Residents of some rural Indiana counties, including Cass County, don't have to scour dozens of rental listings to find a place to call home.
They usually have just a few options — and sometimes, only one.
Data collected by various Indiana and federal agencies show a shortage of available rental units in rural Indiana counties. That means areas like Cass County offer few options, as one family recently discovered.
"Everything was on a waiting list, or wouldn't have been acceptable for small kids," Jennifer Green said.
She and her husband, David, moved into a three-bedroom apartment on Logansport's north side a little over a year ago with their two children, 3-year-old Daniel and 18-month-old Janlynne.
They lost their housing in September 2015, when Daniel was just a toddler. Although they are not originally from Cass County, they sought help from Emmaus Mission Center in Logansport because it could accommodate the whole family — Jennifer and David wouldn't have to separate in order to find temporary housing.
The mission's homeless shelter housed them for about six months while they got back on their feet and went through the process to receive rent assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That process went extraordinarily quickly, David said, because he's a veteran. But becoming eligible for HUD assistance also meant fewer rentals were an option for them because of HUD requirements and the limited number of HUD-friendly properties in the area.
"We actually got really lucky when we found this opening," Jennifer said. It was available immediately, so after a couple of weeks of processing paperwork, the family got the keys on a Friday. They were allowed at the shelter until the following Monday.
VACANT AND UNAVAILABLE
In Cass County, 11 percent of the area's housing units are considered vacant, according to data compiled by Rural Indiana Stats, a partnership between the Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
But most of those aren't available to families like the Greens, or anyone else looking for a rental, for that matter. Of the county's vacant housing units, just under 15 percent are for rent, the data indicate. The rest are for sale only, seasonal properties, owned but not occupied or "other" — a catchall category that covers nearly 46 percent of the area's vacant units.
Data from other rural counties across Indiana paint the same picture. In Kosciusko County in northern Indiana, almost 21 percent of housing is vacant, but most of that is because the area has a number of vacation homes — only 8 percent of the county's vacant units are actually for rent.
In Tipton County south of Kokomo, 8 percent of housing is vacant and just 7 percent of those vacancies are for rent. Of Parke County's 26 percent vacant housing, a mere 2 percent are for rent in the western Indiana rural community — the vast majority of vacant houses are actually vacation homes.
Contrast that with more urban counties — in Madison County, 22 percent of vacant housing is for rent. In Vigo County, it's 24 percent. And both have a roughly 13 percent vacancy rate to start with.
In Hendricks and Boone counties surrounding Indianapolis, the vacancy rate is lower, but more than a quarter of vacant homes are for rent.
ACROSS THE STATE
Barbara Anderson, director of a homeless shelter in Jeffersonville and a housing activist, said the rental shortage isn't just spotty around Indiana.
“There is hardly any rental market at all in rural Indiana, period — and that’s an issue,” Anderson said.
About 24 percent of Clark County's vacant housing, where Jeffersonville is located, is for rent. In neighboring Floyd County, about 25 percent is. Both counties are in the Louisville, Kentucky, metropolitan area.
But in nearby Orange and Washington counties, both rural areas, 10 percent or less of vacant housing is for rent. About 13 percent of vacant homes are for rent in neighboring Harrison County, the rural area where Indiana's first capital, Corydon, is located.
Rural areas rarely get new apartment developments, Anderson said. The older units that are available are often more costly due to less efficient heating and cooling or the expense of having a well instead of city water.
“You have to have two or three incomes to be able to make it in some of those smaller communities” if you’re renting, Anderson said.
And that can translate into brain drain, she said — because young people can't find anywhere affordable to live near their families.
“I think if you want to stabilize a community and you want it to be the best it can be, you bring your young home and you give them opportunity and you build for them and you plan for them,” Anderson said.
“If you always want to be Mayberry, that’s what you’re going to be. But Mayberry only existed in the movies."
Jeffersonville News and Tribune writer Elizabeth Beilman contributed to this report.