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A new policy brief from the University of Minnesota’s Rural Health Research Center found that a higher proportion of rural residents have incomplete kitchen or incomplete plumbing facilities compared to urban residents, resulting in over 368,000 rural residents living in substandard housing. 

Further, in both rural and urban areas, a higher proportion of adults with a disability live in inadequate housing compared to adults without a disability, according to the brief. 

“Many individuals with disabilities have limited incomes, which may make it difficult to afford high-quality housing,” according to the report.

Study author, Alexis Swendener, a postdoctoral student at the Rural Health Research Center, said there are also large disparities among racial and ethnic groups. 

“[There’s] a pretty big concern among rural American Indian and Alaska Native communities having substandard housing, and that being a concern for health and health equity as well,” she told the Daily Yonder. 

She said by uncovering these disparities, she hopes it’s the first step to improving health equity among underserved groups. 

“Specifically thinking about housing and the quality of our housing and how that would impact health for some of these underserved groups,” she said. 

She added that housing policy typically covers structural issues like roofs or leaking windows, but there are other issues, like not having a stove in the home or not having access to hot and cold running water that deserve attention too. Housing, she said, is an upstream measure that can impact health and health outcomes. 

“The quality of your home and the types of amenities you have in your home are going to impact and either restrict or give you access to things that are more healthy,” she said. “I was thinking about some of these amenities – like if you don’t have access to a stove, if you don’t have a fridge, that’s going to greatly impact the types of foods, you’re going to be able to prepare for yourself and keep on hand. It’s going to impact your diet. And that, of course, directly impacts your health.”

The report said rural housing policy should be tailored to the needs of marginalized groups, many of whom are at greater risk of living in substandard housing. 

“For example, structural racism and historically racist housing policies are factors that continue to impact housing access and quality among people of color and Indigenous people,” the report said. 

Further, having a bathtub or shower can impact your health. “Things like having a bathtub or a shower, and having hot running water, that’s going to impact your cleanliness, and your ability to reduce your exposure to infectious diseases,” Swendener added.

The research in this policy brief is part of a larger project examining rural disparities in housing generally. 

Swendener is looking at the Midwest and housing quality variables within the region. 

“The differences between rural and urban folks in Illinois is going to be different than it is in Nebraska,” she said. “What types of groups are having difficulties – are more likely to have incomplete facilities or live in crowded housing, for example, is something else we’re looking at.”

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