Home construction always not the right answer in attracting workers to a rural community

MASON CITY — A lack of affordable housing is sometimes pinpointed as a reason for not being able to attract workers to a community.

Benjamin Winchester of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality says in many communities, there are only so many homes to live in, and constructing new housing isn’t always the right answer in trying to solve a tight labor market. “While our employers may wonder where all the employees are, I’ll say they’re interested in coming, but they don’t have anywhere to live, and we know this. We see this fairly consistently now that housing shortages find the number one issue we find. Ultimately there’s a finite number of homes in our towns right? We can’t build homes because we want them. In many ways in our rural communities it’s just not cost effective.”

Winchester says a lot of the housing that would be attractive to draw workers into a community is currently occupied by senior citizens. “When I hear folks talk about ‘we have this workforce housing shortage’, I would argue that we don’t have a workforce housing shortage, we have plenty of workforce housing, it’s currently occupied by our seniors. How do we ensure a smooth transition in generations for our communities, because really our homes are one of the greatest community assets we’ve got. Those houses become a home for different generations, so how do we ensure that the houses that we have now are going to be in the shape that they need to be for the future workforce we’re looking for?”

Winchester was the guest speaker for the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation’s annual meeting earlier this week. You can see slides from his presentation called “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” by clicking here