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Rural Communities

Housing in Rural America

Data about housing in a community indicate both the access of individuals in the community to various aspects of the housing market and the economic experiences of individuals within that market.

Housing in Rural America

Shelter, along with access to nutritious food and clean water, is one of the most basic needs of human beings. Not surprisingly then, housing is an important issue in rural and urban areas alike. Many of the housing concerns in rural areas are therefore similar to those in urban areas, while others are unique to each.

In rural areas, housing concerns focus largely on the quality and safety of dwellings (houses, apartments, manufactured housing, and the like), the affordability of housing and mortgages to owners and renters, the development of second homes, and the over-crowding of dwellings (Housing Assistance Council 2008; Stedman et al. 2006; Hammer and Winkler 2006).

According to a recent report by the Housing Assistance Council (2008):

"For much of the last century, the poor quality and conditions of homes was the primary housing concern facing rural America. However, it can now be argued that affordability has replaced poor housing conditions as the greatest problem for low-income rural households. Housing costs are generally lower in rural areas but so are incomes." (2008: 2-3).

The report goes on to clarify that despite the progress made to improve the conditions of housing in the rural U.S.:

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"Housing problems persist and tend to be most common in rural areas and central cities. According to 2005 American Housing Survey (AHS) indicators of housing adequacy, 1.7 million or 6.3 percent of rural homes are either moderately or severely substandard, which is a slightly higher rate than for metropolitan areas" (2008: 3).

Without a doubt, affordability and the quality of housing available to residents are issues that face both rural and urban communities. What can and does differ between the two areas is the exact nature of the problems, the strategies used, and the assistance available in each.

The issue of second home development is an issue, however, that rural communities do face more so than urban communities. Recent research by Richard Stedman, Stephan Goetz, and Benjamin Weagraff (2006) examined the extent to which second home development is truly a rural phenomenon and found that indeed, second home ownership is a "disproportionately rural phenomenon" (2006: 288). They also examined the extent to which second home development is related to changes in "traditional" rural community patterns (as measured by a social capital index that included the number of bowling alleys, civic organizations, etc. per capita; voter turnout; response rates to the U.S. Census; and the density of non-profit organizations) and "traditional economic patterns" as measured by employment in farming, forestry, and fishing. They found that:

"Consistent with popular images, social capital is indeed negatively impacted by second homes. When controlling for other variables typically thought to be associated with social capital, a higher incidence of second homes in 1990 is associated with lower social capital in 2000. These findings support concerns in the literature that rural settings with high proportions of second homeowners may embody less traditional social fabric thought to characterize rural communities. This may be tied to value differences, real or perceived, between year-round and seasonal residents, or the lack of social interaction between the two groups. However, another possible explanation for this finding is based on our measure of social capital, which emphasizes civic participation somewhat more than interactional density. Simply put, second homeowners may not have the opportunity to participate in many civic behaviors. They may eschew membership in local civic organizations in their second home locales, viewing these locations instead as an opportunity to "escape" from everyday life (see Stedman, 2000). If the proportion of second homes is sufficiently large, civic organizations may suffer. Support for this latter contention is demonstrated by our finding that the percent change in second home ownership does not appear to be associated with decreased social capital...

"In contrast to concerns about social capital, employment in farming, forestry, and fisheries is generally a rural phenomenon but one that apparently is not particularly threatened by growth in second homes...Our data clearly indicate that concerns about second home ownership crowding out resource employment appear unwarranted. Increases in second home development do not appear to pose grave threats to these employment opportunities.

"Second homes have a strong presence in some places, especially high-amenity rural counties. While they are not a panacea for rural underdevelopment, they are also not a de facto threat to all that is cherished about rural life."

Explore on Your Own!

To what extent is the affordability of housing an issue in your community? How have homeownership rates and seasonal homeownership rates changed in your community between 1990 and 2000? How do they compare to the state? What do you think explains the differences or similarities in housing across communities in the state?

Launch the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool

Housing-Related Terms

Using the tools of the Oregon Communities Reporter you can examine trends in housing across the state among the following variables:

  • Rate of Homeownership: The percentage of housing units occupied by homeowners (as opposed to renters).
    Formula: ([# of housing units occupied by owners]/[total # of housing units])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Homeownership by Age: The percentage of householders in each age category who either own or rent their dwelling.
    Formula example: ([# of householders renting, in age category]/[total # of householders in age category])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Median Home Value: The reported home value at which 50% of homes are valued lower and 50% are valued greater.
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Prevalence of Housing Cost Burden: In general, the percentage of renters and owners paying 30% or greater of their income on rent or mortgage.
    Formula: (([# renters paying >30% of income on rent]+[# owners paying >30% of income on mortgage])/[total # of households])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

    Low-income households and cost burden: the percentage of renters or home owners who have below median income and spend 30% or more of their income on rent or mortgage.
    Formula example: ([# renters with below median income spending more than 30% on rent]/[# of renters below median income])*100
    Source: Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, as reported by the Oregon Progress Board Benchmark Reports

  • Total Housing Units: The total number of housing units either occupied or intended for occupancy.
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Housing Vacancy Rate: housing units currently empty.
    Formula: ([# of vacant housing units]/[total # of housing units])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Seasonal Housing Rates: The percentage of vacant units that are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.
    Formula: ([# seasonal, recreational, occasional use vacant units]/[total # vacant units])*100
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Real Market Value of Property: The total market value of property, in thousands of dollars.
    Source: Oregon Department of Revenue

  • Property Tax Imposed: The total property tax imposed, in thousands of dollars.
    Source: Oregon Department of Revenue

  • Average Property Tax Rate: The average property tax rate per $1,000 of the Real Market Value.
    Source: Oregon Department of Revenue


Excerpted from: Stedman, Richard, Stephan Goetz, and Benjamin Weagraff. 2006. Does Second Home Development Adversely Affect Rural Life? In W.A. Kandel and D.L. Brown (eds.), Population Change and Rural Society (277-292). Netherlands: Springer.

Hammer, Roger and Richelle Winkler. 2006. Housing Affordability and Population Change in the Upper Midwestern North Woods. In W.A. Kandel and D.L. Brown (eds.), Population Change and Rural Society (293-309). Netherlands: Springer.

Housing Assistance Council. 2009. Housing in Rural America. Downloaded March, 2010.

Stedman, Richard, Stephan Goetz, and Benjamin Weagraff. 2006. Does Second Home Development Adversely Affect Rural Life? In W.A. Kandel and D.L. Brown (eds.), Population Change and Rural Society (277-292). Netherlands: Springer.

Authored and compiled by Lena Etuk, Social Demographer, Oregon State University Extension Service (2008)