HURON — The position is titled “Housing Rehab Specialist,” but could easily be described as someone who will be at the forefront of changing the face of housing in Huron for the future.
“For quite some time, there are housing studies done for Huron and the area,” said David McGirr, the executive director of the Greater Huron Development Corporation. “Every five to ten years another study is done. And the results have repeated shown a rapid increase of inhabitable housing.” One study showed that in the 20-year period from 1993 to 2013, housing reported as ‘sound” declined from 39% to 20%, while houses deemed as ‘dilapidated’ increased from five percent to 23%. Houses that needed minor repair decreased 13%, while those in need of major repair increased nearly two-fold.
Two years ago, the Huron Community Foundation authorized a community survey that asked people for the things they felt were most important. Those results were distilled down and discussed at a pair of round-table meetings that included a broad cross-section of the Huron area.
“What came out of those meetings is that housing was the thing most often mentioned,” said Steve Gohn, chairman of the HCF board. “Specifically, the condition, the dilapidation of houses and some apartments in the city, as well as the empty storefronts and building conditions downtown.”
A group of volunteers formed an ad hoc committee to address the problem, and meetings continued over the past year.
“We knew we had to change things,” says Andrea Del Grosso. “But where do we start?”
They asked questions and they learned.
“We learned a great deal,” Gohn said. “We learned that there are an abundance of grant opportunities from places like South Dakota Housing, Grow South Dakota, and Homes Are Possible, as well as multiple federal grant programs for housing. We determined that we were really the only Class A city in the state that didn’t already have a position like this.”
Plans were put into motion and that brings us to the present.
The position will be funded through a collaboration of organizations, including Huron Community Foundation, City of Huron, Huron Chamber, Community Development Foundation, Huron Housing Authority, and other local non-profit organizations. It will actually be staffed at the office of Huron Housing Authority.
“This is a major change for Huron that will create a ‘one-stop shop’ for housing,” said McGirr. “It will effectively create an ‘Easy Button’ for Huron residents seeking a place to live or assistance in rehabilitating their home.
Part of that transition involves winding down the operations of James Valley Housing, which has been bringing in Governor’s Houses, doing stick-built homes, providing homeowner education, and assisting in low-income financing for homes over the last dozen years.
“The bulk of their current line of services will be folded into Huron Housing over the coming months as part of the program to consolidate services within a single housing agency,” said McGirr.
“We’re going to hire someone who can write grants,” Del Grosso said, “to assist in the continuation of the program. Someone who can talk to contractors and get bids and who is equally comfortable speaking to a group of people who have questions on home repair, ownership or rental, or to a group of stake holders or grant boards. He or she will need to be organized and able to communicate in person or in writing.”
The full-time position is a collaborative undertaking, Gohn stressed. Local businesses and organizations such as the Huron Ministerial Association, Dakota Provisions, Dept. of Social Services and the Huron School District, among many others, will be prime places to get the word out to those who may be in need of assistance or education.
So, the ideal candidate is….?
“A unicorn, really,” said McGirr. “We need the sort of someone you don’t find on every street corner.” All three stressed that the right person will facing a learning curve, but that the meetings of the past year have established a foundation upon which the support system for that person will be constructed.
“We’re basically creating a new position to assist all ages, abilities, income levels, and races in acquiring the basic human need of affordable, adequate housing,” Gohn said. “We are really excited about the possibilities that this entails for the city.”