A new study shows rural New York is struggling with declining populations and lacking employment.
The State of Rural New York examines about a decade’s worth of data and rural counties experienced a population decline of 50,000 people. This was twice the rate of urban counties in the state.
Other issues rural areas are facing include aging housing stock which isn’t designed for seniors or people with limited mobility.
Mike Borges – executive director of the Rural Housing Coalition of New York – said one part of the solution to revitalize rural counties begins with better funding for numerous programs, including those that allow people to age in place.
“We are advocating for more funding for Access to Home and RESTORE,” said Borges, “which are two programs that allow senior citizens to stay in their homes and do repairs and make the homes more accessible to the disabled so they can stay in their communities.”
He added that other solutions are providing funding to rural communities for small rental development projects and affordable workforce housing.
A 2020 report shows the Lake Placid community has an unmet need of over 1,500 workforce and affordable housing units.
Borges noted that housing is important to bringing and keeping economic opportunities in rural areas.
According to the report, rural counties have just over 2 million housing units, compared with the 6.3 million in urban counties. Between 2011 and 2020, these numbers increased, but rural counties are shown to have an 18% vacancy rate.
He said the key to getting people back in rural areas is better housing.
“If we want to reverse the population loss, particularly here in New York state,” said Borges, “we need to do a better job of building more housing and preserving housing in rural communities. To reverse that decline, again, housing is going to be a number one issue to address along with economic opportunity.”
One challenge Borges said he sees in accomplishing these changes is the lack of representation in New York State’s government that’s dedicated to rural issues.
He said he thinks reviving the Office of Rural Affairs, which developed recommendations for the elected officials on policies and plans to meet rural communities’ needs, would ensure rural issues are being thoroughly addressed.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.