By: Jodelle Greiner, The Brookings Register

Digging into Brookings’ affordable housing shortage brought to light a bunch of things for Councilor Patty Bacon.

She presented the findings of the Brookings Affordable Housing Task Force to the Brookings City Council this week.

The Brookings Affordable Housing Task Force’s final 23-page report, dated Oct. 12, is available as an attachment to the Oct. 24 council agenda on the city’s website.

The task force was created in November 2015 to analyze the current housing market, examine trends in the housing market and economic opportunities of the city, identify shortcomings in affordable housing countywide, and propose strategies to address affordable housing, she said.

“Every resident of the City of Brookings deserves a decent, safe, sound and affordable place to live, in a neighborhood that provides opportunities to succeed,” Bacon read from the report.

“The market alone is not always able to meet that need, and accordingly, governments at all levels must work together to help. The city’s shortage of affordable housing has reached a breaking point. Much of the housing in the city is not affordable to low- and moderate-income households and working families who are oftentimes cost burdened by 30 percent or more in their housing costs,” she added.

What’s affordable?

One of the first things the task force had to do was define affordable.

The group determined individuals/families who pay 30 percent of their gross income for housing – which includes rent/mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities – are considered cost-burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

“In many cases, 25 percent is too much,” Bacon said.

The median household income for Brookings is $41,061, which means half of the households make more than that amount and half make less, according to the report.

Approximately 43 percent of Brookings households earn less than $35,000 a year, even with two wage-earners. One out of four family households have a gross annual income of less than $35,000. An annual income of $35,000 equates to a maximum of $875 available for monthly housing costs utilizing 30 percent of gross income.

The report determined that the percent of residents living in poverty was 22.4 percent. The report also determined that 33 percent of homeowners and more than 50 percent of renters are living beyond their means, Bacon said.

What they found was:

• 54 percent of Brookings renters spend more than 30 percent of their household income on housing costs, 13 percent higher than the South Dakota average;

• 18 percent of Brookings owner-occupied homes spend more than 30 percent of their household income on housing costs, slightly less than the state average of 18.4 percent.

“The interesting data pertains to an affordable rent range when factoring out expenses such as insurance and utilities. An individual making $14.42 per hour, or $30,000 annually, could afford a monthly rent of $450,” based on the report’s calculations.

Bacon said Brookings’ stock of houses for sale at $150,000 or less is basically non-existent. Those that do come up for sale last a couple of days before they’re snatched up.

What’s the solution?

The task force brainstormed more than two dozen possible barriers to obtaining affordable housing in Brookings, including cost and size of lots, development and infrastructure, street widths and setbacks, availability of homes and land, wages and job skills, and homebuyer standards.

“Affordable housing is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” Bacon said.

The task force presented two tiers of recommendations. Tier I recommendations could be implemented in 12 to 18 months, Bacon said, while the Tier II items will need more development and planning to implement.

Tier I items include:

• Reducing minimum lot size and height restrictions;

• Improving education on affordable housing and styles;

• Supporting concentrated neighborhoods with housing, retail and service mix in key locations;

• Leveraging state and federal programs;

• Considering accessory dwelling units (aka mother-in-law apartments); and

• Creating a Brookings Housing Program/position.

Tier II items include:

• Incentivizing design and redevelopment projects to incorporate affordable housing;

• Considering a Brookings Housing Trust Fund;

• Tax deferments;

• Lease-to-own financing;

• A housing rehab program to keep older homes viable;

• Offering a stipend to new Brookings employees to maintain residency in Brookings; and

• Hiring a consultant to study infrastructure costs and policies and to see how Brookings compares to other Midwest cities, among others.

“What started out as a task force simply trying to address affordable housing opportunities in Brookings morphed into a much larger, more complex issue than intended. Affordable housing has a different meaning for different individuals,” Bacon read from the report.

Affordable housing creates jobs and tax revenue, strengthens the economy, strengthens families, creates independence for families and helps business, she added.

Feedback

“It’s the No. 1 issue mayors in South Dakota talk about,” said Mayor Keith Corbett.

“One thing we need to do is take this out on the road,” Bacon said. “It’s bigger than what we can solve as a council.”

Angie Boersma, a member of the task force, suggested they promote tiny homes and smaller homes in general, such as 600 square feet with one bedroom and one bathroom. It would be like an efficiency unit, more in line with an apartment-type setting, said Mike Struck, community development director.

Councilor Nick Wendell asked about the role of the Brookings Housing Program and who would lead it.

One or two staff people can’t address all of the issues with housing, said Mary Jo Minor, a member of the task force. Federal programs are doing away with dollars and taking units out of the low-income subsidized area.

There’s all kinds of money out there, but it would take a person who’s been dedicated to the job to finding the funds and accessing them through things like grant writing, Bacon said.

Ryan Krogman, another member of the task force, said they had talked about who should be in charge, adding the committee can’t do it, Bacon can’t, and the city staff can’t. It needs to be a joint effort among the city, county, utilities, South Dakota State University, developers, and property management, among others.

Struck suggested a weatherization program to make homes more energy efficient and help educate homeowners so the homes don’t fall into disrepair.

Level set long ago

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne said most homeowners in Brookings would have a hard time maintaining that 30 percent level. She asked how long ago that level was set and what has changed over the years, including increased insurance and health care costs.

“It was decades ago,” Bacon replied.

Tilton Byrne didn’t want to burden young people, especially when Brookings is trying to draw them into town and get them to stay.

“Debt might keep them from entering the housing market,” she said.

For some people living on or above that 30 percent line, if the water heater goes out, their whole budget goes out, Councilor Ope Niemeyer said. That makes it hard for them to maintain what they have or become financially stable.

“The Task Force feels strongly that the community, with leadership from City Council, begin a concerted, organized effort to address affordable housing needs in our community,” Bacon concluded. “We ask the Brookings City Council to take action on this issue by making impactful policy decisions that address solutions outlined in this document and have measurable outcomes for the benefit of the Brookings Community.”

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

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