While rural development may seem like a reasonable solution for offering more affordable housing in the country’s most expensive cities, the National Rural Housing Coalition reports that rural development funding has been cut by 75 percent over the last 40 years. At the same time, the poverty rate in rural areas is triple that of urban areas. As such, a number of organizations are working toward fixing and fortifying these communities. The following are organizations that have received the nod of approval from the National Rural Housing Coalition.
Based in the city of Brunswick in Maine, Coastal Enterprises is a regional-development organization that focuses on the continued growth of agriculture, fisheries and rural areas. The goal of the organization is to grow good jobs and environmentally sustainable enterprises in Maine and throughout the country.
Started in the late ‘70s by Ron Phillips, Coastal Enterprises was originally formed to help redevelop a fish freezer and processing plant in Boothbay Harbor. It has since mobilized more than $300 million in funding to assist rural areas. In the process, the organization has also created or helped to preserve more than 30,000 jobs. It has also become the largest distributor of economic development tax credits in the country, having helped send millions of dollars in loans and other funding to businesses in rural parts of the country. Its partnerships, such as the one it recently formed with Forager, have also helped rural residents. Thanks to the Forager partnership, small farms can now more efficiently distribute fresh food to customers by helping farmers link to a better distribution system.
Communities that built themselves around coal mining are struggling as the industry continues to decline. A recent startup called BitSource strives to address this issue by training miners in coding and software development, thereby providing them with a new marketable skill to help them in the job market. Launched in 2015 by two Kentucky businessmen, BitSource is based on the idea that coal miners are technology workers who get dirty. Not only are they already adept at teamwork, but they are also experienced with operating complex engineering technology. A similar nonprofit organization, Mined Minds, was also started to specifically assist those in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Founded in 2004, Energy Raisers puts a new twist on a traditionally Amish community gathering. Through the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, the organization is able to help reduce energy costs while also increasing resilience for local homes and businesses. This is accomplished by bringing together volunteers to help set up solar installations, thereby helping to lower the cost of clean energy by providing free labor.
In the past 13 years, the group has overseen hundreds of installations, thereby providing communities with energy and hot water. The group serves as an example of how even a small group can have a major impact on rural power co-ops and agriculture.
A similar program, Rural Energy for America Programs (REAP), was created in 2003. The program invested $237 million in renewable and energy-efficiency programs last year alone. $5 million of these dollars went toward 337 solar projects.
Active since 1965, Self-Help Enterprises helps agricultural workers and other blue-collar workers become homeowners. This goal is accomplished by creating a community support system within the low-income stretch of the state known as the Central Valley. Through this support system, groups of prospective owners band together to help build each other’s homes with the help of professional construction workers and supervisors. Families involved with the program put in an average of 1,300 hours of work and no one moves in until ever new home is finished. Over the years, the program has helped 24,000 families become homeowners. In addition, by having prospective homeowners work together to build the homes, the program also effectively serves to build a sense of community. Similar programs include the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing in Washington state and Tierra Del Sol in New Mexico.