SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The first name drawn for one of 11 free housing lots in Chamberlain was Alyssa Juelfs.

“It was very exciting when Chad (Pinkelman) called yesterday and said that we were the first name drawn of all things…It was whirlwind yesterday,” Juelfs said on March 25.

Alyssa Juelfs and her boyfriend Skyler Poppen planned to move to Chamberlain even before the Lake Francis Case Development Corporation along with the city offered 11 free lots to qualified applicants in a lottery program. Juelfs just accepted a middle school math teaching position in Chamberlain.

The couple is living in Elk Point where Juelfs is a student teacher and Poppen is a police officer. The couple had wanted to live closer to his family in Pierre and her family Belle Fouche.

Chamberlain is closer to family. Her work and other opportunities such as hunting and fishing made Chamberlain an attractive place to live.

“We agreed that Chamberlain would be a good area to grow and start a family together,” Juelfs said. “I love my interview with the school district and I’m very excited to be teaching in the Chamberlain School District.”

Pinkelman said in an early March interview with KELOLAND News that employers were telling him and city officials that it was difficult to recruit potential employees because of the lack of available homes, particularly affordable housing.

“The community has been supportive,” Pinkelman said of the free housing lots lottery.

Winners were drawn on March 24. The development corporation required all applicants to be pre-approved for financing. They must also build a minimum of 1,500-square feet within 12 months of final closing on financing.

There are other couples like Juelfs and Poppen looking for a home in Chamberlain and in other small towns, said Jeremy Jensen of Jensen Design Build LLC in Mitchell.

He chooses to allocate some of his company’s time to building projects in small communities, Jensen said.

“It’s fun to be in these small communities, to help grow the housing…,” Jensen said.

Jensen works with several towns such as Parkston and Corsica on building affordable homes in those towns.

His company was interested in the Chamberlain project because it’s an opportunity to meet a need. The city is also close to Mitchell which makes building there more attractive, Jensen said.

He applied one time in Chamberlain to gain a free lot, Jensen said.

“Some of the development corporation (people) out in Chamberlain had reached out a while back,” Jensen said. “We just threw in our one ticket. (The thought was) ‘If it happens, it happens, we will be glad to be involved.’ We are just super humbled and honored to be part of a project like this.”

He plans to build a speculative home to sell and hopefully, have one or two of the other lot winners choose his company as a contractor for their homes.

The Smokey Groves Addition in Chamberlain. The Lake Francis Case Development Corporation offered the lots for free in a lottery-style drawing. Development corporation photo

An advantage for homeowners, advantage for the city

Chamberlain city manager Mike Lauritsen said that over the past several years the city has had an average of 2.5 homes built per year. This program means 11 needed homes within 12 months, Lauritsen said.

That would have taken about 20 years at the average pace of home building, he said.

The city started a housing addition about 20 years ago and it recently sold the last lot, Lauritsen said.

The free housing lot program will provide much-needed housing in the city, he said.

A house was key to Juelfs future in Chamberlain.

“The community aspect of Chamberlain has been great,” Juelfs said. They plan to “stay in Chamberlain for years to come.”

The money saved with a free lot is significant, Juelfs said.

“I’m super grateful for this opportunity. One land is not cheap. Two, building a house isn’t cheap, buying a house isn’t cheap,” Juelfs said. “(The lot program) shows that the community wants to grow and wants people to come and live there.”

“I would definitely recommend this type of program,” Juelfs said.

The city has about 30 more lots available in the Smokey Groves addition. Those lots still need some infrastructure connections.

Pinkelman said he’d be willing to conduct a similar lot program in the future but the city owns the lots and must decide.

“I’m optimistic the city will definitely look at options…we need the housing,” Lauritsen said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility the city (would select a free lot option.)”

Jensen said development of 11 free lots should lead to interest in the other lots.

“…in the long term, it’s definitely gonna lead to more building,” Jensen said. “Especially in a new development, it’s tough to visualize.”

Once people see what the development looks like, it can spark additional housing, he said.