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Housing study shows 'immediate need' in Box Elder

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Rob Timm, grant writer/administrator for the city of Box Elder, presents highlights of a housing study to the Box Elder City Council Tuesday evening.

BOX ELDER — A housing study conducted from June through August was presented to the Box Elder City Council Tuesday evening, revealing what Grant Writer/Administrator Rob Timm described as “things we probably already knew” — they need more of it.

The study found a defined, immediate need for 500-600 market-rate rental housing units in general before any projected growth. For rental assistance units, the estimate was over 100.

The study also identified an opportunity for developing senior independent and assisted living, estimating that if one were to open today, it would immediately be 50% occupied. Within five to six months, it would be full.

The study identified an annual demand for the foreseeable future to build 30-36 affordable homes, 44-50 mid-priced homes and 26-34 higher-value homes. It also found an escalated demand for twin homes and town homes over the next five years.

When the study looked at vacancies around June or July, it found only two to three apartments were available in Box Elder at the time of the survey. Throughout the area — including Rapid City, Summerset and Black Hawk — the rental vacancy rate is less than 1%, with a rate of 5% considered healthy.

The study also looked at Ellsworth Air Force Base and base housing, finding that 150 names were on the waiting list, which constituted about a six-month wait.

Box Elder has the highest rental tenure of surrounding communities, with more than half of all households living in a rental unit.

“That’s compared to about 30% of the metropolitan service area  — that’s Rapid City and Summerset area,” Timm said. “So that’s very interesting.”

The study also found that of those renters, about 40% were paying 30% or more of their income for rent. Timm said that is considered a housing burden by most experts. Rental rates in Box Elder, the study found, have gone up to $900 per month for a studio and $2,000 for a four-bedroom apartment.

The study also looked at housing prices, showing the median sale price in 2021 was $285,000, an increase of $45,000 from the previous year. Ninety-two percent of sales in 2021 were priced at $200,000 or more. Of those homes, 42% sold at $300,000 or more.

The study projected the city’s population at 13,000 by 2026, which did not include the incoming B-21 mission, Timm said.

More than 1,680 additional units were occupied from 2010 to 2020, the study showed. Box Elder went from a little over 2,400 to 4,200, constituting a growth rate of nearly 70%, the largest of any community in the Black Hills.

The study, Timm said, provides the city with both challenges and opportunities.

“The housing study gives an opportunity for more grants to really help shape the future for housing in Box Elder," he said.

As of June, the city of Box Elder had 10 active housing projects underway.

The study was conducted by Community Partners Research and supported by a grant from the South Dakota Housing and Development Authority.

“When the dust settled,” Timm said, the study cost the city about $2,000 after the grant. He said it will be available on the city’s website “very shortly” for the public to view.

In other business, the council authorized the mayor to sign a joint powers agreement with South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks to revitalize Phelps Pond, east of City Hall.

“This is one of those fun projects that you just get excited about,” Timm said.

The partnership with GF&P will create a fishing pier, a temporary gravel parking lot and an ADA-accessible gravel trail from the parking lot to the fishing pier.

The pier will be 16 foot by 32 inch, ADA accessible and GF&P will remove 60% of the pond’s cattails with an excavator. The city will be responsible for constructing a concrete bulkhead for the fishing pier, maintaining the parking lot and providing a dump truck. Future plans may include maintaining a fish habitat, as well.

GF&P anticipated the project would cost them $35,000.

“Bottom line is this is an opportunity to add another park to the park system, provide an opportunity for kids and the community to go fishing,” Timm said.

There are trout in the pond now, he said, and they’re hoping to add more catchable fish in the future.

Timm said they’ve been working at this for “at least a couple of years,” now finally signing off and seeing it come to fruition. He said they hope to see the project completed by summer or fall 2023.

–Contact Laura Heckmann at

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