Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

Goal Four: Greaux resilient, rural affordable housing options.


Introduction

As coastal, riverine, and precipitation-based flooding occurs with a greater frequency and intensity throughout Region Seven, people will increasingly require safe places to call home that they can afford — and are not just “affordable” according to the traditional usage of the term (See the Introduction). In addition, areas in lower-flood-risk and higher-ground areas that are already increasing or may increase in population size are important places to provide adequate housing options to support a diversity of needs. Flooding and population changes may exacerbate or compound the housing challenges already facing these areas due to other contributing factors (For background on the affordable housing crisis, see the Introduction to Goal Three). Many of these questions will uniquely play out in places Louisianans consider to be “rural.” 

The aim of this goal is to highlight some of the priority considerations and actions that regional and local governments in Region Seven could evaluate to increase housing and broader community resilience in a rural context. These priorities, which emerged throughout the process to develop the Regional Vision, are reflected in the five objectives detailed below. These five objectives, however, are not  an exhaustive list of all the challenges and complexities necessary to address housing and build resilience in communities that identify themselves as rural.

There are many commonalities and shared needs around housing in communities across Louisiana. However, urban and rural housing issues present some unique challenges and characteristics that merit independent coverage in two separate goals — Goals Three and Four, respectively. For example, different types of housing are often found in urban compared to rural locations with varying density and minimum acreage requirements. Furthermore, urban and rural jurisdictions may be starting from different points to have these conversations, which necessitates a separate space to examine these topics. By having two goals for urban and rural housing, the hope is that Region Seven can better provide alignment around and support solutions for discrete issues facing each type of jurisdiction — and ultimately provide a better platform for individual community interests to be represented. 

This decision to divide housing into two goals was driven by interviews and engagement with stakeholders and residents throughout the process to develop the Regional Vision. This resulted in largely different, but some overlapping objectives for each goal. 

The next part provides background on the distinction between “urban” and “rural,” as defined in the Regional Vision. Note that the Regional Vision is not intended to be applied in a prescriptive way that identifies which areas within and outside Region Seven fall into either land-use category. Rather, it is up to regional and local governments and communities to decide where they fall on the urban-rural spectrum by evaluating a host of factors and determining priority community needs. This distinction merely provides a space for policymakers and communities to see themselves in a strategy document that is more nuanced, but admittedly not 100-percent comprehensive across the urban-rural divide. For example, Goals Three and Four only call out urban and rural areas without generally focusing on suburban or suburbanizing locations that would fall in the middle of the spectrum. The authors of the Regional Vision acknowledge that land-use and other considerations must be evaluated independently by regional and local policymakers and communities. 


Background: Affordable Housing in a Rural Context

Rural areas can be defined by various factors like total geographic size, population size and density, land use, tax revenues, and government capacity. In addition, rural boundaries are not static and can change over time, for example, as population transitions occur because of climate and non-climate drivers. 

The most common definitions for rural areas come from federal government agencies including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau defines rural areas as “any housing, population, or territory NOT in urban areas.”See footnote 1 The USDA and OMB build on this base definition by adding factors like population density and county and municipal boundaries in determining what is rural.See footnote 2 At the regional and local levels, other descriptions for urban and rural areas come from Metropolitan Planning Organizations in planning for transportation assets. 

These distinctions and definitions are important because they are used as a data-driven foundation to support many federal, state, and local policy decisions, including the distribution of federal funding and resources. However, these widely used definitions are often limiting because they rely on a narrow set of factors to identify rural areas that may not fully encompass the character of and challenges facing rural communities. As such, the definition of rural areas applied in the Regional Vision attempts to be more comprehensive and inclusive of the non-exhaustive list of factors that can be used to describe rural communities. 

In general, rural landscapes are characterized by:

  • “[S]parsely settled lands in natural, open or cultivated states [and l]ot sizes are typically large, but may be small if . . . developable land is scarce”;See footnote 3 
  • They can be located a distance further away from critical infrastructure, public transportation, and community services and amenities; 
  • They tend to have less population compared to urban areas; and 
  • They can be more limited in government staffing and capacity and have fewer per capita financial resources based on lower total populations and fewer property tax revenues. 

Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission.

This broad understanding of how rural areas are described in the Regional Vision is integral background to reviewing and evaluating the applicability of this goal to “greaux” or grow resilient, rural affordable housing in a proper context. 

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives that were identified as priorities through the process to develop the Regional Vision. These objectives are only intended to serve as a starting point for many but likely not all parishes, municipalities, and communities in Region Seven and Louisiana that are already taking some affordable housing actions. As such, policymakers may consider and see all or parts of their community in one, all, or some of the objectives. The objectives are also informed by informational interviews, case studies, and other resources to suggest how policymakers may evaluate and use them in practice. 

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