Abstract: Differential Experiences of Housing Instability Among Low-Income Rural and Urban Residents (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Differential Experiences of Housing Instability Among Low-Income Rural and Urban Residents

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR H, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Thomas Byrne, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Megan Smith, MSW, Doctoral Student, Boston University, MA
Ann Elizabeth Mongtomery, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL
Jamison Fargo, PhD, Professor, Utah State University
Background and Purpose: There is a dearth of literature, particularly empirical studies, that addresses rural homelessness. Much of the existing literature is dated and methodologically limited.  To better understand a significant population of people experiencing homelessness, we used survey data collected from low-income households  to compare several outcomes measuring housing insecurity between survey respondents residing in rural and urban areas.

Methods: Between October and December 2018 we conducted an online survey using a Qualtrics Panel of 1,270 individuals with a household income below $35,000 who were living in urban (n=633) or rural (n=637) areas. We compared urban and rural respondents with respect to their current housing status and cost of housing as well as their lifetime experiences of homelessness using bivariate tests and multivariable logistic regression models that controlled for age, sex, race, and ethnicity.

Results: At the time of their responses to the survey, 7.7% of urban respondents and 5.3% of rural respondents were not living in safe or stable housing that they owned or rented. In addition, 26.1% of urban respondents and 20.1% of rural respondents reported being concerned that they may lose their housing. In the adjusted models, rural respondents had significantly lower odds of reporting not living in safe or stable housing (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.60, p=.037) and concerns that they may lose their housing (AOR 0.68, p=.009). Rural respondents had significantly lower housing costs—their odds of paying less than $750 per month toward housing were 8 times greater than their urban counterparts (AOR 8.33, p<.001)—and were more likely to report being able to stay with family and friends if they lost housing (AOR 1.32, p=.024). Finally, urban and rural respondents reported no significant difference in their lifetime use of emergency shelter, but rural respondents had greater odds of reporting having slept in their car (AOR 1.54, p=.003) and having been doubled-up with friends or family (AOR 1.33, p=.023) at some point during their lifetime.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings point to key differences in current experiences of housing insecurity and access to social support in the event of a housing crisis between persons in urban and rural areas.  Taken together, they suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of housing insecurity and corresponding policy responses that takes rurality into account.