Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Yankton community, what some of the hurdles are in bringing new residential options to the area, and what officials and contractors alike are doing to make these projects a reality.
In 2013, a housing study aimed at the city’s major employers revealed one major need — workforce housing was hard to find in Yankton.
So Yankton Area Progressive Growth (YAPG) snapped their fingers and, like that, Westbrook Estates popped up along West City Limits Road, thus solving the plight of housing shortages once and for all. … Except, it was never so simple.
Yes, Westbrook Estates has risen from empty fields on the west side of town and is well into its second phase of expansion, but there were a number of challenges to overcome — challenges that anyone aiming to bring workforce housing to the area will face.
Recently, key YAPG officials sat down with the Press & Dakotan to discuss to project and the hurdles it had to overcome to become a reality.
Dan Specht, who served as YAPG’s housing task force director, told the Press & Dakotan that it started with an all-important study.
“It was quite a long process in determining what kind of housing in Yankton was needed,” Specht said. “In conjunction with the city, YAPG and the city commissioned a housing study. That was really the first step in looking at what kind of housing was needed.”
He said that two major needs were identified.
“Westbrook Estates came about for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, we knew that there was a shortage of apartment rentals in Yankton. And two, we thought if we could encourage some houses being built in a price range that currently wasn’t being met — primarily in that $150,000-$200,000 price range — that might open up some additional housing in the community.”
YAPG CEO Nancy Wenande told the Press & Dakotan that the next step was finding parties interested in taking on a new housing development.
“YAPG was looking to assist our members, investors and community members by creating an affordable housing development,” Wenande said. “YAPG put a program together and really wanted local developers to take the lead in the project.”
She said that’s when YAPG ran into the first major hurdle — a lack of developer interest.
“(YAPG) talked to several developers, and when nobody stepped forward wanting to take on the development project, that’s where Yankton Area Progressive Growth stepped forward and said, ‘OK, it’s important enough for the community. We are going to take on this project,’” she said. “It was much different than any other project had ever been involved with.”
Construction on the development began in the summer of 2015.
Today, more than 70 housing units have been built along with two large apartment complexes, with Phase II of the project well underway. The project is no longer in the hands of YAPG.
With many of the details settled, there were still other hurdles to cross that are faced by anyone aiming to build a new housing development.
Chief among those considerations — the ground on which it sits, according to Wenande.
“One of the challenges that a lot of developers will say that they have to keeping a project affordable is the cost of the land,” she said. “Nobody who sells land wants to sell it for a low cost, so the cost of the land is incredibly expensive.”
She added that the purchase of the land is only the start of the additional expenses before the house is even built.
“The infrastructure costs are also expensive,” she said. “If you have to put in roads, or water and sewer is not readily available to the property — and if it’s in city limits, you have city water, but if you’re outside, then you’re working with B-Y Water — so you have all of the infrastructure that’s going into the project that all just adds to the cost.”
Wenande said funding structures also make or break the price of a newly built housing unit.
“Depending on the size of your project, I would say the financing involved is also a challenge if you’re looking at a large development like Westbrook,” she said. “We obviously took out some substantial loans for that project, as well as we needed to work with community partners on that.”
She said that working with the city helped with some of those larger costs.
“We partnered with the city and had a TIF (tax increment financing) for (Westbrook), which helped that become an affordable project and to cover some of the infrastructure costs,” she said.
Success, But An Ongoing Issue Remains
Wenande said even with the success of Westbrook Estates, the group will keep looking into solutions for lingering problems that are hardly exclusive to Yankton.
“The project is great,” she said. “We’ve sold all of our lots out there, so we can say YAPG’s not in the housing industry right now. But we’re still trying to help find solutions to the problem. The problem here in Yankton is what the majority of communities across South Dakota and the country, quite honestly, are struggling with.”
She said that many residents in the development feel it was a success.
“The survey that we did recently showed a lot of positive results for the community on that,” she said. “When we’re looking at what else we can do, it’s a matter of trying to find those collaborative relationships, find those partnerships and find developers that are hopefully interested in doing that so YAPG doesn’t need to take that role. The more we can put it in private industry, the better it is.”
Specht said the project is paying off for the city.
“We’re seeing some good results in the community and the project has really helped us to open up some additional housing,” he said. “We’re seeing vacancy rates, at least in the last few months, there seems to be more housing available — both in the rental market and sales market. We think it’s starting to show some success.”
However, he said the issue of housing has yet to be totally solved.
“There’s a long way to go in the community to provide additional housing in all forms,” he said.
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