Our Rural Housing Opportunity; Using rural solutions to solve rural issues

Patty Cantrell
July 1, 2021

“If we don’t have affordable housing, our communities can’t move forward.”

On Monday May 24, representatives of organizations that make up the START HERE Business Acceleration Network met via zoom to hear from speakers and have a conversation over the opportunities and challenges faced with rural housing in the greater west-central Missouri region.  

Hosted by New Growth community development corporation and West Central Community Action Agency, Patty Cantrell, Chief Community Development Officer at New Growth facilitated the conversation. The main question: how to bring affordable housing to rural communities? Various speakers from different counties gave there take on the importance of answering this question and some of the hurdles that may be in the way to solve this issue.  

Benton County Economic Development Director, Jo Ann Lane, said during her presentation, “If we don’t have affordable housing, our communities can’t move forward.” Lane also highlighted the need for various types of homes and housing to fit different needs of families. She went on to tie together the link between increasing economic growth to affordable housing saying, “To spend money in our communities, they need to be able to live in our communities.” More on this can be found in the Benton County Housing Study.  

Benjamin Vickers, Vernon County Director of Economic Development, shared his take on the issues that need to be considered when answering the question of rural development and affordable housing. Vickers shared insight on what it is like to be a new college graduate, saying that college graduates want to move up to nicer housing than what they had in college. This type of housing may not always be found in rural areas, and there should be an emphasis on developing housing to attract these college graduates back to their hometowns or other rural areas. Vickers also shared that he is working with a local task force to conduct a housing study for Nevada and Vernon County

Mark Dawson, Economic Development Director of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce in Henry County shared statistics on the number of induvial that work but do not live in Clinton or Henry County. An estimated $135 million leaves Clinton every year with 3,900 workers who do not live in Clinton or Henry County. That’s lost revenue for businesses and for local governments. The basic problem is clear in Clinton’s Housing Affordability Index of 1.33, which means area incomes fall far below the cost of housing (broad affordability would be an Index at 1.00). These statistics reflect the same issue that is occurring in many rural communities in the area; bringing in people to live and do business in the community.  

Jeff Droz, a Rich Hill native and owner of Roof Power Solar, just recently finished building a net-zero, solar energy home. He explained how solar energy powered homes could attract new individuals to rural communities, especially with the expansion of high-speed networks to rural areas. With access to high-speed internet, more people who work from home can have the option to live in rural communities. Draws also pointed out topics such as how these homes could raise the property taxes of the neighbors, which is another hurdle in terms of developing areas that have individuals on fixed incomes.  

Chris Richardson-McQueen, Chief Housing Enrichment Officer at WCMCAA gave her presentation over the programs in place at West Central. These programs include a weatherization assistance program, multi-family housing, senior citizen housing, work as a Community Housing Development Organization, and giving rental assistance vouchers as a Public Housing Authority among many other programs that assist in solving the rural housing question.  

Finally, Hrishue Mahalaha, of Innovation Economy Partners discussed the work that was being done in the Growth in Rural Ozarks Program. He described the housing dilemma as a problem with many ever-evolving tentacles saying, “It is a pervasive issue, how are we going to attack it?”  The members of the Growth in the Rural Ozarks team took their knowledge and findings surrounding the topic and compiled it into a comprehensive document that can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/GROHousingPlan.

After a brief open floor discussion over topics and themes, the group looked at what next steps working together will look like. Using a poll via Zoom, it was clear there was strong interest in holding a regional housing summit as well as interest in ongoing information and education.  

This event was part of the 5th Monday community economic development networking luncheons that has turned virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.