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Officials tout rural life as study shows state exodus

Casey Pritchard
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 2/17/23

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, New York continues to lead the country in population loss and outmigration.

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Officials tout rural life as study shows state exodus


WAMPSVILLE — According to the U. S. Census Bureau, New York continues to lead the country in population loss and outmigration. And while some downstate counties have seen an uptick in population as people left New York City during the pandemic, rural counties are facing a net loss — which in some areas is becoming acute.

The Rural Housing Coalition, a statewide organization dedicated to revitalizing rural New York by strengthening housing and community development providers, commissioned the State of Rural New York report that outlines changes in the population, demographics, housing, and income characteristics of rural New York State from 2011-2020.

“New York’s rural counties are losing population at twice the rate of urban counties,” said Mike Borges, executive director of the Rural Housing Coalition of New York. “Chenango, Delaware, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, and Schoharie County populations each declined more than 6% between 2010 and 2020.”

For the report, rural counties are defined as those with at least 51% of the county population residing in “rural areas” – or municipalities with populations of less than 25,000. That excludes Albany, Schenectady, Onondaga, Broome, Monroe, and Erie Counties, as well as Orange, Rockland, and Westchester Counties, and the counties that make up New York City and Long Island.

Madison County Administrator Mark Scimone said that while this paints a grim picture, it doesn’t include all the work Madison County is putting into its communities.

“It was unfortunate to see a 6% decrease in 10 years; however, it was not surprising,” Scimone said.

“Since 1990, the Madison County population has hovered around 69,000 with blips up and down. A decrease in census numbers does not work in our favor when it comes to tax base or federal and state grant funding — however, we know we have a lot to offer. This report by the Rural Housing Coalition only
shows a grim picture of rural counties and does not take into account projects that are currently in the works within our community,” he added.

Scimone said that small businesses had grown these last few years, and over the next two years, Madison county would be building a robust broadband network.

“We are a bedroom community,” Scimone said. “When this study talks about jobs and employers, many of our residents work in other counties but come here because they want to be in a rural community. Over the past few years, our local small businesses have been growing and flourishing. With the help of our local organizations and partners, through our Buy Madison County Initiative, we are continuing to advertise and promote businesses throughout our county.”

In addition to population loss, the report shows that rural populations are, on average, older than their urban neighbors, have lower educational levels, and have lost more employment opportunities than urban counties.  

“Older New Yorkers want to stay in their communities, but aging housing stock and the high cost of accessibility modifications make it hard to do so,” Borges continued. “That’s why we’re asking for a $3 million increase to the ACCESS to HOME program, which helps disabled and senior citizen homeowners pay for things like wheelchair ramps and bathroom handrails. This program’s budget has not been increased since 2012, and demand often outstrips available funding.”

The Rural Housing Coalition also cited the recent decision to slash the Small Rental Development Initiative, which was funded at $7 million last year and zeroed out in the Executive Budget, as a concern. The SRDI provides support for the construction or rehabilitation projects of small rental projects of up to 20 units that are more suitable for smaller villages and hamlets.

The Rural Housing Coalition is seeking $6 million for the RESTORE program, which was cut in the Executive Budget, which funds emergency repairs to low- and moderate-income seniors’ homes, such as fixing a leaking roof or replacing a hot water heater.

When it comes to why people are leaving, Madison County Chairman John Becker placed the blame on state government policies that were driving people away.

“As Governor (David) Patterson once said, ‘People are voting with their feet,’” Becker said. “Many New Yorkers are fed up with Albany and the regulations that are being passed down. It is nothing new that people are leaving the state, especially when rural communities tend to be more conservative. They are tired of what is happening, and they are moving to warmer and more conservative states.”

Becker continued, saying that he did find it strange that the Rural Housing Coalition was “...writing such a negative piece on rural living.”

In reality, a lot of people want to live in a rural community, and the people who do live here are likely to stay their entire lives,” Becker continued. “We have great land and housing to offer people. However, if Governor (Kathy) Hochul has her way, it seems as though a lot of that land will be disappearing with her comments about home rule in the state of the state and the need to put solar panels and wind farms on good producing farmland.”

Regardless of the cause, Rural Housing Coalition officials said there was a need to fully fund the Rural Preservation Project to help reverse the current course.

“The RPP has been underfunded for many years, with its last increase in 2017,” Borges said. “Rural Preservation Companies that make up the RPP are the backbone of the state’s housing initiatives in rural areas. We urge policymakers to use this report to develop a comprehensive effort to reverse population declines through greater investments in housing and infrastructure that will grow rural economies.”


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