Problem, research strategy, and findings: Researchers have explored public housing in large U.S. cities in great detail, including its history, design, effect on neighborhoods, role in urban renewal, the livelihoods of residents, and the consequences of mismanagement, demolition, and rebuilding. Based on these studies, scholars have largely concluded that public housing failed to achieve its goals. Yet, a parallel history of public housing construction and preservation in small towns and rural areas, a history that might challenge the dominant narrative of failure, remains unexplored. This article reviews the existing rural public housing literature, identifies important gaps, and explores its legacy. We find that while federal public housing policy in small towns and rural areas played an important role in the supply of affordable housing in these communities, little research has documented its impact. Rural public housing offers an alternative narrative less marked by problems and failures and more by solutions and successes, an idea that deserves much more attention from housing researchers in the future.
Takeaway for practice: In the coming years, planners working in rural places will face numerous questions about not only how to house low-income households, but also how to preserve existing housing units in safe and sanitary conditions so that they remain viable. We identify a set of questions and issues pertaining to housing conditions in rural areas that, if answered, could offer planners valuable new insight into future federal housing policy more sensitive to community needs.