Housing shortages look different in rural America than in urban America. In rural America, think abandoned, weathered farmhouses and collapsed barns that haven’t been maintained, let alone updated. Think older houses built for larger families when adults and their children did the farm work, not mechanized equipment. Think houses that need thousands of dollars to bring them “up to speed” that potential buyers either don’t have or don’t want to pay.
Now, think about today’s buyer in rural America. That buyer may be a medical services worker…a doctor or nurse or physical therapist…or a tech worker wanting to work remotely and raise her family close to the land as she was raised prior to educating herself as a computer engineer. Or that buyer may be an older migrant couple from an urban area who has cashed out their “big city” home wanting to live more simply for less money.
Ogallala, Nebraska is a good example of a community of 4,500 people feeling the pangs of a rural housing shortage.
Ogallala’s economic development officer, Mary Wilson, the person responsible for bringing and retaining business and industry to expand the local tax base, has a tough time doing her job “…when we don’t have adequate housing “
Wilson tells of nurses who work at the local hospital and live 50 miles away in North Platte because there is no housing in Ogallala. She tells of a financial analyst and CPA who moved by himself from Lincoln and lived in an apartment until, three years later, he was able to build a home for his family so they could join him in Ogallala.
And Wilson tells of a local real estate agent/builder who says that there is “…easily enough demand for housing to build and sell 40 new houses in the town next year…” except for a shortage of skilled construction workers in Ogallala and the “outrageous cost of materials due to the new tariffs on Canadian wood.” (Incidentally, the three or four homes this builder builds every year are sold within three weeks of completion if they’re not sold before completion.)
The financial advisor/CPA, Jacob Hovendick, believes that rural America is close to rebounding. “Technological advancements make it possible to live anywhere…but “anywhere” has to have adequate workforce housing.”
Hovendick and others in Ogallala are asking voters this fall to approve a small sales tax hike that would generate funds to offer incentives to developers who build local housing. Hovendick said, “The federal government is not coming to help us; the state government to a certain extent can’t come to help us. No one is coming to help us. We have to start helping ourselves.”
National housing experts agree…local communities wanting and needing to reawaken themselves to serve an influx of newcomers looking to live a rural lifestyle “need a well organized, local group of leaders committed to raising money and getting things done.”
Just as an Iowa corn farmer heard a voice telling him, “If you build it, they will come,” in the film “Field of Dreams” based upon the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, the town of Ogallala is betting that people will come if they can build houses in Ogallla so they’ll be able to come.