Local Governments Work to Address West Virginia’s Housing Crisis

Nadia Ramlagan

In Parkersburg, West Virginia local government officials have an innovative plan to address the region’s housing crisis – getting 50 families into better housing within 50 weeks.

Aging communities in rural areas are losing younger residents, and older residents tend to own their homes – around 70% in Wood County.

That’s left a gap in available quality rental housing, said Parkersburg City Council Member Wendy Tuck – which shrinks access to subsidized housing units and pushes more families into homelessness.

She said the town’s recent workshops to address housing needs have drawn more than two hundred concerned residents.

“From homeless vets to a contractor that wants to build to 24 unit apartment,” said Tuck. “So I would say it was pretty successful. And we’re already up to about 30 homes or people situations that have been improved.”

A West Virginia Housing Development Fund report from 2019 already confirmed that many renters in Wood County living in old, substandard, and unaffordable housing. More than 250 units lacked complete indoor plumbing or kitchens.

Tuck added that while the city does have housing resources, including a program offering grants up to $15,000 toward a home-buying downpayment, many residents either aren’t aware of the help or get discouraged right at the beginning.

“Not everybody’s gonna qualify for that,” said Tuck. “And what we’ve seen happen is people will apply, and they get no, you don’t qualify for a loan, and then that just slams the door. Well, by working with some of our local realtors and credit unions and banks, we’re able to partner so that it doesn’t become a no, it becomes build up your credit score first.”

This week the National Rural Housing Coalition and other groups sent a letter to Congress calling for increased federal funding for rural housing and water-sewer programs.

Federal rural housing programs support around a half million units of affordable rental housing nationwide.