More people are renting rather than buying homes in Minnesota. No surprise, right?

What you might not expect is that the biggest spikes in the percentage of households that rent is happening in counties outside the metro area, a sign in some cases that rural counties have gotten hit hardest by the recession and subsequent foreclosure crisis.

While the share of rental households in the state increased from 25.4 to 27 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a new report from the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), the 10 counties with the biggest gains in the percentage of households that rent were all beyond the metro area. In addition, eight of the 10 counties with the biggest share of households that rent were also not in the metro area.

"In general, the foreclosure crisis has had a lot to do with it," said Leigh Rosenberg, MHP's research and outreach director.

In some counties, for example, high foreclosure rates forced displaced homeowners into rental homes and apartments.

The data also suggests that in counties where the economy tanked, people were forced to rent rather than buy.

But there were big increases, too, in counties where the economy has performed well, especially in places where low-paying farm jobs brought in workers who couldn't afford to buy in markets where demand is strong and home prices have risen.

Mahnomen County in northwestern Minnesota, which had the biggest change in the percentage of renter households, for example, also had the biggest decline in house prices during the past decade, suggesting that people in that area have fled the housing market and aren't returning.

Rosenberg said that in Cook and St. Louis counties, home price gains were relatively strong, causing a big increase in the number of renters because they're getting priced out of the market.

MHP's website, www.mhp, has a list of the counties and more information about the growing number of people who pay more than half their wages for rental housing.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376