South Dakota Communities Face Housing Challenges

Nov 15, 2013

It takes work to keep a small town going and growing. Work, and a lot of decision making. When it comes to housing those decisions aren’t always easy or cut and dry.

Pollock has some of the widest streets of any town I’ve ever been in. It’s one of the things this community is known for. It’s also known as a hunting and fishing destination. The small town is located in north central South Dakota, right next to two lakes, Oahe and Pocasse. Delores Kluckman chairs Pollock’s housing and redevelopment commission. She says the recreational opportunities have created an interesting housing predicament. She says there are 176 homes in town, but more than a fifth are vacant for most of the year.
“So 38 of those, which is a good percentage, are seasonal homes,” Kluckman says. “That means they may come to spend Christmas here. They may come to hunt in the fall. They may come to fish a few weekends in the summer. But they still want to keep them. They do not want to sell. They do not want to rent them. Of course you can’t rent them if you’re going to come back and occupy them.”
Kluckman says that affects the town’s ability to grow. She says people look for homes in Pollock, but there aren’t many to choose from, so they look elsewhere. But, she says, it’s not all bad.
“I guess you could say it’s two pronged,” Kluckman says. “It’s a problem from the standpoint that we don’t have a lot available. But on the other hand, 99% of the ones that have purchased them have been very good about keep the homes up. So they look in good condition. The grass is mowed, the leaves are picked up, they keep it painted, they put in new windows if there needs to be new windows. Where as if that many homes were standing empty, they’d probably be run down, probably would not be fixed up. So you do a trade-off I guess.”
Kluckman says although Pollock’s population decreased in the early two-thousands, it has started to increase again. Right now it stands at 241 people, and like leaders in most towns, Kluckman would like to see it continue to grow. She says there are four houses for sale right now, and nothing to rent, which makes it difficult to attract residents. The city of Pollock turned over a few lots to the town’s economic development corporation. The goal is to sell some to new or current residents wanting to put up a house within 18 months, and the rest are intended for a two unit housing development.
Nearby, the larger town of Mobridge is facing its own share of housing issues. Harley Overseth is a broker associate with Key Real Estate.
“We have not had a lot of homes built in Mobridge,” Overseth says. “The historical building has been about three to five homes per year over the last ten years. Most of those homes if not all of them have been custom built for individuals who intend to live in them forever. There really hasn’t been any speculative housing built for resale purposes.”
Overseth says adequate housing is vital to attracting new employees. He says the city obtained a grant to bring in four new homes through Homes Are Possible Incorporated, based in Aberdeen. The two bedroom houses cost $98 thousand and are intended to provide housing for income-qualifying families. He says it’s hard to gauge success of the plan. One of the four houses has remained empty since it arrived in 2010.
“You have to be income qualified, you can only make a certain amount of money,” Overseth says. “So it is limited to who can buy it. But one of the disadvantages, I guess the big elephant in the room in Mobridge is what it costs for taxes on this house. Right now the taxes are over $2,700. That adds about $220 a month to the payment. And that makes it cost prohibitive for some people to buy it.”
On the other hand, Mobridge City Councilman Gene Cox says families now live in three of the homes located on what used to be a vacant lot. He says that’s a good thing for his town.
“You know, developed property generates more property tax dollars than a grass lot,” Cox says. “And having checked with the Woolworth County assessor, this lot, before the homes was bringing in $50 into the city’s portion of the property taxes. With the four homes on here now, the city is generating $2,500 a year.”
The community is trying to attract some private investors to develop some homes. But Cox says, like many other issues, housing is complicated.
“I think that question ranks up there with which came first, chicken or egg,” Cox says. “Do you have the housing and hope somebody comes, or do you hope somebody comes and then you can build the housing. I don’t know. But in this particular case there is one house right now, ready to move into. So that’s the best I’ve got right now.”
One thing both Mobridge and Pollock have in common is a dedicated group of people working to find solutions to housing issues in their area. Real Estate broker Harley Overseth says that’s important. He says individuals need to get involved in community and regional efforts. He says you never know when the idea for a housing solution will spark.