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In Search of Housing: Urban Families in Rural Contexts


  • Writing and research for this article were primarily supported by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. I thank the families who graciously participated in the research reported in this article; Dr. Linda M. Burton for her overall guidance and support; and Shannon Telenko, Jennifer Floyd, and Whitney Welsh for their research expertise; and I extend many, many thanks to the reviewers of this manuscript for their detailed readings and constructive feedback. Direct correspondence to me at American Ethnic Studies/Women's & Gender Studies, Wake Forest University, 224 Carswell Hall, P.O. Box 7549, Winston-Salem, NC 27109; or via e-mail at


Researchers have been following a trend posited by the renowned anthropologist Janet Fitchen, which examines the increasing movement of low-income people to rural communities drawn not necessarily by labor market forces, but by the characteristics and amenities found in rural towns. This study adds to that literature by focusing on the ways in which public housing availability, changes in housing policy, and rural economic restructuring create opportunities for low-income families to relocate from urban to rural communities in search of affordable housing. Data collected from an ethnographic sample addressed the following questions: (1) what motivates individuals and families to leave their urban neighborhoods and relocate to rural towns and (2) what challenges do individuals and families have in sustaining stable housing in rural communities? Two main sets of literature relevant to this discussion include studies of patterns of residential mobility and explanations of rural economic restructuring. Both form the conceptual approach of this article by offering a framework to better understand the housing choices and behaviors of low-income families and the contexts in which these actions are situated.