One in five Americans—about 60 million people—live in rural communities that are diverse in geography, population, and economic conditions. But while rural America makes invaluable contributions to the country’s prosperity and is a crucial source of water, food, energy, and recreation for all Americans, a large segment of rural people live in poverty and struggle to meet basic needs. One out of four are considered housing cost-burdened and since long before the economic crisis exacerbated by COVID-19, the lack of quality, affordable housing has loomed as one of the most pressing issues facing rural residents.

Community development organizations have been one of the few consistently reliable resources addressing rural challenges. And for decades, LISC has supported those groups, providing technical assistance, capacity building, and financial support to organizations serving rural communities across the nation. In many instances, these local organizations are the only entities providing affordable housing or other vital services for low-income people in rural communities.

As critical as this work is, research on the impact of community development and affordable housing in rural areas has been limited. A handful of studies have demonstrated the positive spillover effects of affordable housing development, but they have largely focused on urban areas. A new research paper from LISC’s research and evaluation team, “From the Ground Up: Affordable Housing as the Building Block for Stability in California’s Coachella and San Joaquin Valleys,” aims to help fill this research gap by examining community development efforts in two rural California areas. It asks: What are the impacts of community development efforts on rural communities, and how can these efforts advance equity over the longer term?

Our findings suggest that concentrated, collaborative community development initiatives have brought stability and revitalization to small towns in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Community development supported by LISC, among other entities, leveraged results beyond the impressive number of affordable homes produced. These outcomes led to a shift in community stability that in turn brought about infrastructure improvements, supportive social services, and the development of more representative political leadership.

Read the full article about rural America by Patricia Voltolini at LISC.