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From Good Bones to Healthy Homes: Housing Quality in the Rural Fifth District

Regional Matters
October 12, 2023

We've previously explored how rural Fifth District households encounter housing affordability challenges, finding low-to-moderate income (LMI) households to be at greatest risk. A home's quality can also profoundly affect residents' well-being. Resolving housing quality issues caused by repair needs can be quite costly. If left unaddressed, housing quality issues can lead to stress or chronic illness, which in turn can hurt adults' workforce activity and children's educational outcomes. As with affordability, not all households are equally likely to face housing quality challenges. In the rural Fifth District, LMI households are more likely to experience a housing quality issue as well as renters at all income levels.

Home Repair Needs and Residential Structure Characteristics

One way to assess a home's quality is to determine whether its systems and structures are in good working order. By this measure, low-quality homes have relatively extensive repair needs where residents would face greater risk to their well-being.

A 2019 study of American Housing Survey data by the Philadelphia Fed estimated home repair costs nationally. The research found that typical home repair needs varied across housing unit and household characteristics. Manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes) and older homes are relatively more likely to have at least one repair need along with a higher median repair cost, while homes in large multifamily buildings were less likely to have repair needs and had a lower median repair cost. When it comes to household characteristics, renters and low-income households are among those that tend to be exposed to greater repair needs.

Households that are more likely to live in a home with a repair need because of their tenure — whether they rent or own — or because of their income characteristics may be even more likely to face quality issues depending on their type of home. Within the rural Fifth District, the 16 percent of households living in manufactured homes are relatively more likely to live in a home with a repair need compared to other structure types. LMI households, which make up 45 percent of rural Fifth District households, are more likely than higher-income households to live in manufactured homes and therefore be exposed to a repair need. Renters, which make up 26 percent of rural Fifth District households, are more likely to live in a home with a repair need than homeowners in general, but they are also more likely to live in a multifamily building which mitigates the likelihood that their home needs repairs. (See charts below.)

In terms of the age of structures, about 30 percent of rural Fifth District households live in homes built before 1970. Homeowners with a mortgage tend to live in newer homes, which are less likely to have a home repair need. Households are also more likely to live in a newer home as their income increases, which is again true both in aggregate and for each tenure group. (See charts below.)

Because of both the structure type and age characteristics of their homes, LMI households in the rural Fifth District are relatively more likely to live in a home with a repair need.

Housing Quality Problems

Housing quality can also be assessed in terms of specific problems. Researchers tend to look at available data on kitchen facilities, plumbing facilities, and overcrowding for insight into the extent of quality concerns. The presence of complete kitchen and plumbing facilities indicates whether a home is equipped to sufficiently meet residents' basic health and hygiene needs, while overcrowding indicates when a home does not have enough space to accommodate the household.

Overall, these housing problems are uncommon. Only 2.6 percent of rural Fifth District households experience at least one of these housing quality problems. The most reported of these three problems is overcrowding, affecting 1.8 percent of households, while fewer than 1 percent of households lack complete kitchen or plumbing facilities.

Looking at the data by tenure, renters are more likely to live in overcrowded units and are also more likely to lack complete kitchen facilities. The share of households lacking complete kitchen or plumbing facilities decreases as income level increases, both overall and by tenure. On the other hand, overcrowding — the most common quality concern — does not follow a clear pattern by income. (See charts below.)

Although these three housing problems are uncommon overall, LMI households and renters at all income levels are more likely to be experiencing at least one of them (3.2 percent of LMI households and 5 percent of renters, versus 2.6 percent overall rural households).


Rural households have different points of vulnerability for potential exposure to housing quality issues depending on both their tenure and income. Renters and LMI households are more likely to live in a home with a repair need, especially if they live in an older or manufactured home. Larger shares of renters and LMI households also live in homes lacking complete kitchen or plumbing facilities, and renters at all incomes are more likely to live in overcrowded units.

As we've previously discussed, many rural renters and LMI households also face housing affordability challenges. The potential overlap of housing quality and affordability issues for some rural households means that they face even higher risks. Understanding which households are vulnerable to issues of housing quality, affordability, or both can help policymakers and community leaders consider targeted interventions to improve their residents' well-being.