The purpose of this research was to explore and explain the role housing plays in rural community vitality. Community vitality refers to economic strength and social well-being. In spring 2002 we collected primary interview data from informants in 134 small rural communities in nine north-central states and identified related secondary data from the U.S. census. We developed a structural-equation-path model, which supported a "housing decision chain" that influenced community vitality. Based on this research, local housing decisions do play an important role in community vitality. Strong local leaders use housing planning to secure funding to produce a change in the quantity of housing, which in turn positively influences community vitality. Housing inventory also mediated the effects of total population and percentage population change on community vitality, indicating that housing supply is a fundamental ingredient in community-growth strategies. These findings support the conclusion that a combination of housing plans and strategies orchestrated by skilled, committed leadership strengthens rural communities. Heretofore the link between housing and community vitality has not been investigated; evidence-based data has been missing from the debate on viable rural community-development strategies.