Rural Housing & the 2016 Symposium on Small Towns

Over the next 20 years rural Minnesota is going to see one of the largest demographic shifts in its history, and it will have large ramifications on housing supply and demand. A bold statement, I know. It was stated last week during the Center for Small Towns’ Symposium retreat; a meeting meant to outline and focus our theme for the 2016 Symposium on Small Towns.

When we began to ask leaders in the rural development industry and our small town leaders what they would like to see as the focus of the Symposium, they gave a loud and clear response; “rural housing!”

We had an inkling this would be the response since it has been a repeated topic throughout small towns over the past few years. Rural housing isn’t a single issue, but rather, a topic which contains many issues. These issues vary as much as our small towns and are linked by many variables: wages, employment, community demographics, geological features, and markets. These variables impact housing supply and demand, price points, various styles of housing development, and maintenance of homes.

Recently, rural housing has been framed with immediate concerns such as workforce housing and the lack of assisted living facilities. Our framework is a little different and attempts to explore a rather large elephant in the room; how will the impending demographic shifts impact housing in our small towns?

The Baby Boomer generation makes up the largest number of residents in our state, and rural Minnesota already has a higher than average share of people aged 65 and older. In fact, the 65 and older population make up 17% or more of our population in rural counties compared to 13% or less in the metropolitan counties. Homeownership tends to peak among these age cohorts, which means there is going to be a lot of housing stock coming on the market over the next few decades.

Ben Winchester, from the University of Minnesota Extension | Center for Community Vitality, shared some county-level maps showing the percentage of homes owned by people in each of these age groups.

Baby Boomer Homeownership (1)

Map: Percent of Homes Owned by Baby Boomers, 2010

65+ HomeownershipMap: Percent of Homes Owned by Residents Age 65+, 2010

When you add this all up, most of our rural counties have  73% – 76% of their housing stock owned by households in these age groups. These homes will most likely enter the market over the next 10 – 20 years as these households retire, move, rebuild, and ultimately pass on. Obviously, not all households will experience all of these transitions, but all will experience at least one, if not more of these.

At our retreat, we invited housing practitioners and other rural development professionals to explore this issue with us and to identify what are the core issues they see in our communities. A list of 34 issues was developed and retreat participants voted on what they felt were the top 5 issues. They were:

  1. rehabilitating and demolishing dilapidated and substandard housing;
  2. a lack of understanding and knowledge of housing programs among small town leaders;
  3. developing appropriate housing for all types of older residents;
  4. preserving current affordable rental housing; and
  5. a need to have housing that matches all household types.

There are some big questions when looking at these current housing issues and how they will interact with the large demographic shifts occurring over the next few decades.

  • Should rehabilitation and demolition of dilapidated and substandard housing become a priority over building homes if supply outpaces demand in the future?
  • What sorts of changes will be made to current housing programs as these shifts occur?
  • How will these shifts impact the cost of housing and the demand for affordable housing?
  • How will housing preferences change as new generations enter the housing market and will the housing stock match the preferences?

These are just a few of the questions we started to ask ourselves, and unfortunately, don’t really have answers yet. But we feel that it is important to start exploring these questions. The impacts will be large, but they don’t have to be negative. There is a lot of room for small towns to take advantage of these shifts, but we have to start thinking about it now. We will dedicate future posts to this trend and will lay out more information as we continue to plan the 2016 Symposium on Small Towns.

2016 Symposium on Small Towns

Date: June 7-9, 2016

Location: University of Minnesota Morris

Registration: Coming soon!

-CST Staff Kelly Asche

2 thoughts on “Rural Housing & the 2016 Symposium on Small Towns

  1. Researching trends for my town’s long range plan and came across this, great information regardless of where one is in the midwest. Thank you for sharing.

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