Although rural veterans, like their counterparts in metro communities, are likely to own their own houses, a third of younger veterans are burdened by the high cost of housing. Rural veterans who rent are also more likely to be burdened by housing costs. One issue may be a lack of affordable rental housing in rural areas.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is excerpted from a report by the Housing Assistance Council titled “Housing Our Heroes: Veterans in Rural America.”
Veterans often face unique and diverse housing issues. Housing affordability, accessibility, homelessness and aging in place are all concerns of this particular population. These issues can be further compounded in rural and small town areas. Vast geographies, limited resources and overextended social service infrastructure can make it more difficult for veterans to gain access to needed services and amenities.
Most veterans own their homes. Approximately 79.8% of veterans nationally are homeowners. In rural areas, the veteran homeownership rate is even higher at 83.3%. Rural veterans are more likely to own their homes outright than veterans nationally, at 51.4% compared to 42.7%. Although these relatively high homeownership rates are partially attributed to the older average age of veterans, it may also indicate a lack of affordable rental housing in many rural communities.
Housing affordability has become the nation’s biggest housing problem and many veterans find housing unaffordable. Households who spend over 30% on their income on housing costs are considered cost-burdened. Similar to national characteristics, younger veterans are more likely to be cost-burdened than their older counterparts. Approximately 34% of rural veterans in their 20s, and 25% of veterans in their 30s have affordability problems compared to 20.3% of their counterparts aged 55 and over.
Rural veteran renters are twice as likely to be housing cost-burdened than homeowners – 37.7% of renters compared to 18.8% of homeowners. Veteran renters over the age of 55 are more likely to be cost-burdened than their younger counterparts. An astounding 47.6% of veteran renters over age 55 are cost-burdened compared to 37.2% of individuals in their 20s and 26.6% of those in their 30s.
Manufactured homes are more prevalent in rural areas than the nation overall. An estimated 470,000 rural veterans reside in manufactured or mobile homes. While twice as many rural veterans live in manufactured homes than veterans nationally, they are less likely to live in these homes than the rural population as a whole.
Veteran Homelessness in Rural Communities
Veterans are more likely to experience homelessness than non-veterans in rural America
…Although only 9.6% of the national population are veterans, veterans account for 13% of the homeless population. Rural areas have fewer homeless veterans than urban areas, but veterans often make up a greater percentage of the rural homeless population. In Kansas more than one of every three homeless individuals is a veteran. In West Virginia, one in four homeless individuals is a veteran. …
Younger veterans, ages 18-30, and those most recently leaving the military are more likely to experience homelessness than non-veterans of the same age. Younger veterans are two times more likely to experience homelessness than young non-veterans, and those living in poverty are 3.7 times more likely to experience homeless. This holds true across different geographies. Nevertheless, relatively few homeless veterans are in this youngest age category reflecting, at least in part, the overall age structure of the population. Although older veterans account for larger percentages of homeless veterans, this could change as younger veterans age.
Rural female and minority veterans are at higher risk of becoming homeless than their non-veteran counterparts or white non-Hispanic male veterans. Suburban and rural regions have a higher percentage of homeless female veterans (10 percent) than urban regions (7%). Poor African American and Native American veterans are twice as likely as poor non-veteran African Americans and Native Americans to be homeless. In 2010, a staggering 26% of African American and Native American veterans living alone in poverty were homeless at some point. Poor Hispanic/Latino veterans are three times as likely to be homeless than Hispanic/Latino non-veterans living in poverty, and 18% were homeless at some point during 2010.
On Nov. 3, 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, announced a five-year VA plan to end homelessness among veterans. Part of this effort includes bolstering the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (VASH). The program combines the HUD Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA for veterans experiencing homelessness. There has been a significant decrease in homeless veterans as a result of the program; however, certain unique barriers exist for rural veterans. When seeking a voucher and choosing a location to live, veterans must live within a reasonable distance from a VA facility so that both the case manager and veteran can easily travel without any undue burden. While this does not prohibit homeless rural veterans from using VASH, it may require some who desire to live in more remote, rural regions to relocate closer to a VA facility. This may be difficult for homeless rural veterans who have strong ties to their local areas, especially for those with PTSD or other mental illnesses.