- Housing is a critical component of family life, however, keeping a safe and stable roof overhead is increasingly difficult for the approximately 21 million low-income families in the United States (Urban Institute, n.d.; U.S. Census, 2015). Low-income families struggle to keep a roof overhead within the context of rising housing costs, limited affordable housing options, and decreased public investment in affordable housing (Housing Assistance Council, 2012b).
Working within these constraints, low-income families develop strategies to find and keep a roof overhead. Low-income families turn to their social networks for housing support or rely in their own knowledge and ability to navigate housing systems. Such strategies are shaped and constrained by contexts and personal circumstances, and are not without costs. In a political climate that is increasingly focused on individual rather than collective solutions to social issues, a better understanding of how low-income families navigate housing issues is critical.
The purpose of this study is to better understand the housing strategies of low-income families. While previous work has identified low-income families’ strategies around parenting, family formation, and employment, housing strategies remain a rich and underexplored area. The few studies that have examined low-income families’ housing strategies are focused on the strategies of minority, single mothers in urban settings (Clark et al., 2011; Heflin, London & Scott, 2011; Hernandez, 2016). To better understand the ways that low-income families deal with housing issues, it is important to look at housing strategies in variety of family types and residential settings. This study seeks to address a gap in the literature by examining the housing strategies of White, married, low-income families in a rural context, a group largely missing from the survival strategies literature. Building on the survival strategies literature and guided by the life course theoretical perspective, this study maintains a focus on both process and structure in asking the following questions:
1. What strategies do low-income, rural families use to keep a roof overhead?
2. How do contexts and personal circumstances shape housing strategies?
This study makes use of existing ethnographic data from the Growing Up Mobile in a Rural Trailer Park study to examine the housing strategies of 12 low-income families living in three rural trailer parks. Field notes from interviews and observations provided detailed information about family and residential histories across early adulthood through midlife. The families in this study provided examples not only of strategic efforts to keep a roof overhead, but also of the benefits and consequences of those strategies. The findings from this study highlight the important roles that relationships and planning play in low-income, rural families housing strategies. This research provides rich examples of the ways that context and personal circumstances shape low-income, rural families’ housing situations, and serves as a valuable guide for future research.