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New report examines housing trends in rural Virginia

A growing senior population and aging housing stock are creating new challenges for communities in rural Virginia.

A new report from Housing Virginia titled “Meeting Housing Needs in Rural Virginia: Trends, Needs, Gaps, Solutions” highlights the unique challenges of housing needs in the Commonwealth’s less populated regions.

“There are significant differences between Virginia’s urban cores and its rural areas,” the report states. “Even more, rural Virginia is not a homogeneous entity – different regions have different housing needs, gaps and trends that warrant unique approaches.”

But one trend is growing across all of rural Virginia. Migration of young adults to urban areas is leaving rural communities with a growing share of Baby Boomers. Outside of Virginia’s “Urban Crescent” (Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads), seniors will account for more than 20 percent of the population in most counties by 2020. In Virginia’s Mountain, Southside and North Central regions, homeowners at or above age 75 and living by themselves already account for 10 percent or more of the population.

An aging population coupled with lower wages, leaves many homeowners in rural counties struggling to maintain their homes. Overall, rural Virginia’s poverty rate of 12.4 percent is just slightly above the state’s poverty rate of 11.5 percent. But some communities are harder hit such as the state’s Mountain and Southside regions where nearly one in five adults live below the poverty line.

That means more homeowners in rural Virginia are unable to keep up with home rehabilitation projects or home improvement projects for seniors to age in place. And a lack of affordable rental housing makes it difficult for seniors to move closer to town centers for better access to healthcare and other resources.

Lagging real estate markets also create poor conditions for homeowners. A total of 83,600 homes in rural Virginia are consistently vacant and not on the market and most rural counties saw less than 500 total homes sold in 2015.

“It is evident that rural Virginia’s real estate market lags far behind the rest of the state,” according to the report.

The report offers a variety of policy recommendations to tackle housing issues including:

* Expanding housing rehabilitation programs, especially those targeting senior homeowners.

* The creation of standard protocols for home evaluation for seniors.

* The expansion of home rehabilitation and replacement programs.

* Initiatives to increase affordable, rental housing.

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