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Business & Economics

Black Hills housing crunch calls for multilayered (and urgent) solutions

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This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

The housing affordability crisis in Rapid City continues. So does the housing availability crisis. In Pierre, state lawmakers and the governor's office are working on legislation that would fund housing infrastructure in the state through grants and loans.

Meanwhile, South Dakota communities are seeking solutions of their own. Tom Johnson, president and CEO of Elevate Rapid City, is with us for an update on efforts to solve the housing crunch in the Black Hills area.

The following transcript is autogenerated.

Tom Johnson:

Hi Lori, good to be with you.

Lori Walsh:

A research report from 2018 from the Black Hills Knowledge Network shows this community in crisis for housing availability and affordability.

Lori Walsh:

Let's start with what you can tell us about how this situation has actually gotten worse in the past four years. What are we looking at today?

Tom Johnson:

Well, I think we're following a trend that's pretty national in scope. The Black Hills is a little more magnified. I mean, I think we started this journey probably about 3,000 to 5,000 housing units in the Black Hills behind.

Tom Johnson:

So when we hit COVID and the crisis and with the B-21 coming to the Black Hills, we know that there are a lot of people moving to the area. We know right now there's about 2,500 people a year moving to the Black Hills, just because of the quality of life.

Tom Johnson:

You add then base expansion and what's happening after COVID; that's probably going to be about 3,000 to 3,500 people moving to the Black Hills a year for the next 10 years. So we've got a population increase somewhere between 30 and 40,000 people coming to the Black Hills in the next decade.

Tom Johnson:

So if we already started behind the curve with housing, that's only going to put further demand on what we need to get done.

Tom Johnson:

I wouldn't say we're panicked out here, but we're definitely trying to get farther in front of this, if you really can ever get in front of a housing crisis. We're trying like heck to do that, and we're going to need all the help we can get.

Lori Walsh:

Well, I want to talk about what's happening in the state in a moment. But first, local partnerships that you find encouraging in 2022. What's happening right now that gives you hope for solutions?

Tom Johnson:

Yeah, we decided to just right out of the gate, January, hire a housing coordinator in partnership with the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation as well.

Tom Johnson:

So we're partnering with two foundations here to hire a housing coordinator. And this person will serve as a resource for developers coming into the community, for big businesses that are looking for housing.

Tom Johnson:

We want to be a one-stop shop for those folks who are trying to get housing things done. It could be anything from the planning process; we've got resources there; to helping the new school teacher find a rental unit. So we're putting somebody on the ground and devoting resources and bodies to it.

Tom Johnson:

We've also raised probably between about 12 to 15 million dollars locally for a revolving loan fund that can do flexible, low-interest, backfill loans to the development community so that we can get more housing stock and more affordable housing stock.

Tom Johnson:

A guy like me, who's making pretty good money, I've got housing flexibility. Even though it might be tough for me to find a house, I can have that flexibility. Some folks that are making even 40 or 50 or $60,000 in the Black Hills right now, they don't have that same housing flexibility.

Tom Johnson:

So we've got to do everything we can to get more stock on the market and also become more affordable. And that doesn't mean just single family houses. That means multi-family housing, rental housing. It means the whole nine yards.

Lori Walsh:

I want to talk about what's happening in Pierre right now. Senate Bill 53 and some supporting legislation are making their way through various committees and conversations.

Lori Walsh:

If something like a comprehensive housing plan passes and there is an influx of newly available funding sources, what do you think the ideal project for Rapid City and Pennington County would be to pitch or apply for those kinds of new funds?

Tom Johnson:

Well, I think my answer is D), all of the above, Lori. Because again, we need everything in Rapid City right now from infrastructure to multi-family to single-family.

Tom Johnson:

What we really like about the governor and the governor's Office of Economic Development and the legislature is they came together with this bill to do a variety of things which includes infrastructure, the potential for loan funds. And it allows flexibility at the local level to do what we need to do now.

Tom Johnson:

In some to cases, we might need to put infrastructure into the ground. And the governor has made room for that in this bill. In some cases we might need to help with a low-interest loan for a developer, and there's room in this bill for that.

Tom Johnson:

So we're really proud of the governor and the legislature for coming together to try to provide flexibility for communities like Rapid City. But it's not just Rapid City. I mean, we're talking everybody from Watertown to Sioux Falls to Kyle. We just need housing across the board. And I think every community has its own flexible needs.

Tom Johnson:

And this bill really, we're just really proud that it allows for that flexibility, assuming that it gets out of the legislature.

Lori Walsh:

No specific project though, that you think, "This would be ideal for my community."

Tom Johnson:

Oh gosh, like I said, all of the above. We've got projects right now that we could use that infrastructure on right now to do a hundred units. We've got a project right now that's 600 units that we could use the loan fund for.

Tom Johnson:

So right now, I got to tell you we're in contact with five or six projects a week that are looking at the Black Hills. So when I say we can use all of it on all those projects, we absolutely mean that we can. I mean, we're ready to go yesterday. As soon as this money's available, we're ready to go and apply for it.