November 2, 2016

Rural Poll shows some housing shortages

More than 80 percent of rural Nebraskans are homeowners. However, lack of affordable and quality housing is an issue in some communities, the 2016 Nebraska Rural Poll shows.

While many rural Nebraskans surveyed say the construction of new homes in their community is adequate, most believe there are not enough homes or quality homes available for rent. Many also say there are not enough existing homes or quality homes available for purchase, or apartments or quality apartments available for rent.

Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute, said that in many rural areas a third or more of all housing units were built before 1939.

“Such houses are unlikely to feature the amenities that potential buyers find to be desirable, or even essential, today,” he said. “That situation is compounded by the fact that residents over the age of 65 tend to control the largest single share of rural housing. In some communities, members of the baby boom generation and their elders will be found to own 40 percent or more of all housing units.”

For older homeowners, home maintenance can be a significant financial burden and may be deferred. Since many of those homes are expected to enter the market as owners move into assisted-living facilities or other retirement locations, some experts are warning of a potential glut of homes that are poorly suited to current preferences.

The poll shows that people living in or near smaller communities (fewer than 500 people) are more likely than those living in or near larger communities (10,000 people or more) to believe their town does not have enough of all the housing options listed. People living in small towns are more likely than those living in cities to say there are none available or not enough of the following: new homes being constructed, existing homes available for purchase, homes available for rent, apartments available for rent, quality homes available for purchase, quality homes available for rent and quality apartments available for rent.

Regional differences also exist, with residents of the north central region being most likely to cite not having enough of all the housing options listed.

When asked what housing programs or priorities they would support, most rural Nebraskans surveyed pointed to programs that would help seniors stay in their homes, help upgrade existing homes and provide affordable rental housing. At least three-quarters of rural Nebraskans surveyed would somewhat support or strongly support the following in their community: develop programs to help seniors age in current home (85 percent); offer low-interest loans or grants for repair, rehabilitation or home improvement (83 percent); provide affordable rental housing (77 percent); and purchase, rehabilitate and resell vacant housing (76 percent). They are less likely to support organizing volunteer efforts to maintain existing housing stock, but still 50 percent support this option.

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year’s response rate was 29 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available here.

Although the Grand Island area (Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties) was designated a metropolitan area by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, the Rural Poll continues to include those counties in its sample. Also, Dixon and Dakota counties were added to the poll in 2014.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.