August 6, 2019

Housing Stability: Bridging the Housing Gap in Rural Communities

Rural housing

This is the first post in a five-part series on challenges and opportunity in rural communities.

Other posts in this series: 

Many rural residents experience housing stability challenges. Nearly a quarter of the country’s most rural counties have experienced a substantial increase in the number of households spending at least half of their monthly income on housing since 2010. Public water, sewers, and access to quality roads may not exist, making home-building more challenging and expensive. In many areas, residents have few mortgage lender options, limiting their ability to apply for affordable mortgages. 

Enterprise’s partners are helping rural communities respond to these challenges. Last year, Enterprise provided more than $550,000 in grant awards to support rural and tribal non-profit organizations working to improve housing stability in their communities. These Community Development Corporations (CDCs), Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs), and tribal organizations are helping low-income residents and farmworkers more easily access safe, affordable homes for rent as well as homeownership opportunities. They are also helping make sure homes in their communities continue to remain affordable into the future. 

This is the second blog in our series about opportunity challenges experienced by rural residents and innovative solutions being developed by our partners. Here, we focus on the housing stability dimension of Enterprise’s Opportunity360 framework, highlighting challenges and opportunities faced by members of rural communities in accessing quality, affordable homes. 

What is housing stability?

Housing stability refers to the ability of residents to live in a safe home as long as they choose, without being forced to move due to cost. Researchers have found that housing stability has long-term benefits, particularly for children. Children living in low-income families who received housing subsidies had a 28% lower risk of being food insecure, compared to wait-listed peers.

A study of mothers with young children found those who were stably housed were less likely to be diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder than peers without stable housing. United States (U.S.) residents in the lowest income quartile living in affordable housing also spent $650 more each month on other necessities compared to peers who were spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing in 2016.

Our Opportunity360 framework highlights the important role of housing stability in residents’ lives, as measured at a census tract level through a composite index score. This score is calculated using six standardized variables: homeownership rate; percent of all low-income households that are severely cost-burdened; percent of occupied units that are crowded or overcrowded; percent of households that have multiple families or unrelated individuals; percent of renter households receiving project-based housing assistance; and percent of renter households receiving Housing Choice Vouchers. 

Who experiences housing instability in rural communities?

While housing instability is experienced by all types of rural residents, some may be especially vulnerable. Residents of mobile home parks may be disproportionately impacted by natural disasters, like tornadoes. Housing conditions have been found to be substantially worse among American Indian and Alaska Native households living in tribal areas compared to all U.S. households, with overcrowding being especially severe. Many migrant and seasonal farmers also live in homes in poor condition with poor water quality, insect and rodent infestations, and other hazards.

The demographics of homelessness in rural areas may also look very different from urban areas. The rural homeless population is made up of more families and fewer single individuals. Residents may be more likely to be working, experiencing homelessness for the first time, and less likely to be receiving government assistance than those in urban areas. Youth experiencing homelessness were found to be more disconnected from employment and education than those living in urban areas in 2018. 

Where are rural residents facing the greatest challenges to housing stability?

A look at our Opportunity360 housing stability index scores can help us see where rural residents may find it especially difficult to access stable housing. These scores represent nationwide percentile rankings of census tracts. A score of 50 means that a tract is in the 50th percentile—half of all tracts in the country have a higher score and half have a lower score.

A map of the country’s rural housing stability index scores helps us see the location of tracts with lower scores. Looking at the map, the lightest yellow tracts make up large shares of rural tracts in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rocky Mountain states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

These tracts also make up large shares of rural tracts in the New England states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as well as in South Dakota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii. In 2017, about 10-40% of rural tracts in these states had housing stability scores in the lowest quartile.

How are partners innovating to help improve the housing stability of rural residents?

In response to these challenges, Enterprise’s partners are working to develop and implement creative and innovative community-based solutions. These solutions are grounded in affordably-priced healthy homes. Each is designed to help improve the ability of residents to live in a safe home as long as they choose, without being forced to move due to cost. 

In South Dakota, Enterprise’s partner Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (TVCDC) is working to make homes affordable and available for individuals living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In the next two years, the organization plans to complete the first phase of a regenerative community development plan, which is designed to bring together Lakota culture, tradition and values with cutting-edge design. This phase of TVCDC’s 34-acre development includes 21 single family homes, an apartment building, community center, and green spaces. Staff members are currently working to develop general ideas and master plans for the next phase of the development which will include retail and office spaces and a childcare facility. Upon completion, the community is anticipated to include 2,000 residents and serve as a national model for resilient communities. 

The Four Directions Development Corporation (FDDC) is continuing to improve the social and economic conditions of the four Native American tribes in Maine through education and investment in affordable homes, tribal business ventures, and Native entrepreneurship. With support from Enterprise, this Native American Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and CDC will be assisting the Maliseet tribe in developing their homeownership programming, which is a new approach for the tribe in meeting the housing needs of their members. FDDC is reaching out to tribal leaders to discuss the importance of homeownership and promote opportunities to tribal members. FDDC will also assist the Maliseet in developing a homeownership education and counseling program to begin preparing families for homeownership – a relatively new concept for many members of the tribe. 

The Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing (ORFH) is also training staff and providing comprehensive development services for the creation of affordable homes in rural Washington. These homes are designed to improve the housing stability of farmworkers and other low-income rural people. In addition to helping residents enhance their housing stability, staff members partner with a variety of local providers to help residents more easily access healthcare, education, job training, and early learning centers.


Across the country, many rural residents experience difficulties accessing a safe and stable home. With support from Enterprise, organizations across the U.S. are helping respond to these needs and support their communities with opportunities like culturally-sensitive design and development, new pathways to homeownership, and access to comprehensive services.

For more information about how Enterprise and its partners are supporting rural and tribal residents, visit Enterprise’s Rural and Native American Initiative

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