordable or substandard conditions, and how they ultimately utilized federal resources to obtain quality housing. These success stories almost always involve innovative community-based organizations that provide the vital link between housing resources and the families who need them.


Affordable Rural Housing: It’s Not a Nicety But a Necessity
by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, Missouri’s Fifth District

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, shares his housing story and offers his views on housing across the country


The Balancing Act
by Joey Henderson, Florida Home Partnership, Inc.

A single mother’s self-help journey

“Our Home, Our Community”
by Lucero Cortez and Erika Parkinson, Catholic Charities of Yakima

Zaida Elena Lopez and Ivan Chavez

Making Almost Heaven a Reality in Rural West Virginia
by John David, Southern Appalchian Labor School (SALS)

Converting a log cabin to a modern home means this widow does not have to live in the cold

The Power of Working Together

Three families share their experiences with USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Program

“I’ve lived here my whole life.”

Leslie Robbins, Jr.

Self-Help, Sweat Equity and Success
by BC EchoHawk, National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC)

“It made me feel good, it made me powerful and I’m looking forward to spending whatever days I have, God bless me, in that house.”

A Farmer’s Fight
byYuqi Wang, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow

Many Hmong farmers have recently experienced financial problems from faulty loans

Additional Content

rv-fall-2014-mapThe Faces of Affordable Housing

What does Affordable Housing Mean to You?

“We wouldn’t want to live any place else”

The Davis Family (SALS, WV)

Rural Voices would like to hear what you have to say about one, or all, of these issues. Please feel free to comment on this story by sending a tweet to #RuralVoicesMag, discuss on the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

Making Almost Heaven a Reality in Rural West Virginia

Converting a log cabin to a modern home means this widow does not have to live in the cold

by John David, Southern Appalachia Labor School (SALS)

Rural Voices - Fall 2014This story appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Rural VoicesNancy and Cecil (Cork) Labus decided 19 years ago to return home to West Virginia and looked for a rural inexpensive house near where Cork had family. They found an old place that had been unoccupied for a decade near Hico, West Virginia in Fayette County.

Fayette County is “at risk” as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Recently, USDA-Rural Development added the county to its “Strikeforce” category citing pervasive poverty and related socio-economic factors. People who once worked hard in coal mining and resource-based industries are struggling to survive and many, such as Nancy and Cork, had health issues.

The house that Nancy and Cork found was actually a three wall log cabin structure with an “add on” on the fourth side. The roof consisted of trusses and rafters made from tree limbs. The house was heated by a wood burner and wires dangled dangerously inside and out. Needless to say the rehabilitation of this house presented a unique challenge to members of YouthBuild, AmeriCorps, and volunteer programs with the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS) who participated in helping to rehabilitate Nancy and Cork’s house.

labus-smith-webNancy Labus (left) and Vickie Smith of SALS enjoy a peaceful moment together

Vickie Smith, who has been the SALS Construction Manager and licensed contractor for 20 years, had never seen a house like Cork and Nancy’s before. At first Vickie expressed dismay that the home was on the “to do” list for her. But Nancy, who had heard about the SALS program in a newspaper featured article, was tenacious to see her house rehabilitated. She called SALS over and over for at least a year and until she finally prevailed. SALS then engaged in the tedious process of cobbling together funds from the Pittsburgh Federal Home Loan Bank/United Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, USDA-Rural Development’s Housing Preservation Grant program, residual money from other projects, and tax-credit donations through the West Virginia Neighborhood Investment Program to assemble a “Force to Make a Difference” for the Labus family. The job was turned over to Dave Shaver, a seasoned SALS site supervisor, who has experience with turning around almost impossible to rehabilitate houses into something beautiful.

The rehabilitating process was helped considerably by the grateful attitude exhibited by Nancy and Cork. While they had no children together, Nancy had several by a previous marriage. Her son, along with Cork, worked on the roof as “self-help sweat-equity”. Nancy provided holiday presents and cooked for the crew, which was highly appreciated since the house was a long ways from anywhere. Crew members even helped cook and Nancy now jokes that the nearly two year project took longer than needed because nobody wanted to leave. Daniel David, a crew member from the first day of construction, recalls that the house was tough but the family’s support made everyone more than willing to go the extra mile.

Some of Nancy’s most special moments were being around the crew who contributed so much love, sweat, and tears for her “Home Sweet Home” in Almost Heaven, West Virginia.

The energy audit conducted by SALS on the house was off the charts. The entire house had to be insulated and almost everything inside and outside of the house had to be either replaced or rebuilt. The logs of the cabin had to be sheeted inside and out due to cracks, skeletons of critters in the attic had to be removed, and tree branches supporting the roof had to be reinforced. The windows that were popping out had to be custom made, Energy Star rated, and re-fitted. The back entrance with steps had to be totally re-built since access was impossible, not to mention the wood burner and pipe had to be replaced with an Energy Star HVAC (heat/AC) system. The crew installed all new wiring, and due to a new regional rural water system, the Labus’ old well which contained brown iron-water had to be disconnected and new plumbing installed. Crew members also leveled and fixed the floors because the new added on rooms and porches had various levels, support structures, and underpinning. Nancy recalls a situation where it took three hours and a smoking hot drill to install a light due to the logs and hard wood used throughout the house.

Despite everything that had to be done, Nancy could not hide her excitement at seeing her home coming together. She kept telling crew members “Thank you! Thank you!” and says she cried a lot with happiness. She now says she is “real proud” of her home. As she puts it, “The house is no longer an eyesore along the highway”. Some of Nancy’s most special moments were being around the crew who contributed so much love, sweat, and tears for her “Home Sweet Home” in Almost Heaven West Virginia.

The house was completed nearly five years ago. Then, just last year on December 19, 2013, Cork suddenly died after over 30 years of marriage. In remembrance of him and his memories, Nancy wears a heart-shaped pendant containing some of his ashes. She said the welfare department in West Virginia offered to pay $1,250 for his arrangements, but it wanted to put a repayment lien on the house. Proudly, thanks to having the house done by SALS at no cost, Nancy said she turned down the offer. She told us that she wanted to be “debt-free at last”.

As Vickie and I concluded our visit, Nancy hugged us and cried. But the day was not over. The home health nurse was knocking on the front door. It was time to keep hope alive.

Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS): is a West Virginia nonprofit that provides education, research, and linkages for working class and disenfranchised peoples in order to promote understanding, empowerment, and change. SALS is committed to developing a real comprehension of the social, economic, and legal structures which affect the lives of the Appalachian people.

Keeping Rural Seniors in Their Homes

Through my work researching housing for rural seniors, two things have become evident: first, rural America is older than the nation overall, and second, aging in place is the best option for seniors. “Aging in place” refers to older adults living independently in their current residences or communities for as long as possible. The vast majority of rural seniors own their own homes, so this often means remaining there; it can also be accomplished, however, by moving to a more manageable dwelling (such as a smaller apartment).

Numerous reports have proposed that aging in place… Read more

Are We Prepared for a Senior Population Boom in Rural America – Webinar Training

To have an event posted on our calendar*, please e-mail Dan Stern. Or send event description or brochure to:

Housing Assistance Council
Attn: Dan Stern
1025 Vermont Avenue, NW
Suite 606
Washington, DC 20005

Or fax to (202) 347-3441
Attn: Dan Stern


*Calendar Posting Guidelines:

HAC’s calendar posts announcements about periodic conferences, training sessions, audioconferences, and the like. Topics must be relevant to professionals in the rural housing and community development arena. HAC reserves the right to accept or decline any request to post an item. We do not include sessions provided by entities (for-profit or nonprofit) that offer numerous regularly scheduled training events; links to such entities are provided below.

Community Connections

HUD Calendar
Novogradac and Compan

Back to Trainings

The Silver Tsunami: Are We Prepared for a Senior Population Boom in Rural America

Start: May 1, 2013
Time: 2:00 – 3:00 pm EDT
Materials: Power Point Presenation, Recording

The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is pleased to invite you to participate in a webinar on demographic change and its impact to the rural population and rural housing. The senior population will experience significant increases in the coming years, as the Baby Boom generation turns 65. The Census Bureau projects the senior population will grow from 13 percent of U.S. residents to 20 percent by 2050. An added 30 million individuals will become seniors over the next 20 years. Currently there are more than 18 million rural baby boomers, comprising nearly 28 percent of the rural population. With increasing life expectancies, one of the more dramatic growth trends will likely be substantial growth of the oldest population (age 85 and over). Is there enough safe and affordable housing for this expanding population?
Using data from U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, HAC will provide insights on changes and trends in aging and the potential impact of these changes on people, communities, and housing markets in rural areas of the United States.
This webinar is supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies. For more information, please email Janice Clark at


Housing an Aging Rural America

Housing an Aging Rural America: Rural Seniors and Their Homes

Download the Report

Ensuring seniors have access to safe, secure affordable housing in a rapidly aging rural America

The United States is on the cusp of an extensive and far-reaching demographic transformation as the senior population is expected to more than double in the next 40 years. Rural America is “older” than the nation as a whole and more than one-quarter of all seniors live in rural and small town areas, and a rapidly aging population will significantly impact nearly all aspects of the nation’s social, economic, and housing systems. Most seniors wish to remain and age in their homes as long as possible, but rural elders are increasingly experiencing challenges with housing affordability and quality. These challenges point to an underlying gap in housing options and availabilities. With the scope and magnitude of the looming demographic shift of seniors, rural communities will need to develop a range of housing options available to seniors such as more rental housing, rehabilitation and repair programs, housing with services, and assisted living. These options not only enhance the lives of seniors but are fiscally prudent measures that are more cost effective than long-term care options.

Download the report.