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NPR: Rural America’s future at risk thanks to lack of ‘adequate housing’

Rural America is poised for a rebound, but without the housing infrastructure to support it, the future could pass it by

Rural America is facing a shortage of “adequate housing.”

Despite a dwindling population, and the expectation that housing prices would fall, NPR reports that affordability is worsening in rural areas due to “aging-in-place” and the gradual obsolescence of their housing inventories.

"It's a tricky situation," Mary Wilson, director of Ogallala, Nebraska's local economic development office, told NPR.

"People aren't updating their homes before they throw them on the market, and people are living in their homes longer here," she added.

This is severely constraining the already limited housing supply and pushing home prices up well past the means of the area. Often times the few homes that do go on the market need thousands of dollars’ worth of improvements, and most people can’t or won’t pay that to move to Ogallala, according to NPR's reporting. 

Contrary to what demand levels and local incomes would typically indicate, home prices in Ogallala can jump up to $350,000 quickly which often prices people out in a market where wages are depressed because of agriculture and commodity prices.

NPR reported that an influx of retirees and second homebuyers from Denver have driven up prices in Ogallala and forced some residents of lower means to commute from up to 50 miles away.

One housing developer said the longest he had ever seen a house up for sale in the area was about three weeks and that most of the houses he builds are sold before they’re finished. His latest build sold for $178,000, he told the outlet. 

These are classic indicators of pent-up demand, but for many for many housing developers, betting on rural America is still too risky for their blood when they could be focusing their efforts on job nodes with lots of consistent demand.

"In rural Nebraska, you don't typically have tons of seed money just lying around waiting for a project to come across its door," Jacob Hovendick, a local financial adviser and CPA, told NPR.

This is a big problem for rural areas because with the growing prevalence of telecommuting, the possibility of a resurgence of rural America is becoming more and more plausible.

"We're at a really pivotal point in rural America's development because you now are finding opportunities through technological advancements to be mobile as a workforce, to work from home for a company three states away,” he added.

To help usher in its piece of the rebirth of rural America’s prosperity, NPR reports that Ogallala residents and business leaders like Hovendick are asking voters to approve a sales tax hike that would fuel the construction of more workforce housing and fund incentives for developers to come in and build there.

"The federal government is not coming to help us; the state government to a certain extent can't come help us," Hovendick said.

"No one's coming to our rescue. We have to start helping ourselves," he added.

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