Housing crunch

Posted March 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Study generates suggestions about housing crunch in Miller and St. Lawrence

A sizeable group of community residents gathered Sunday afternoon, March 10, at the MHS Theatre to hear a presentation about the housing study initiated by On Hand Development Corporation.

Many people agree rentals as well as houses to buy are at a premium in the area. Purpose of the study was to determine the status of available housing in Miller and St. Lawrence, and what steps might be taken to meet housing needs.

Miller was one of four South Dakota towns selected in October 2010 to participate in Home Assist. Community Partners Research, Inc. of Faribault, Minn. was hired to undertake the study.

Steve Griesert of Community Partners gave the presentation. Griesert said the purpose of his research was to present information, not to provide answers. The community will be responsible for coming up with answers.

The 81-page study included a great deal of demographic information regarding Hand County, Miller and St. Lawrence. The county and the two towns lost population between 2000 and 2012, Griesert said.

Based on the 2010 census, Miller saw a decrease of 41 persons (2.7 percent); St. Lawrence saw a 5.7 percent decrease (12 persons); Hand County lost 310 persons (8.3 percent decrease). Griesert said that was an ongoing pattern, as decreases were significant prior to the 2000 and 2010 census figures.

Projections also estimate losses for Hand County, Miller and St. Lawrence. The State Data Center projects Hand County will lose 167 people by 2015.

Miller increased by four households between 2000 and 2010, but St. Lawrence lost 16 households, and the county lost 49.

The study also looked at ages, and Hand County has changing age patterns. Most of the net change occurs in the “baby boomer” age groups. Between 2000 and 2010, Miller lost 27 households and Hand County lost 109 households in the 35-44 age group, and again in the 65-74 age group.

The average number of persons in a household is also getting smaller, stemming from more single person and single parent families, fewer children per family, and more senior households due to longer life spans.

The projected households by age for 2015 shows a decrease in all age ranges except 15 to 24; 55-64; and 85 and over.

The study found that 32 percent of Miller’s population are renters, and nearly 19 percent in St. Lawrence.

From 2000 to 2011, the median (middle) household income as well as family income increased significantly. Going by that income index, the accepted standard is that up to 30 percent of gross income can be applied to housing expenses without experiencing a cost burden. But renter households tend to be below the overall median, while owner households are above the overall median level.

In spite of all the figures showing fairly good household income, 227 rental households have less than $25,000 income per year.

Griesert said about 36 percent of renters in Miller are paying 30 percent or more of their income for rent, and a large majority were paying 35 percent or more. When more than 35 percent is required, it can be considered a “severe rent burden.” Bottom line, Griesert said, is one-third of the renters are paying more than they can afford.

And what housing is available? Griesert said 321 vacant housing units were in Hand County in 2010, including 115 in Miller and 18 in St. Lawrence. But some of those “units” weren’t habitable.

Homes that have been sold have escalated in value. “There’s been a big jump in value,” Griesert said. The sales in 2012 was, “about as big a jump as I’ve seen,” he said. In 2010, the average sale price was $61,107, but by 2012 the average price was $91,556.

Community Partners Research representatives conducted a visual survey of 455 single family/duplex houses in three Miller neighborhoods. They found about 31 percent of the houses need minor repair and 26 percent need major repair. Approximately 36 percent were deemed “sound,” and about 34 houses were pronounced dilapidated and possibly beyond repair.

The representatives also surveyed mobile homes in the three neighborhoods and considered them in “fair” condition.

In St. Lawrence, housing is considered in “fair” condition, with 28 percent needing minor repair and 28 percent needing major repair.

Griesert said he found basically there were no vacancies in rental units, both in single houses and multi-family rental properties, as well as in subsidized housing (Miller Manor, Miller Plaza, Miller Arms).

The study also looked at employment and wages. The county has a low unemployment rate, but average annual wages are not high. The highest paying wage sector was manufacturing, with an annual wage of $35,769, and the only industry sector above $30,000–but it only encompassed 28 workers.

Population and household projections for all of Hand County expect an ongoing reduction through the year 2015. The projected growth in households would be in the age range of 55 to 64, and 85 years and older.

Strengths for housing development cited were: Miller is a small regional center; affordable priced existing houses; adequate land for development; proactive city involvement; educational system; health facilities; infrastructure that can accommodate future expansion; and the Miller Housing and Redevelopment Commission and the Miller Housing Corporation; On Hand Development Corporation; small-town atmosphere; senior with services housing; recreational area; several large employers; construction projects; and the downtown beautification project.

Limitations to housing activities include age/condition of housing stock; low rent structure, which makes it difficult to construct new rental housing; value gap new owner-occupied construction (less to buy an existing house than to build a new one); population losses and limited household growth; and distance from a major regional center.

Griesert offered 17 recommendations, covering the following general areas:

Rental housing – develop 12-16 general occupancy market-rate rental units; develop 6-8 affordable rental units; monitor need for additional senior with services rental units; monitor need for subsidized rental housing; utilize the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Home ownership – utilize/promote all programs that assist home ownership; develop a purchase/rehabilitation program; explore a local down-payment assistance program.

Single family housing development – support lot/subdivision development; develop a City of Miller housing incentive program; coordinate with agencies/non-profit groups to construct affordable housing; promote twin home/town house development.

Housing rehabilitation: promote rental housing rehabilitation; promote owner-occupied housing rehabilitation efforts.

Other housing issues: acquire and demolish dilapidated structures; create a plan and a coordinated among housing agencies; promote commercial rehabilitation and development.

Griesert suggested developing 12 to 16 market-rate rental units, and promote 8-10 affordable rental housing units. These could be conversions, going for $600 or less per month.

He said the Housing Choice Voucher Program provides tenant-based rent assistance to lower income rental households, and said it appears that program is an under-utilized form of subsidized housing in Miller.

He recommended that Miller and St. Lawrence work with a housing agency to develop a purchase/rehab program of older houses. The city or agency would purchase the existing house, rehabilitate it, and sell it to a low/moderate income family, and provide a mortgage with no down payment, no interest and a monthly payment that is affordable for the family.

He also touted a local down payment and assistance program, in order to help persons get into a home of their own.

He suggested supporting single family housing development and support a 10 to 14 lot subdivision development, but acknowledged there is difficulty finding any lots presently on the market.

He recommended that the City of Miller develop an incentive program to promote new single family housing development. In addition to a cash loan, zero interest and no principal due for five years–and after five years the loan is forgiven. Other incentives could include free water and sewer for a period of time, hookup fees waived or discounted, and discounts at area businesses.

“The most growth you will see is in the empty-nester group,” Griesert said. He suggested focusing on “senior friendly home designs” for twin home or town house development.

He especially pushed the idea of rental and owner-occupied housing rehabilitation. “Without rehabilitation assistance, the affordable housing stock will shrink in Miller and St. Lawrence,” he stated.

He went a step further and suggested that the City of Miller and On Hand continue to work with commercial property and business owners to rehabilitate buildings.

Griesert said he has been in 23 communities in the last six months assessing problems and potential. For a community to move forward, it takes a team effort, he said.

“I want you to take what you know to be true, and find what solutions might work. You need input from the people in the community to develop a strategy program.

Following the presentation, audience members broke up into groups to discuss the suggestions, and determine what suggestions might be followed and what steps might be taken. That information will be compiled by On Hand and shared with the public.