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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • COVID-19 and the Housing Markets
  • Volume 24 Number 3
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Rural Definitions Matter: Implications for HUD Assistance Programs

Peter J. Han
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official positions or policies of the Office of Policy Development and Research, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the U.S. government.

Multiple definitions of rural areas are used in the federal government. Although one universal definition of rural does not exist, the choice of definition used for a particular government program or researcher depends on the various geographies and population, different aspects of rurality in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, and purpose of intervention. Using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative data, the author investigates how some of the most commonly used rural classifications could affect the number, demographic, and economic characteristics of the HUD-assisted population in major assistance programs in rural areas as a consequence of those differences in definition. This article analyzes the differences by definition, degrees of overlapping areas, and rural HUD coverage then investigates selected demographic and economic differences among HUD-assisted rural households by diverse rural definitions. Whereas the size of the HUD-assisted population varies greatly depending on the rural definition, demographic characteristics appear more consistent with each other; however, economic characteristics display more variability by varying definitions. Understanding the differences in assisted populations could provide valuable insights to researchers and policymakers to identify a definition of rural best suited for specific purposes.

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