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J. Rosie Tighe is at a recently closed mobile home park in Boone. Manufactured housing is one
of the few market-based affordable housing options in many rural areas, but park closure and
land use restrictions limit their presence in many towns, according to Tighe.
Photo by Marie Freeman



Originally published: 2013-05-15 16:24:42
Last modified: 2013-05-15 16:30:23

Tighe studies foreclosure impact in Appalachia

by Susan King

J. Rosie Tighe is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Appalachian State University. 

Tighe's teaching and research focus on issues related to affordable housing, racial and class policies and urban politics, with a current emphasis on the evolution and impact of the foreclosure crisis in Appalachia.   

Tighe felt drawn to the political and economic issues around affordable housing, racial and class policies and urban politics after she graduated from college and went to work for the marketing department of a planning firm outside of Boston. 

"I was completely bored with marketing, but became very interested in urban planning," Tighe said. "Eventually, I decided to get a master's degree in planning, so I enrolled at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., near Boston. My favorite courses dealt with political and sociological issues -- particularly housing -- at the neighborhood level. After one semester of graduate school, I knew I wanted to delve further into housing policy in a Ph.D. program." 

Tighe earned a doctorate in community and regional planning from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and was offered a lecturer position at Appalachian shortly thereafter. 

"I entered my Ph.D. program knowing that I wanted to be at a school that valued teaching," she said. "When the position at Appalachian was offered to me, I jumped at the chance, and haven't regretted that decision." 

As it happens, Tighe could not have asked for a more fitting laboratory for her research: Appalachian is located in an area that's been hit hard by the housing foreclosure crisis.

The highest percentages of foreclosed homes in Appalachia are in rural counties that are already experiencing high unemployment and underemployment, coupled with a large number of second or seasonal homes. 

However, existing research on the foreclosure crisis tends to focus on national trends or on metropolitan areas. 

Few studies focus on rural areas, and none looks at Appalachia in particular. 

"As discussion of the federal sequester and fights over funding and policy dominate the news channels, key gaps in our ability to respond to individuals and households in need are being overlooked," Tighe said. 

She conducted a survey of rural housing counselors in Appalachia during summer 2011 as part of her research on the impact of the foreclosures.

"I asked respondents what particular challenges they have experienced when dealing with Appalachian communities and households," Tighe said. "The most often mentioned obstacle is the distance clients must travel to receive face-to-face counseling and/or the lack of transportation for clients to access services."

Survey results indicated that the demand for services is overwhelming agency capacity. 

"In the past four years, the 55 agencies I surveyed have gone from counseling about 100 households per agency per year to nearly 700 per year," Tighe said. 

Insufficient staffing is also a significant obstacle to service, preventing agencies from reaching clients in time to help them avoid foreclosure. 

"The success of housing counseling rests on the willingness, knowledge and ability of homeowners in distress to find, contact and work with counselors in a timely manner," she said. "When licensed counseling agencies can't reach households facing foreclosure in time, homeowners may end up coming in for counseling when it is too late for a modification or possibly seek services from a fraudulent agency and end up in a much worse situation."

"Housing counseling services are such an important part of responsible homeownership, especially for vulnerable households, and the challenges in service delivery will not be addressed merely through existing funding streams. Finding and implementing innovative and creative approaches will be necessary in order to ensure that the significant challenges facing rural communities do not fade into the background," she said. 

Bottom line: In the complex landscape of the ongoing national economic crisis, the lack of appropriately directed federal funding is preventing rural counseling agencies from getting aid to distressed homeowners in a timely manner or helping them to make modifications to their mortgages. 

Tighe presented the findings from her survey in a paper, "Responding to the Foreclosure Crisis in Appalachia: A Policy Review and Survey of Housing Counselors," published February 2013 in the journal Housing Policy Debate.

"Though there has now been a slight upturn in the economy, millions of foreclosures lie ahead. It is essential that policymakers maintain existing funding streams and enact new ones to stem the crisis, keep families in their homes, educate future homeowners and penalize scammers," she said.

As for what's next on Tighe's research radar, "I've got a few different projects lined up," she said. "One is a collaborative project looking at how housing quality, location and cost affect family self-sufficiency. 

"I'm also working on a study that analyzes how neighborhood change and gentrification can affect political voice and access at the local level," she said. 

"And I'm always keeping an eye on the housing and economic dynamics of Boone and the surrounding area. I think it's important for faculty members to apply their knowledge as often as possible to help the region where we live."

To learn more about Tighe's research, visit http://geo.appstate.edu/faculty-staff/faculty/rosie-tighe. To read the full article in "Housing Policy Debate," go to http://www.academia.edu/2317157/Responding_to_the_Foreclosure_Crisis_in_Appalachia_A_Policy_Review_and_Survey_of_Housing_Counselors.

If you are a homeowner facing foreclosure, you can get help by contacting any of these resources listed on the NeighborWorks America website: http://www.nw.org/network/consumers/foreclosure-help.asp.