The Rural Housing Crisis: Lessons from Indiana

As we continue to slog toward an economic recovery from the pandemic, communities around the US are coming to grips with the problem of housing.  Simply put, too many places lack sufficient (or affordable) housing for current or new residents.  This challenge is especially pronounced in many rural areas where plans to attract talented workers and their families may face the harsh reality that they lack places for these new families to live.  We’re going to need to build more and better housing, and we should get started on this task now.  Some places are already on the way.  I recommend taking a look at the Indiana Uplands region which surrounds Bloomington in south central Indiana.   I’ve been working this region over the past year (although not on housing), and have been very impressed with the work of county leaders and Regional Opportunities Initiative, Inc. (ROI), a regional economic development partnership covering 11 counties.  ROI has done an excellent regional housing needs study, along with individual analyses for each county in its region.   The deep analysis (the report is more than 350 pages long!) contains deep details on what’s happening in each community, and seeks to enhance both public and private efforts to build and maintain more and better housing.  It includes recommendations for each county as well as for a region-wide strategy that upgrades existing housing stock, develops funds to finance new construction, and reviews current rules and regulations that may be impeding new construction.   It’s an excellent guide for addressing a complex series of regional challenges.  If you to learn more, ROI is sponsoring a webinar series that starts this week and you can sign up here.  This effort is just one example of local innovation in the face of our current housing shortage.  If you’re interested in following trends in this field, I also recommend a newish organization, Up for Growth, that advocates for better housing opportunities.