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Rural America faces affordable housing crisis as many flee large cities amid pandemic

Rural housing
Posted at 1:21 PM, Nov 09, 2021

During the pandemic, many people fled large cities to move to rural America. In some cases, it was to save money. In other cases, it was to offer a change of pace.

In 2020, the Brookings Institute did a study that analyzed the growth rates of 48 core metropolitan counties nationwide. In 31 of them, the growth rate was the lowest that the county had seen in the last decade.

The migration to suburbs and smaller remote towns caused housing prices in rural America to rise dramatically, pinching many families who were already doing their best to make ends meet, and exacerbating a problem that has persisted in smaller communities for decades.

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows over the course of the last decade, average rent in parts of rural America increased 27%, while the average salary in the same areas increased 4%.

“We are seeing a significant increase month over month on the medium close price for sale properties and we’re also seeing our rent skyrocketing,” said Becky Gray, the director of the Chaffee County Housing Authority, a rural county in southern Colorado. “We’ve seen a lot of people move into the community, buying what has traditionally been rental housing. So, that’s displaced a lot of other local residents who no longer have those rental options available.”

Located in the heart of Colorado’s mountains, Salida, Colorado, the county seat of Chaffee County, experienced what some have called the “Zoom Boom,” an influx of city residents who have the option to work remotely.

According to the Chaffee County Housing Authority, the influx has led to more people who are struggling to find permanent housing as 57% of employers in the region have at least one employee who does not have a home.

To help alleviate that burden, Salida is working to develop Jane’s Place, a half-acre of land that will be home to 17 affordable housing units, a nonprofit incubator, and other community resources for residents who are having trouble finding housing.

“She always told me what she saw on this lot,” said Miki Hodge, a longtime Salida resident. “It was something that would be a community resource area that would take care of families, help incubate new nonprofit ideas.”

Jane’s Place is named after one of the town’s most vibrant personalities, Jane Whitmer, a lifetime resident who pushed for change in foster care and housing uncertainty.

In 2019, Whitmer died of breast cancer. To commemorate her legacy, the Chaffee County Housing Authority developed Jane’s Place to help make her dream of providing resources to families in need a reality.

“There was a quote that was so Jane. It was by EB White. It said, ‘I wake up every day to both change the world and have a good time doing it. That was Jane,” said Hodge, smiling.

The land for Jane’s Place has been purchased and the permitting is finished.

Next year, Gray says they will begin construction on the building.