Rural areas are about to be hit by a Biden administration policy that puts the wants of major cities over the needs of small towns.
Rental assistance that was part of the coronavirus aid package has been spent in an uneven fashion, according to Politico. The Biden administration is planning to take what has not been spent — about half of the $46.5 billion allocated — and give it to areas that have spent the most money, which effectively means major cities.
Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas are among the states that are expected to be hard hit.
Advocates say rural states still need funding, regardless of the rate at which money is spent.
“The need is there,” said Sarah Kackar, director of rural initiatives at affordable housing group NeighborWorks America. “The geographic isolation and information gap are two really large struggles.”
Rural areas can be impacted by a lack of local government staff to deal with the new programs as well as communication issues in telling rural residents about programs for which they are eligible.
“If you’re living in rural America, you’re getting hit pretty hard,” said Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. “We’ve got millions of residents who are now, today, experiencing acute housing problems that frankly are oftentimes overlooked because the attention is on big-city housing issues.”
Data shows the need is there. About 5.1 million renter households live in rural areas, according to the Urban Institute, and one in five pay more than half their income out in rent. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies said that as of 2016, 48 percent of rural renters had incomes below $25,000.
Corianne Payton Scally, a researcher at the Urban Institute, said internet and phone issues, as well as transportation problems, have minimized outreach and enrollment.
Carl Gershenson, who tracks evictions as project director of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, said the data does not always show rural need.
“These are places that are not going to show up in our eviction statistics, but they need money badly,” Gershenson said.
“Not having great data is definitely hampering,” said Elizabeth Glidden, deputy executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership. “We’re concerned that some rural renters are remote, hard to reach and then not getting connected to the benefits that they should be qualified for and need.”
Cleaver said rural residents do not have high-profile activist organizations that get attention from politicians.
“You won’t find that anywhere in rural America,” Cleaver said.
States that have not spent at least 15 percent of their allocations stand to lose money. As of Oct. 31, South Dakota was at 4 percent; Wyoming at 5 percent; North Dakota at 6 percent and Montana at 11 percent.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, admitted that rural renters have dire needs.
“When most people think about this crisis, they think about urban areas,” Clyburn said. “This picture is incomplete … We must bring down eviction rates everywhere, but we have the most work to do in rural communities.”