In case no one has noticed, there is a growing number of retirees in Hill City. It is a similar story for many; people visit the area either for repeated vacations or maybe a one-time trip to the Black Hills and they are drawn to the aura of the “Heart of the Hills.” In other instances, people grow up in South Dakota, work all their lives in other states and just want to come back “home” to retire in a more peaceful setting.
No doubt, we live in a beautiful area, a friendly town with many quaint shops, but that very desirability that has drawn the retirees and has contributed to the housing prices soaring beyond the reach of young families. Our town has been a part of programs from Rural Development such as “Horizons” and “Developing a Value-Added Community” as well as “All Aboard Hill City” and “Design SD” and most recently, the Comprehensive Plan, adopted last summer, and they all say, “We need affordable housing.”
According to the Comprehensive Plan, in 2014, the median home value was $159,500 and the median gross rent was $752, both of them above the state averages of $135,700 and $648, respectively. The plan states that reasons for this could be: the desirability of living in Hill City, median income in Hill City being about $1,500 higher than the state average, more retirees moving into the area, fewer housing units for sale or rent, seasonal workers needing summer housing and limited availability of developable land in Hill City.
In addition, the Comprehensive Plan stated in 2014, there were an estimated 551 total housing units in Hill City with a 79.5% occupancy rate, which is lower than the state average of 88.6%. One reason suggested for this is the number of houses used as vacation rentals. A projected population increase of 150 by the year 2025 would suggest that 56 additional housing units are needed by that time.
A companion topic that always emerges is “year-round employment.” More jobs are needed, but the desire to maintain the small town feel causes a reluctance to establish industrial types of businesses, for fear it will destroy the beauty of the town.
Ideas generated during community discussions for the Comprehensive Plan included the following: provide tax breaks, create an easier permitting process, make available low-cost loans and affordable business space rentals, work with local and state economic development entities, schedule more off-season events and advertise in other areas for the types of businesses the town wants to attract.
Our school is struggling with a substantial dip in the enrollment and budget cuts have been the order of the day. There is nothing wrong with tightening the belt, but the fact that we are losing children is alarming. From what I can tell, we have quality education, good teachers and administrators, but we are losing the students. In talking to people, it all comes back to the housing and jobs for young parents.
The need for housing and employment is a complex issue, and it requires expertise and cooperation from many realms to bring about change. A housing study is in the works, hopefully completed in several months. That will be a start, but I think we all need to be involved in the process to make Hill City a welcome town for people in all stages in life.
Have those of us who have retired here affected the increase in housing prices? Perhaps, but I think the collective brain and brawn power that retirees have infused into this area is an amazing thing. City government, the senior center, the arts council, the wide variety of community clubs that retirees are involved with make Hill City a more vibrant place. However, I hope we take notice of changing demographics, employment and housing. I ask the question, since we can’t pull a U-haul with us into the grave, is there more we can do with our time and resources to be a catalyst for year-round employment and affordable housing? I don’t have answers, just asking the question.
The Comprehensive Plan will guide growth and development in Hill City for the next 10 years. The vision statement denotes three areas the community would like to see accomplished by 2026: A safe, thriving, year-round community (promoting the safety and well being of all people), preserving the small town identity (striking a balance between change and preservation) and making the town a major destination. Housing and employment are interconnected with all three of those areas, and though retired folks are not knights in shining armor here to save the day, I hope we can play a part.