Healthy Housing in Rural Communities  

A Partnership Between NCHH and the National Environmental Health Association

About Our Partnership

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) are in a partnership aimed to improve healthy housing and address environmental health hazards that impact the home, including issues that impact the indoor environment, the surrounding outdoor spaces, and services like drinking water and sanitation. Our desire is to identify and create resources and connect with stakeholders who are directly engaged in healthy housing work.

Our intention is to gather information about the current healthy housing needs and challenges in rural and tribal communities and amplify existing strengths and unique strategies in place. This ongoing work is intended to identify where environmental health and healthy housing professionals can assist and bridge gaps through creating resources, facilitating connections, or amplifying and disseminating information.

Defining Rural

What defines rural? What is a rural community? There are several ways national entities and federal agencies classify rural areas. The Census Bureau, Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), along with other federal and non-federal organizations, all have different definitions. Specific programs within these agencies or other funders may also have slightly different definitions of rural, especially when delineating program eligibility requirements.

For NCHH’s and NEHA’s purposes, the resources developed and shared here are intended for any community that identifies itself as rural regardless of any formal definition from US Census, USDA, OMB, or others.

Additional Resources on This Topic

Defining Rural at the U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey and Geography Brief
This brief published by the U.S. Census Bureau describes the ways urban and rural areas are classified including population thresholds, density, and land use. [pdf; Census Bureau, 2016]

What Is Rural?
Rural Health Information Hub’s guide provides detailed information on how rural definitions are used, frequently asked questions, and how to know which definition of rural to use depending upon whether you are applying for grants, a funder or program administrator, or a researcher. [url; RHIhub, 2022]

In Search of Rural: How Varying Definitions Shape Housing Research 
This presentation, from Freddie Mac’s annual Rural Research Symposium, examines nine definitions of rural areas and how those definitions measure the rural housing stock. [pdf; Freddie Mac, 2021]

Defining the “Rural” in Rural America 
This article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes the multiple challenges with defining rural areas, how different definitions result in substantial differences in rural population sizes, and how the boundaries between rural and urban are developed. [url; USDA, 2008]

Rural Healthy Housing Needs

Environmental health hazards and healthy housing issues like lead, mold, poor indoor air quality, carbon monoxide, and structural issues like leaking roofs are common issues among all communities, but present a particular set of challenges to rural communities and their residents. Rural communities tend to have residents that are more socially isolated, have aging populations, and residents that have limited access to healthcare. Aging housing stock, a large number of homes with hazards, and lack of or weak rental housing codes also affect the health and safety of residents living in rural communities.

The resources provided here demonstrate some of the most prominent healthy housing issues in rural communities and can also be used to inform future opportunities for cross-sector collaboration and inform the role and work of healthy housing and environmental health professionals in the future.

Resources from NCHH and NEHA on This Topic

Rural Healthy Housing and Environmental Health NEW
This fact sheet from NCHH and NEHA provides a snapshot of key healthy housing and environmental health issues in rural communities and is intended as an introduction to the topic. [pdf; NCHH, 2023]

Rural Communities and Healthy Housing Primer NEW
Made to support the above fact sheet, this primer provides some further background information on how healthy housing issues manifest in rural communities, why these issues matter, and how they intersect with issues of health equity. [pdf; NCHH, 2023]

Identifying Needs of Rural Healthy Housing Organizations Questionnaire: Summary Report NEW
NCHH and NEHA designed and disseminated this questionnaire in late 2022 and early 2023 to understand and identify healthy housing needs and opportunities in rural areas. This questionnaire was intended for any organization related to health, housing, and/or healthy housing issues that were located in or providing services to rural areas. This report summarizes the results of responses to this questionnaire and can be used by other organizations, state or local agencies, or other stakeholders to inform future environmental health and healthy housing work. Please note that for the purposes of this report, host organizations did not use any formal definition of “rural,” and respondents were any organization that considered itself to serve rural areas or rural populations. [pdf; NCHH, 2023]

State Healthy Housing Fact Sheets 
NCHH has created new fact sheets for each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, the territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each sheet contains embedded hyperlinks to the reference source materials. [url; NCHH, 2023]

Funding Opportunities for Rural Healthy Housing

Eligibility requirements, restricted funding, and eligible activities are just some of the barriers communities face when considering applying for funding to provide services or strengthen healthy housing programs in rural areas. We have developed and gathered some resources below to guide organizations looking for future funding opportunities that would apply to their communities.

Resources from NCHH and NEHA on This Topic

Federal Funding for Rural Healthy Housing NEW
This fact sheet provides an overview of federal programs from USDA, EPA, and HUD that provide funding to rural communities, organizations, and individuals. The fact sheet includes information on each program’s purpose, funding amount, and impact. [pdf; NCHH, 2023]

Federal Funding for Rural Healthy Housing: Applicant Guide NEW
This guide expands on the above fact sheet by providing detailed information on how to apply, when funding is typically available, and eligibility requirements and activities for each program. [pdf; NCHH, 2023]

Establishing and Running a Local Home Repair Program: A Technical Assistance Tool 
NCHH created this technical assistance brief to support local and state governments, agencies, programs, and advocates in understanding how local home repair programs can address healthy housing issues and the options for building such a program to serve community needs. You’ll find the opportunities and real-world examples presented below useful as you create or strengthen local programs in your area. This concrete, direct glimpse at how other localities have structured programs, combined with a discussion of points to consider as you plan, can guide your first steps as you determine the approach most suitable for your community. [pdf, NCHH, 2022]

Financial Help for Home Repairs 
NCHH’s website provides a suite of resources to help connect homeowners to people, resources, and programs near them that provide financial help to investigate and fix lead and other health and safety problems in their homes. These resources and programs are generally designed for homeowners because they are the people responsible for fixing hazards in the homes they own. If you are a renter, we recommend you still investigate these links to see the types of local programs your landlord can access to fix health hazards in the home, including those related to lead. [url; NCHH, 2022]

Effects of a Changing Climate on Rural Communities

As our climate changes, extreme weather events are increasing in both frequency and intensity and pose a threat to public health and infrastructure, including homes. Climate change also disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color due to historic policies like redlining that forced these populations to live in worse-quality housing and neighborhoods that experience extreme weather events more severely.

The effects of climate change particularly exacerbate housing quality and safety issues in rural areas where there may be fewer available resources to mitigate damage, perform risk assessments and support climate resilience and adaptation efforts and where geographic isolation may create challenges in responding to disasters.

Resource from NCHH and NEHA on This Topic

Emergency Preparedness and Response Resource Libraries 
NCHH along with NEHA and other partners have developed a suite of resource libraries related to healthy housing considerations in the events of extreme cold, extreme heat, floods, hurricanes and high wind events, pandemics, and wildfires. [url; NCHH]

Additional Resources on This Topic

2014 National Climate Assessment 
This portion of the National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on rural communities. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the full report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. [url; U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2014]

How Climate Change Offers Opportunities to Revitalize and Reconnect with Rural Communities 
A guest post published on the Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability’s website describes rural vulnerability to climate change and how climate change offers opportunities to revitalize and reconnect with rural communities. [url; CSU, 2022]

Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response Toolkit 
Rural Health Information Hub’s toolkit provides several models and resources to support organizations implementing emergency planning, response, and recovery efforts in rural communities including a module on natural disasters, funding and support, and case studies [url; RHIhub]



Latest page update: July 31, 2023.