Mayor Steve Allender is thinking big and out of the box these days as he begins to tackle Rapid City’s affordable housing shortage.
Allender is looking at tiny houses as part of the solution in a community where jobs that pay even $14 an hour are difficult to find.
But now, the mayor is going from the talking to the doing stage in an unprecedented effort to open more doors for those working-class residents who want to call Rapid City home.
The Journal reported last week that Allender is working with a private developer and Neighborworks Dakota Home Resources to build five tiny townhomes near the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
They would be from 360 to 968 square feet with attached garages. The prices are expected to range from $100,000 to $142,000. Those who seek to purchase a unit could receive help with the down payment and closing costs, assistance that likely would come from Neighborworks, an established nonprofit that helps local residents buy, repair and keep their homes.
If all goes as planned, work could begin in February or March on the townhomes. Mayor Allender hopes the project eventually will pave the way for 100 or more tiny homes in Rapid City, which would be a remarkable achievement.
It also is important to note that the townhomes will not be public housing nor require any investment of city funds. Allender describes his role as advisory and is helping the developer navigate the city's planning process.
Certainly and predictably, the critics will dismiss the project as a waste of time that is beyond the city's mission and obligation to taxpayers.
But what does the city have to lose by working with a nonprofit and private developer to help meet a clear and growing need in our community? Housing prices and rent are climbing at a much faster rate than wages in Rapid City. Most of the residential building, which includes apartment complexes, are now considered high-end projects where the profit margins are typically larger.
If the city continues, meanwhile, to wait for market forces to bring down housing prices it would be a long wait indeed, which means more and more young people will be candidates to leave and pursue work in a community where they can earn enough money to achieve the dream of owning a home.
While details still need to be worked out, questions answered and obstacles including public opinion confronted, Allender deserves credit for tackling one of any community's thorniest problems — providing affordable housing for those who want to live, work and pay taxes in a place they call home.