Solving the Hoosier housing shortage


From the moment I started working with communities in rural Indiana, leaders were asking what the Center for Rural Engagement could do to help with the housing crisis.

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The details of the housing challenges in each community vary, but the narrative is largely the same: employers seeking to attract new employees, and local residents wanting to purchase their first home or downsize to age in place, are struggling to find options.

Solving a multi-faceted problem like housing shortages requires a tiered approach, but there is one place every community should start: by developing a housing leadership group first.

Every community has at least one site that could be a good fit for development, even if it’s a small one. Housing leadership is needed to engage residents and officials in action-oriented planning to identify these potential sites and coalesce around a desirable outcome for them. Many rural communities do not have planning departments or local housing experts, but every community has individuals who are concerned about the future of housing. Sometimes the best housing leaders do not come from backgrounds involved in land development or construction—they are the leaders who know how to assemble a team and address a community need.

The center published its Hoosier Housing Ready Toolkit in March 2020 to empower communities to develop their housing leadership. The toolkit guides communities through the process of preparing for and attracting residential development. Housing is complex; the toolkit is meant to demystify the process and focus efforts on a step-by-step approach that will position the community to attract housing investment.

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View the Hoosier Housing Ready Toolkit for guidance to help you launch housing initiatives
led by the community.

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Leaders interested in housing should begin by assembling a housing team. They should aim to attract a diverse set of skills to the table to address the myriad factors that influence housing investment. Local business owners with knowledge of the populations they are trying to retain or attract can provide insight into target demographics. Realtors, long-time residents, and land owners can advise on the availability of larger tracts of land for potential development. Government leaders at all levels bring policy and growth vision. Lenders understand the complexities of financing, and when invited to the table early, can begin to source or create loan products that may not be currently available. Finally, interested residents who simply want to strengthen the community can help with nonprofit management, political organizing, and ensuring follow through. This kind of team can begin to take real action to make a community “housing ready.”

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Photo by Jeni Waters

Want to move to the countryside?

Both local and national factors play a role in rural America’s housing challenges. Read Kerry’s thoughts on these issues and potential solutions in the Wall Street Journal.

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