This story is reported by South Dakota News Watch, a non-profit news organization. Find more in-depth reporting at www.sdnewswatch.org.


A series of economic factors has coalesced over the past two years to make it extremely difficult or even impossible for many people in South Dakota to achieve the American Dream of homeownership.

The price of new and existing homes has skyrocketed in recent years at a time when modest wage gains for South Dakotans have been largely offset by high inflation. That economic imbalance has been exacerbated by dwindling availability of affordable homes, especially for first-time homebuyers.

Meanwhile, a surge of relocations to South Dakota during the COVID-19 pandemic has further inflated home prices, pushing many in-state residents out of the market, especially in the urban centers of Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

On a most basic level, the path to homeownership in South Dakota has been made far more difficult because the increase in incomes has not nearly kept up with the cost of a home, a disparity that grew during the pandemic.

According to the South Dakota Realtors Association, the statewide median home sales price rose by 54% from 2018 to 2022. Meanwhile, median household incomes in South Dakota rose by only 17% during that time, even with a healthy 10.4% household income jump from 2020 to 2021, according to the U.S. Census.

“I would say the American Dream of homeownership is wounded in South Dakota right now,” said Ron Sassy, a Black Hills real estate agent and former member of the Rapid City Council. “It’s not dead, but it’s tough out there for homebuyers, especially when you start looking at the middle to lower incomes, it’s definitely a lot tougher to buy a home right now.”

Home sales have slowed in recent months, but prices have continued to rise in South Dakota.

The median home sales price in the Sioux Falls metro area, which includes Lincoln and Minnehaha counties, was $265,000 in 2021 and has risen by 17% over the past year to $310,000 in 2022, according to the Realtors Association of the Sioux Empire.

The median home sales price in the Rapid City area was $317,000 in the third quarter of 2022, up 15% over the $275,000 median sale price in third quarter of 2021, according to the Black Hills Association of Realtors. In 2019, before the COVID pandemic, the median sales price in Rapid City was $207,000, according to city-data.

Real estate agent Ron Sasso stands outside a home on Galaxy Drive in Rapid City that at $289,000 is slightly under the median sales price for homes in the Black Hills region. Photo: Bart Pfankuch, South Dakota News Watch

The inability to obtain homeownership has fueled concerns that more South Dakotans will be trapped in rental properties, be unable to pursue the goal of raising their families in a home they own, or that they must sacrifice living standards in order to afford a home purchase. Furthermore, if first-time homebuyers are shut out of the market, it could prevent them from getting ahead financially and break the long-held cycle in which families start small and then increase the size and value of home purchases as they go through life.

Lending experts use a general rule of thumb that homebuyers can afford a home that is 2 to 2.5 times their gross annual income. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in South Dakota was $66,143 in 2021, meaning that those families could afford a home of ranging roughly from $132,000 to $165,000. The difficulty in South Dakota lies in the fact that inventory of homes is extremely low in that price range, especially in bigger cities.

In mid-December 2022, there were 2,130 single-family homes for sale in South Dakota, according to Realtor.com. Of those, only 103 (4.8%) were priced at $100,000 or below, and only 399 (18.7%) were listed at $200,000 or less. In Sioux Falls, only three of 512 homes for sale were priced at $100,000 or less, and only 57 were $200,000 or less. In Rapid City, only one single-family home of out of 336 on the market was listed under $100,000 and 31 homes were under $200,000.

While home prices are typically much lower in rural areas of the state, the housing stock in small towns tends to be older and in need of repair, and available properties for sale are scarce.

The path to homeownership has always required a mix of hard work and determination, from saving for a down payment to obtaining steady employment that can cover a mortgage.

For decades, the South Dakota real estate market was remarkably stable, with generally good values and reasonable sales prices that rose slowly and fell behind wage growth at a relatively slow pace. The state hardly saw a bump in the market while the rest of the country underwent a massive real estate bubble that burst in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

But the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive interruption in the housing market in South Dakota and across the U.S. Rental rates rose quickly and median home prices jumped as the cost of building, maintaining and owning a home rose due to inflation, supply-chain issues and reduced inventory of properties. An overall lack of good-quality affordable homes has been an increasing challenge to homeownership for years in the U.S.

However, South Dakota experienced a unique and unexpected interruption to its real estate market over the past two years that has created a new barrier to affordability of homes.

As COVID-19 infections rose across the country, starting in early 2020, many states imposed restrictions, mask mandates or both on businesses, schools and gatherings to try to reduce the spread of the virus. Differences in opinion on how to manage the virus led to a divisive politicization of the pandemic and the response by governments.

In overt regional and national messaging pushed by Gov. Kristi Noem, South Dakota declared itself free from COVID-related mask mandates or shutdowns. In consistent advertising, news-media appearances and messaging on social media, Noem in particular pushed the idea that South Dakota was open for business and that freedom reigned as she openly encouraged people to move here.

Gov. Krist Noem, at right, has used messaging such as this to promote the virtues of life in South Dakota; her campaign to promote the state as a bastion of freedom is seen as one reason home prices have been inflated in the state. Photo: Gov. Noem Twitter account

Even without hard data to support the concept, most South Dakota real estate agents will confirm that the campaign worked, luring numerous new residents — many of them homebuyers — into the South Dakota market. Most arrived from states with much higher incomes than in South Dakota, and from areas where home prices were much higher. The new residents may mean higher sales and property tax revenues for the state and local governments in the long haul.

But their arrival led in part to a run on homes in South Dakota and what many described as a “frenzied” housing market, in which prices rose as out-of-state buyers made offers that were sometimes tens of thousands of dollars above asking price and even sight-unseen on some properties.

As a result, many South Dakota homebuyers couldn’t compete, and while home prices have stabilized somewhat as the market has cooled in recent months, it appears unlikely prices will return to pre-pandemic levels.

“We imported, under the guise of freedom, a lot of new South Dakotans who came here in the last two and a half years, and what they brought with them was their housing inflation,” said Steve Ennis, a senior mortgage officer at CU Mortgage Direct. “They came here and found their purchasing power to be quite favorable.”

Recent wage gains in South Dakota, meanwhile, have been mostly consumed by inflation, which hit a recent peak of 9.1% in June 2022, the highest rate in 40 years, and was just over 7% in November 2022. Furthermore, the state economy is not well positioned to see major increases in wage growth, with 36% of South Dakotans employed in relatively low-paying industries such as service and retail, sales and office positions. South Dakota ranked 41st in the nation in 2021 with a median annual salary of $37,700 for employed adults, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s not like there’s not jobs, because there are, but they’re not paying people what they need to get paid in order to live, let alone buy a house,” said Shaylynn Hurd, 35, a prospective homebuyer from Rapid City.

The growing disparity between wages and home prices has led to what Ennis calls an “affordability cliff,” in which the buying power of South Dakotans has been significantly reduced. For example, Ennis said, a homebuyer who could afford a $270,000 home in 2021 could only afford a $190,000 home now, assuming the payment they could afford remains the same.

Coupled with a spike in mortgage interest rates — from the 4% annual percentage range before the pandemic to above 6% now — the rising home prices have reduced the number of people  who can buy a home in South Dakota, and reduced options in regard to home size, location and quality, Ennis said.

At least for now, Ennis is concerned that many residents of South Dakota, especially adults in their formative years, are being shut out of homeownership.

“Has South Dakota become unaffordable, is the American Dream dead here; I think it’s a temporary state of time where the answer today is yes,” Ennis said. “Too few people can qualify for a mortgage, and even if they can, too few people are choosing to take on that amount of payment shock to their normal budget.”

Steve Ennis

“We imported, under the guise of freedom, a lot of new South Dakotans who came here in the last two and a half years, and what they brought with them was their housing inflation.”

Steve Ennis, Sioux Falls mortgage lender

Yet not everyone is convinced that homeownership has become out of reach for a majority of South Dakota residents.

Brandon Martens, a Sioux Falls real estate agent who is president of the South Dakota Association of Realtors, remains bullish on homeownership prospects.

South Dakota continues to provide a high quality of life and owning a home is still a part of that, Martens said. Even with higher home prices and interest rates, buyers can work with agents and lenders to craft a plan that allows them to buy a home, even if that property satisfies more needs than wants, Martens said.

“I think homeownership and that American Dream in South Dakota is alive and well,” Martens said. “I think people can still afford to get into a home, but it comes down to people having to adjust to what the interest rate and price is going to be. Whether it is bedroom or bathroom count, size, location, garage stalls, and condition, all that comes into play.”

Brandon Martens

While acknowledging that the pandemic period led to a more competitive market with higher home prices generally, Martens noted that “the real estate crystal ball has been broken for hundreds of years,” and that a downward pricing correction is not only likely, but is already showing up in Sioux Falls and other South Dakota markets.

Sasso, the Rapid City agent, also suggests that homebuyers should be more assertive in seeking for help from government agencies, community development groups or lenders to find down-payment assistance or other programs that can lower interest rates or loan principals.

One theoretical mortgage model supports the idea that affording a home is possible for South Dakota families with middle incomes.

To buy a $300,000 home and not be “house burdened,” which is paying more than 30% of gross income on a mortgage, a family would need to make $88,000 a year, assuming savings to cover a 5% down payment and borrowing for 30 years at 6%. The income level in that same scenario for a $200,000 home is about $61,000 a year.

That equation, however, becomes tricky at a time when costs are way up for all other basic living expenses — including food, clothing, vehicles, energy — and with rents that have risen as high as a mortgage payment in many cases in South Dakota that make it harder to save. That payment model requires great discipline to save for a down payment, to limit other debt and, one hopes, to avoid any unforeseen financial emergencies.

Some leaders worry that lower levels of homeownership may slow the future growth of small towns and urban economies across the state.

As the housing problem simmers in small towns and cities across the state, the situation in Sioux Falls could reach a boil if solutions aren’t found or a major downward pricing shift doesn’t occur. The state’s largest city has a high quality of life, a vibrant economy and an expanding employment base, but maintaining those positive trends will require homes that are accessible and affordable for employees who will drive the Sioux Falls economy forward, said Mike Lynch, executive director of Forward Sioux Falls, a local economic development group.

“That needs to remain a priority for us as a community, because if we want to continue to recruit people to Sioux Falls, adequate, accessible housing is going to be an integral decision in whether people move here,” Lynch said. “It needs to be affordable, and there needs to be a supply of housing that runs the spectrum from low-cost, maybe first-time homebuyer, to executive homes.”

Lynch remains optimistic that between city officials, civic leaders and those in the housing industry, collaborative efforts can be made to improve access to good-quality housing in the Sioux Empire region.

“Certainly home ownership is a dream, a goal and for some people a big need, but the rental market will also remain very important,” Lynch said. “However, we know that our community has placed itself in a position to respond to a lot of different challenges, and we’ve been very successful for a number of reasons to attract individuals to live, work and play here, so hopefully we’ll come up with some sound ideas to help make a significant impact for the future as it relates to housing in Sioux Falls.”

Adam Wolfcale and Summer Schooler are shown with their sons Zayden (left) and Brayzen at a relative’s home, where they are staying after being displaced by a house fire on Nov. 12, 2022. The couple’s homeownership dreams are now on hold in Wessington Springs. Photo: Courtesy Kristi Hine, True Dakotan newspaper

HOUSING CASE STUDY #1 — LACK OF HOMES HOLDS BACK GROWTH IN WESSINGTON SPRINGS

Over many months, Summer Schooler and her fiancé Adam Wolfcale were building their family and their future in a place they both love dearly — the town of Wessington Springs, a Jerauld County hamlet located 50 miles northwest of Mitchell, S.D.

But recently, a horrific house fire and a tight real estate market put their dreams on hold and their lives in limbo.

On Nov. 12, 2022, Schooler was asleep in bed with her two children ages 2 and 4 — who had rousted their dad and sent him to get some shuteye on the sofa because they wanted to sleep with mom — when she awoke to the sound of a smoke alarm and the acrid smell of smoke.

She grabbed the children, awoke Wolfcale and they all rushed outside to safety. Schooler suffered lung damage when she returned to save her pets, ultimately losing one cat to the fire.

As they slowly recover, the couple is realizing that not only did they lose their rental home and all their belongings to smoke damage, but they may have also lost their ability to remain in Wessington Springs.

“We do love this small town,”Schooler said. “Everyone knows everyone and helps each other out, and it is completely safe for my son to walk across the street or ride a bike up and down the road.”

As is common in many rural towns across South Dakota, housing options are limited in Wessington Springs, and decent affordable homes are even harder to come by. The lack of available and affordable housing is one reason many rural towns across America are steadily losing population.

While living with a relative, the couple has begun to search for a home to purchase in Wessington Springs. Their first look at the market was stunning, as only three single-family properties were for sale, and only two in their price range of under $100,000.

One affordable property was already under contract, and the other, at $89,000, was too small to house a family of four and had no basement, Schooler said.

“I definitely feel like with inflation and the housing market and everything else going up, and wages not going up, it makes it much harder to find something that accommodates families,” she said.

The frustration felt by Schooler and Wolfcale is more common than it should be in Wessington Springs, which had a population of almost 1,100 in 1990 but fell under 800 in 2020.

A 2021 housing study made note of the town’s aging housing stock and concluded it needed development of at least a dozen new homes to meet the immediate need. The study suggested that to afford those homes, most residents under 44 in Wessington Springs would need some form of financial assistance to achieve homeownership.

“You look at a town like Springs, and a lot of businesses can’t afford to pay people more than 14 or 16 bucks an hour,” said Loree Gaikowski, a board member with the local economic development authority. “Even with two incomes at those levels, how could you buy a house for $250,000? You can’t really get anything for under $100,000 anymore, and if you can, it probably needs another $100,000 to fix it up.”

Loree Gaikowski

Wessington Springs has an opportunity to strengthen its economy and future by building on its reputation as a safe, welcoming community for young families and retirees, but it cannot due to a lack of available homes, Gaikowski said.

One challenge unique to Wessington Springs is that some houses destroyed in a 2014 tornado have not been rebuilt, and vacant lots where they stood are too expensive to develop due to aging underground infrastructure that would need to be replaced, Gaikowski said.

The lack of housing and affordable rental units is slowing the potential growth of the town, she said.

“If you’re in maintenance mode, you’re actually declining,” she said. “You’ve got to be looking to the future in these small towns all the time because growth means sales-tax revenue, kids in schools, property-tax revenue, local shopping options, jobs for people and opportunities for small businesses.”

The idea of leaving their adopted hometown is adding to the trauma suffered by Schooler, Wolfcale and their children after the fire.

Schooler, 25, has a job she enjoys as a certified nursing assistant at a long-term care facility, and Wolfcale, 32, has a good job working for a trucking company in nearby Alpena. Their oldest son attends pre-school, where he has many friends and helpful caregivers who, Schooler said, “are the only safe things he has to hold onto right now.”

Renting is an option for the couple, but options are limited in Wessington Springs and rents can be as high as a house payment. Renting also won’t help their family grow roots or build financial equity, Schooler said, and the family is reluctant to move to Sioux Falls or some other larger city because they would lose the benefits of small-town life.

“We’re going to keep trying and trying and trying, to do everything we possibly can to stay in the area,” Schooler said. “If it comes down to it and we can’t stay because there are no houses, we’re going to have to find something else to do and somewhere else to live.”

The home in northern Sioux Falls was priced at $470,000 in early May, 2021. The median sales price of homes in the state’s largest city has continued to rise, even as the housing market has cooled recently. Photo: News Watch file

Partnerships critical to help with housing

Help for homebuyers is possible, especially those with lower-incomes in South Dakota, said Lorraine Polak, executive director of the South Dakota Housing Development Authority.

The agency uses federal low-income guidelines to qualify for help, and in fiscal 2021-22 made nearly 2,200 overall loans of $421 million and provided more than $13 million in down-payment assistance, according to state data. The agency has numerous housing agency partners across the state that work on the local level to assist people who need help finding and affording a home.

Data about the typical housing-authority client reveals that people with lower incomes take years in the workforce to obtain a position where they can buy a home. Last year, the average age of clients in the first-time homebuyer program was 31, and their average income was about $58,000.

Polak said the state is hopeful that government guidelines will be expanded to allow more South Dakotans to qualify for help, and she has been impressed with how individual communities across the state have responded to the housing crisis.

Lorraine Polak

“I see so many communities that are now invested in housing and in their workforce; they are becoming involved and being creative in addressing that,” Polak said. “They are trying to develop lots that are more affordable and rehab homes to get them back on the market, and they have started to make a difference to create more opportunity for people who need housing.”

At the ground level of the housing equation, homebuilders play a critical role in developing new housing stock to accommodate growth. But building homes in the range of $300,000 or close to that has become incredibly difficult, said Tom Jarding, a Sioux Falls custom homebuilder who is president of the Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire.

For years, and especially during the pandemic, the costs of land and building supplies skyrocketed, making it harder than ever for builders to construct relatively affordable new homes and still make a profit, Jarding said.

“The battle has been over what one would consider an entry-level home cost in the last two and a half years because there’s been a great escalation that has taken place,” Jarding said. “What we’ve seen take place with cost increases these last few years, it has been a struggle for builders to get under that $300,000 price point on a new home.”

Jarding said many builders refuse to cut corners and reduce the quality of the finished product in order to make homes more affordable at a lower price. Furthermore, Jarding said a cultural shift has taken place such that even the youngest homebuyers want amenities they grew up with but cannot really afford.

One effort that could have jump-started development of workforce housing across South Dakota was scuttled in 2022 due to legislative discord. A $200 million loan and grant program using a mix of state and federal funding for new home infrastructure stalled due to squabbling between Gov. Noem and Republican leaders in the Legislature. That program, expected to return for a vote in 2023, is the type of help homebuilders need to spur immediate development of affordable housing in South Dakota, Jarding said.

In his role as a representative of the homebuilding industry, Jarding is involved in frequent ongoing discussions with government officials, civic groups and association members to seek solutions to the housing accessibility and affordability issues in Sioux Falls with a specific eye on trying to develop more affordable and workforce housing.

However, Jarding doesn’t believe that the housing industry can or should rely on government long term to solve the affordability equation. One idea he floated is for a group of homebuilders to join forces and share investments in large-scale projects where economies of scale could bring down the price of finished homes.

“You don’t want to just build a cardboard box, you want to give them a quality home,” Jarding said. “And I think there’s a market expectation that has shifted to where kids coming out of their parents’ home, they don’t need marble countertops or a walk-in shower, but that’s what they want. I see consumer expectations in some cases driving themselves in the direction of unaffordability.”

“We can’t just sit here for another five years and wait for things to move in the right direction,” Jarding said. “Hopefully with some public funding and public-private partnerships we can get the ball rolling now, and then we can come up with some of the longer-term solutions moving forward.”

Shaylynn Hurd and Brad Speas of Rapid City are on the market to buy a home together in Rapid City, but their choices have been limited in a tight market with prices that rose rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Courtesy Shaylynn Hurd

HOUSING CASE STUDY #2 — MANAGING EXPECTATIONS IN RAPID CITY

Just a few years ago, being pre-qualified for a home loan of $300,000 might have put someone in Rapid City in the market for a newish home with a basement, garage, several bedrooms and possibly some land in a good neighborhood.

But now, with home prices rising fast in recent years, couples like Brad Speas and Shaylynn Hurd are having to manage their expectations for what a $300,00 purchase price might get them.

Hurd, 35, and Speas, 51, want to move away from renting and into homeownership to build financial equity and a solid financial future for their blended family.

“I regret it to this day all the years I paid someone else’s mortgage,” Hurd said. “I could probably own three houses by now for all the rent I’ve paid.”
Speas has lived in Rapid City for years, while Hurd grew up in the area, spent several years in Colorado, and is now hoping to settle down in a home they can afford and enjoy for at least a few years.

Hurd runs a home-cleaning service and is a full-time technical school student, while Speas is a route sales driver for a bread company. The couple is pre-qualified for about a $300,000 purchase price, Speas said.

The couple recently showed up at an open house at a property for sale on Galaxy Drive in an area tucked into the southeast intersection of Interstates 90 and 190 in north Rapid City. The four-bed, two-bath split-level home was built in 1985 and has nearly 2,000 square feet of living space. The home appears to be in good shape, with a two-car garage and a small fenced yard, and a back-yard deck that faces several neighboring houses. The home last sold for $48,000 in 1992, but the assessed value has risen 34% in the past three years, from $167,300 in 2019 to $224,100 in 2022, according to Pennington County property records. The property is listed for sale at $289,000. 

Speas and Hurd seemed generally pleased with the condition of the home, though Hurd said the property had a 21-year-old furnace and needed some work in the backyard.

“In this price range, this is about the best we’ve seen,” Hurd said. “There’s some properties out there that are more affordable, but you’re going to spend a lot of time and effort to bring it up to speed and make it decent.”

Like many potential homeowners in the current South Dakota market, the couple is resigned to the fact that they may not get exactly what they want in a home they can afford, especially not the land ownership they hoped for.

“I feel pretty comfortable with $300,000, but it’s not what it used to be, that’s for sure,” Speas said.

They recently visited a property near Hermosa, a rural area just south of Rapid City, and though the land price was reasonable, they likely could not then afford to pay for infrastructure and the costs of home construction, Speas said. Paying taxes on properties with rapidly rising sticker prices adds to the current homeownership challenge, Speas said.

“That property by Hermosa was assessed at $86,000 four years ago, and today it’s at $247,000, so your tax bill is tripled along with the price,” he said. “The value of these properties has gone up triple, and the wages haven’t even gone up double in the past five years.”

The imbalance between stagnant or slightly rising wages and the rapidly rising cost of homes has put homeownership in jeopardy for adults looking for homes now, but also for young people who may pursue homeownership in the coming years, said Hurd, who has an 8-year-old daughter.

“It’s disgusting what they’re paying people,” she said. “You expect a 21-year-old to want to buy a home when they’re only making $15 an hour — how in the heck are they supposed to do that?”

Hurd worries her daughter may face even greater difficulty in achieving homeownership if employers do not begin to pay workers a wage that keeps up with or exceeds inflation.

Stuart Martin, a REMAX real estate agent in Rapid City, said the local market has always had relatively high prices for South Dakota because the city is close to the Black Hills.

The Rapid City area felt significant inflationary pricing influences from the influx of out-of-state buyers during the pandemic, though their influence has waned in 2022.

“We were not able to get some of the people in our area into homes because we did have such an influx of people coming from other areas, but I think we’ve seen the mass exodus from other areas has very much slowed down,” Martin said.

A lingering effect of the migration to South Dakota may be that prices remain higher than they would have been otherwise, Martin said.

Stuart Martin

“It definitely increased the value of homes, and I don’t believe were seeing drastic price reductions in sellers now,” he said.

The price hikes were evident across the Black Hills market, from log homes in the hills to small homes in established neighborhoods where first-time homebuyer options were plentiful before the pandemic, he said.

Some local buyers on the market are having to pull back on what they are seeking in a home, Martin said.

“They want to be in the trees on a one-acre lot for $300,000, and that’s a very, very small needle in the haystack right now,” he said.

Martin said a three-bedroom, one-bath home with a single garage in the older Robbinsdale neighborhood of Rapid City might have been in the high $100,000s in 2019, but is more likely to be listed as high as $240,000, he said.

Martin said it’s clear from his experience that wages have not nearly kept up with home prices in the Black Hills region.

However, Martin said he remains optimistic that buyers can find a good home in Rapid City. He urged potential buyers to sit down with an agent or a lender and really talk through options that could include down-payment assistance or a lower government-backed interest rate to save money on a monthly mortgage.

“There would be nothing more pleasing for me than to sit down with people to help them figure out how are we going to get them into a home,” Martin said. “There’s more homes coming on the market; they are more expensive than they were in 2019, but they’re out there.”

Hurd said she knows some homeowners who are looking to sell and return to renting because the cost of maintaining a home has risen so fast.

“Even people who own homes now are getting out of it and getting into apartment complexes because it’s become almost impossible for them to live a comfortable lifestyle and take care of everything that’s required to maintain a home,” she said.

Hurd said she’s also seen a societal shift in that many people who thought they might inherit a home someday are finding that their parents are holding onto properties longer or need to sell in order to pay for long-term care.

“They’re going to bank on their parents leaving them a house, and that’s what a lot of people expect, and that’s how it used to be because the home went through the generations,” she said. “But it’s not happening that much anymore.”

Home buying harder for rural residents, people of color

Not unlike in metro areas of the state, the path to homeownership in rural and reservation areas is stymied in many places mostly due to low family incomes and low availability of affordable homes, said Peter Smith, director of the Rural Office of Community Services in Wagner, S.D.

Smith has used a number of housing programs to help lower-income residents of southeastern South Dakota find rental properties or homes to purchase.

Even with substantial government assistance, however, options remain few for people who need housing in the region from Mitchell to Yankton, Smith said.

“You see some beautiful neighborhoods they’re building, but those houses are not being built for people working at McDonald’s,” he said. “The overall inventory is low, and we’re also getting more immigration here.”

Smith said he knows of employers who have bought abandoned roadside motels and fixed them up to house immigrant laborers, and of people who have given up on homeownership and instead have taken up full-time residence in RVs at campgrounds.

Even for a middle-income professional couple, however, Smith said it’s a very challenging market to find a decent available home for purchase.

“If you just started a new job at Yankton High School or Mitchell High and you’re looking to purchase a home, I wish you the best unless you find some tiny old home in a small town,” Smith said. “The inventory for them is nonexistent unless they have some money saved or family support.”

In Sioux Falls, the disparity in homeownership rates is significant between white residents and those of color, according to a 2021 local housing study by Augustana University.

While 65% of white households have obtained homeownership, only 19% of Native American residents and 14% of Black residents of Sioux Falls own a home, the study showed.

The study also showed that 40% of renters in Sioux Falls were considered “housing burdened” by paying 30% or more of their income in rent, and one in five homeowners was housing burdened.

Those figures do not bode well for a city and a state where many industries are trying to lure immigrants and other workers to fill open jobs and allow for economic growth.

In some ways, South Dakota mirrors national trends in the real estate market, and many of the affordability concerns present in the Rushmore State exist across the country, especially for lower-income residents and people of color.

Rapid City real estate agent Ron Sasso meets with prospective homebuyers Shaylynn Hurd and Brad Speas at a recent open house. Hurd and Speas are pre-qualified to buy a home in the $300,000 range. Photo: Bart Pfankuch, South Dakota News Watch

A recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University revealed that while the real estate market remains volatile, hurdles to homeownership for lower-income and minority households may linger beyond any market corrections.

“After a record-shattering year in 2021, the housing market is at an inflection point,” reads a summary of the 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing report. “Higher interest rates have taken some heat out of the homebuying market, and the large number of apartments under construction should bring some relief on the rental side. For lower-income households and households of color, though, the pressure of high housing costs is unlikely to relent.”

Meanwhile, many of the affordability issues affecting homebuyers across South Dakota have been faced by Native Americans for years, long before the market upheaval caused by the pandemic, said Tawny Brunsch, director of the Lakota Funds lending program on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

With a greater percentage of Native people living at or below the poverty level, and higher unemployment rates for Natives, being able to buy a home on the off-reservation market has always been more challenging for Natives, Brunsch said.

“We’ve been facing this forever in Indian Country,” she said.

Tawney Brunsch

For Native Americans living on reservations, the rapidly rising prices in the non-reservation market do not affect home prices since much of the land is held in federal trusts that are not as susceptible to pricing fluctuations, Brunsch said. In general, Native Americans also qualify more easily for some government assistance programs that can provide down-payment help and reduced lending rates, she said.

However, the recent rapid rise in off-reservation home prices has made it even harder for Natives living in South Dakota cities to buy homes, Brunsch said. In August 2022, Brunsch and her adult son began to look for a home for him in Rapid City and were shocked to see the quality of so-called affordable homes.

“There was almost nothing for $250,000 and we’re talking about homes in really poor condition that are going to need a lot of work,” she said, adding that they have suspended their search until home prices come down a bit.

Brunsch said the new challenges facing potential homebuyers across the state should prompt innovative ideas and renew efforts to help people obtain homeownership in both Native and non-Native communities.

“It’s not just about Indian Country anymore,” she said. “There’s a need to keep home ownership happening for everyone and we need creative solutions to make that work so we can all benefit.”

The Jochim family of Herreid, S.D., received help to find and afford a home that fit their family, lifestyle and need for a work space for a home business. They include: Breanna, Ryan, Stacy, Jeff, Jenna, and Parker in front. Photo: Courtesy Jeff Jochim

HOUSING CASE STUDY #3 — MAN ON A MISSION TO PROVIDE HOUSING IN HERREID

The homeownership journey for Jeff and Stacy Jochim provides a pair of meaningful messages — one promising, the other ominous — about the real estate market in South Dakota.

On the plus side, their path shows how a middle-income family, with the help of a determined local housing official and a supportive community, can use government programs and keen knowledge of the local housing market to buy a home, improve their lifestyle and strengthen their financial future.

But their story also sheds light on how difficult it is to buy a home in South Dakota now compared with just a few years ago, and how families on the market for a home in 2022 might get stuck renting and not building long-term equity.

Four years ago, the Jochims and their four children were living in a farmhouse they rented from a relative outside McLaughlin, S.D., a town on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Corson County. It was far from ideal in that one child had a long commute to school, they were not building any financial equity and they wanted to be closer to Stacy’s family more than an hour away in Herreid, S.D., across the Missouri River.

As they scouted homes to purchase in Herreid, they faced challenges common in small towns then and now: low housing inventory and limited ability to secure a mortgage. Stacy, 44, was a teacher in McLaughlin who left her job to make the move to Herreid possible and to start a new career in accounting; Jeff, 43, runs a home-based business building custom motorcycle parts and providing Eurothane coating services to area industries.

At some point, the couple connected with a man named Dick Werner, a former South Dakota legislator and banking officer who retired and now works in a volunteer position as head of the Herreid Area Housing Development Corporation.

With Werner’s help, the couple was able to find an affordable home that met their unique needs, and they benefited from Werner’s expertise in utilizing local, regional and state housing-assistance programs. The Jochims received three forms of down-payment assistance that lowered their mortgage significantly. In all, they received $24,500 in assistance from GROW SD, the Herreid housing agency and Homes Are Possible, Inc., an Aberdeen-based community finance and housing-development organization.

“We probably could have done it on our own, but it made the move a little bit easier and it brought the mortgage down a little bit,” Jeff Jochim said.

In 2018, the Jochims were able to purchase a home built in 1945 on Main Street in Herreid that had been added onto over the years, now totaling 2,200 square feet. The home has three bedrooms and three baths, plus a basement and garage/workshop. They bought it for $105,000 at 4.25%, and their monthly mortgage payment is about $700, Jochim said.

“We really lucked out, and we dodged a bullet by buying then,” he said. “Looking at the market now, we wouldn’t be able to be purchasing because everything is so inflated.”

The Herreid housing group formed about six years ago when 30 local people loaned at least $5,000 each to form a fund that would pay to develop new or rehab existing homes and rentals. They raised $180,000 to start and have since built three homes, developed more than a dozen rental units and helped 18 homeowners make improvements to their properties. The group has also led such improvement projects as a city park and sports complex, and has several lots purchased for future home sites.

Werner is committed to increasing homeownership to help individual families but also to help Herreid grow and prosper. The population of Herreid peaked at nearly 800 in 1960, then dropped below 500 in 1990 and how sits at just over 400.

Maintaining enough families to support the local school system is a major secondary goal to his housing efforts, he said. Herreid is home to farmers and ranchers but also attracts immigrant families who work in nearby firms, including area wind farms and the Pig Improvement Co. in Mound City.

“For them, it’s a dream to own a home and it’s a dream home for them,” he said.

Finding a home and a suitable payment plan for a local family of 11 took Werner almost three years to finalize, he said. When Werner met the family members, they were living in a single-wide mobile home with one child sleeping in the entryway. Leaving town was likely at that time, Werner said.

“They didn’t have a dream of ever owning a home,” Werner said. “But all those kids were in school and they were worth $45,000 in revenue for the local school system.”  

Eventually, Werner and the local housing group were able to develop a workable financial plan with help from Grow South Dakota, the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, HAPI of Aberdeen and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Werner found the family $37,000 in down-payment assistance and a $135,000 mortgage locked in at 1% interest for a 30-year note. His agency paid to finish the basement in the home to add three more bedrooms.

“It took a lot of partners to make the thing work,” he said. “But if we can get a lot of organizations to help just a little bit, we can make homeownership happen.”

Being creative can also expedite the growth of homeownership, Werner said. For example, when Werner gets word that a retiree or an elderly family is interested in selling their home, his group and area agencies offer assistance that makes it easier for families to bid on and potentially buy those homes at market price.

Dick Werner

“We’re in America, and the American Dream is home ownership, so we should be able to find a way to make this happen,” he said. “We have to keep that dream alive, otherwise what is there for these working families to aspire to?”

Jochim said he has watched what has happened to the state and national economy and the local housing market and is unsure if the family would be able to buy a home at this time.

“It wouldn’t be easy, especially because we had to get a new used vehicle to fit the bigger family,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to have a car payment while we’re managing a mortgage payment. We’d be looking at one of the spouse’s incomes going entirely to the house payment.”

The current South Dakota economy makes it hard for small families on many levels, Jochim said.

Jochim is concerned that other families in the area might not be able to achieve homeownership in the current economy and real estate market.

“The biggest thing hindering us right now is food, gas, and inflation,” he said. “It’s taking a big chunk out of everybody’s salary.”

He also questions whether his family will able to move forward in its homeownership journey, whether it be moving to a better location or adapting to changes in their job situations or when their children leave home.

“Right now, looking at if we decide to do this same move again, I don’t know if it would happen,” he said. “With inflation and interest rates, prices too high and the job market and salaries available, it would be a whole other story and I don’t think we could pull it off.”

Werner said he isn’t sure if his unique approach to helping potential homeowners in a town as small as Herreid would work in larger cities and towns. He acknowledges there is no “cookie-cutter” approach to managing the current real estate market for working families, but he said any effort made by individuals, government or other groups will be well worth it.

“Nobody is going to show up with a pot of gold to make this happen. You have to just keep looking for the funding so the homeowner you are helping is going to be successful,” Werner said. “It’s the hardest but most rewarding thing. Helping families achieve the American Dream of homeownership is one of the most important things you can ever do in your life.”