Rural Eligibility

The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design uniquely serves small towns and rural areas. CIRD's lead partner, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), has worked exclusively in rural America for five decades and HAC’s research informs the varied definitions of “rural” across the federal government and other sectors. While there is no universal definition of “rural,” below are some simple steps and examples to answer questions about eligibility:

1. Is the area you’re talking about less than 50,000 in population?

First, define the service area. Where is the design challenge taking place? Is it outside an urban or suburban area? Is it within a rural county or a small, non-metro town with less than 50,000 people? Then you qualify. If the design challenge is within a county that has some metro areas or a town that is adjacent to suburban or urban areas, we may need to look closer.

Rural communities within the continental United States as well as Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories are eligible for CIRD programs. Tribal communities are also eligible to apply, and if the total land base includes more than 50,000 people, we suggest that you focus on a rural portion.

2. Is your project in a rural area?

Check your project’s address and/or zip code in the “Rural Beneficiary Mapping Tool” to determine if it is “non urbanized” per the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition. If the map shows the project’s geography as “non-urban,” then you are eligible. If the map doesn’t clarify, contact CIRD staff. 

HAC staff, on behalf of CIRD, will make final determination of rural eligibility based on the above criteria and the below noted resources when applying widely accepted rural definitions to CIRD applications. HAC may apply Census Bureau rural guidance, FHFA’s rural definition, HAC’s rural definition guidance, and similar criteria while also noting the project’s scope. CIRD staff welcome the opportunity to discuss rural eligibility criteria with potential applicants.

3. Here’s what to keep in mind if you’re a partnership (e.g. university, regional/state planning org.)

A variety of organizations are encouraged to apply to CIRD, but we want to see a shared commitment to rural areas. Moreover, we realize that high-quality rural-focused projects and the entities behind them often (and intentionally) link rural communities and projects to regional or statewide initiatives that go beyond rural locations. That’s okay. Just make sure that the primary focus of your application is to serve rural communities. 

Where will the design project be located and who will it benefit? University programs, state-affiliated agencies, or regional planning organizations can bring a lot of strength in terms of building a broader rural network around design, but the specific community design challenge should be in a rural community as defined above. This may mean that some partners and contacts for a CIRD project are located in non-rural areas; if so, such partners and contacts should reflect clear ties to the rural focal point of the project. You may consider submitting letters of support establishing a relationship and/or a working history to the small town or rural-serving institutions. 


Multiple rural towns working together may have a population in total > 50,000 but would qualify.

A regional planning organization that serves both rural and non-rural communities would be eligible PROVIDED the proposal clearly focuses on rural communities; evidence of local rural buy-in would be helpful in such a case.

A small community within a clearly urban or suburban area is NOT eligible, even if the population is less than 50,000.

An organization with headquarters in a non-rural area IS eligible, provided that the proposal clearly focuses on rural area(s) and meets all other eligibility criteria; again, evidence of local rural buy-in would be helpful in such a case.

Application Tips:

Show off your rurality in your application. In the application there are questions about your organization’s mission and about your community. Take the time to describe the ways you’ve served and understand your rural community. CIRD’s reviewers know the unique opportunities and challenges of working in rural areas; make sure your application reflects those circumstances.

You may also consider submitting supplemental materials that show your rurality through maps and photos of the area. Our applicants might show their rural circumstances via other public or private programs that demonstrate their rurality. 

Still not sure? 

Contact  to discuss your community’s situation and whether it is a good match for CIRD. We want to work with you throughout the application process.