She tried to get help from the USDA, the group that is largely responsible for administering housing aid to rural communities, but they said they couldn’t do anything to help her rehab her property, she said. Then help came from somewhere else. A woman who worked for a human-service organization called HOPE Inc., agreed to take a look at her situation to see if they might be able to assist. “One day she came out to the house, I wasn’t at home. She looked around and I suppose her heart was touched. She couldn’t believe someone could live in those conditions,” Bouknight said.
With the help of HOPE Inc., which provides housing aid and support for those living in rural areas, Bouknight’s home was salvaged and she received access to what many might consider basic necessities, like running water. The help came just in time, too. Bouknight says with her depleted health, there’s no way she could have carried on with the house in the state it was prior to the intervention.
Bouknight’s hardships might sound extreme, but dangerous or unhealthy housing conditions aren’t an anomaly in many rural areas. Residents who aren’t able to save their homes, or find new homes that they can afford are often forced to double up with family members, or they become homeless, says Crowley. “It's not visible because people aren't on the streets: They're living in cars and they're living in campgrounds." According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on average there are 14 homeless individuals per every 10,000 people in rural areas versus 29 homeless people per every 10,000 in urban areas.
When it comes to creating new homes, interest is often thin and those that do opt in, face many unique hurdles. “Developers can't count on any kind of municipal infrastructure to help them,” says Dangler. When it comes to building, things that are often taken for granted in more urban areas, like water, sewers, and even access to quality roads, aren’t guaranteed, which can make building a quality house much more challenging."
Aid is somewhat sparse too, for both building and rehabilitating properties. “There's a handful of programs that serve people in rural communities. They tend to be much smaller in scale in terms of the amount of money than the HUD programs. They also tend to be lost in the bureaucracy,” says Crowley. That’s particularly problematic because “rural areas have been traditionally more dependent upon public subsidies and publicly-funded programs than their urban counterparts,” according to Dangler. “There can be a disproportionate pain in rural areas as we attempt to right our financial books by cutting back on federal-housing programs.”
And in fact, funds for rural housing provided by the USDA via the 502 Direct Loan program—one of the government-aid programs for purchasing or rehabilitating homes in rural areas, cited by several people as a resource for very-low-income residents—have decreased over the past few years, dropping from about $2.1 billion in 2010 to around $828 million in 2013.* Some still say that there isn't enough money, and some even point to the current administration specifically. Jim King, the president of Fahe, a nonprofit housing organization that serves Appalachia, says that the problem is more indicative of the lower prioritization of rural issues overall than it is about one administration in particular. “In light of all the other issues, this is just one that lays further down for almost everybody,” says King. And finding funds from other agencies for rural projects can be difficult and highly competitive, he says, leaving rural residents in a tough spot.