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HOT SPRINGS- A meeting of the minds took place at the Mueller Civic Center on the night of Tuesday, February 12. Representatives from the City of Hot Springs, Fall River County, builders, contractors, realtors, employers, several nonprofits and curious citizens all gathered at the Hot Springs Housing Empowerment Committee Meeting to discuss all things housing related, but particularly the issue of workforce housing.

The beginning of the meeting was spent reviewing the current status of housing in the Hot Springs Area. Hot Springs Mayor, George Kotti, explained some of the steps the City has taken recently to promote more housing in Hot Springs. He said the Boulder Falls subdivision had seen six new homes built in the past year. He also mentioned the City would be reviewing proposals for developing the old Canton Avenue water fill station property later this month.

Hot Springs City Administrator, Kim Barbieri, added Hot Springs implemented a tax abatement program for new built homes and renovations to help promote building and improving homes in Hot Springs.

Andrea Powers, executive director of the Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation (SHEDCO), said SHEDCO was moving forward with its pursuits of the bulldoze, build and beautify (BBB) grants for two properties in Edgemont. The grant gives matching funds to municipalities to remove dilapidated structures and restore lots to buildable properties. Powers also said SHEDCO was in the process of helping facilitate the development of 26 acres in Hot Springs.

Barbieri said she has identified at least 61 properties in Hot Springs that were potential BBB candidates. She added that many of the unmaintained properties were owned by people living outside the community.  

Brad Richardson of the South Dakota State Veterans Home brought in the perspective of a major employer and said his staff grew by 35 people since 2016 and he was expecting similar growth in the future.

Mayor Kotti expanded on the potential need for more workforce housing by reminding the meeting the VA is potentially expanding their call center in Hot Springs and those employees would need affordable places to live.

 Don Olsted said a major issue current builders are facing in Hot Springs is the lack of easily buildable property, “we’ve built on all the good land, the rock piles are left.” He said this is an issue because it increases the cost to builders, making more modest priced homes hard to profit from as a builder.

The issue of developers being able to turn a profit from workforce housing was echoed by the evening’s main speaker, Dean Hedrick of Hult Homes. Hedrick said his company specializes in workforce housing. He said the only way for builders to reasonably build lower priced homes and still make money is to build on a large scale.

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When asked to define workforce housing, Hedrick explained the term generally is used to describe housing for household making around the community's median two person income. 

“The need is well defined,” Hedrick said in reference to workforce housing. He also said his company was ready and willing to throw their hat in the ring if the opportunity arose to build. He also said he didn’t intend on his company taking on all the construction in Hot Springs, “we don’t intend on being the exclusive builder.” He added, “we would look at local realtors and contractors for work.”

At the end of the meeting, many attendees were encouraged with the wide variety of people looking to address the workforce housing issue. "We've never had all these people together," said Darla Stevens of Century 21. 

She was echoed by Mayor Kotti, who said, "we have the right atmosphere here." 

Fall River Commissioner Paul Nabholz was a little more skeptical of some of the plans moving forward. He questioned why mobile homes weren't a viable option for entry housing. Nabholz also raised concerns about any sort of subsidized housing option destabilizing the existing renter market. 

Barbieri replied by explaining mobile homes don't hold their value like traditional homes. 

Fall River County Director of Equalization Susie Hayes added that all forms of housing are needed in the community, including: mobile homes, workforce housing, apartments and homes for retirees moving to the community.

A followup meeting was tentatively set for March 19, but may take place as late as April. Brian Spitzer of the Southern Hills Future Foundation explained that he would be coordinating with Governor Noem's office to try to get representation from the State at the meetings. Given Noem's pledge to make Hot Springs a national veterans town, many felt the Governor's Office would be willing to help the situations, particularly with the potential development of State Home property. 

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