South Dakota's building plan targets older residents

South Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1998  | April 1998 issue

South Dakota's prison home-building project addresses a slightly different issue: how to supply appropriate housing for people 62 or older, or those who demonstrate a physical disability, in towns of fewer than 5,000 residents. And while the target group may be different from Minnesota's, the ultimate goal is the same: maintaining viable small towns.

Since the program began in 1996, 175 houses have been sold in more than 90 communities. According to Teresa Sterrett, sales supervisor for the South Dakota Housing Development Authority in Pierre, the program has been a great success for older people who no longer want or need to maintain large homes but desire to stay in their community. By freeing the larger, family homes, the community can provide housing for younger families who want to return home or live in a small town. The program "is keeping the smaller communities alive," Sterrett says.

The homes are traditional stickbuilt and constructed at Springfield State Penitentiary; interior items like cupboards and vanities are made at the Sioux Falls Penitentiary and shipped to Springfield for installation. The homes' dimensions are such that they can be hauled down the highway in one piece.

The state's Housing Development Authority sells the houses directly to the buyer or a nonprofit governmental group, which in turn sells to individual buyers. Buyers are responsible for laying foundations, building basements based on footing and foundation requirements supplied by the Housing Authority.

Sterrett says there has been little opposition to the program by commercial developers or unions. In fact, she says, more jobs are created in building foundations and basements, and garages and other add-ons that buyers want.

"The program works well for everyone," Sterrett says. "The inmates develop marketable job skills, younger families can find larger homes in small towns and the older people who want to stay in their community can."

All of the above are good for economic development as well, Sterrett says. One town, which will have a new manufacturing company move into its community soon, has purchased two houses and may purchase more. It is hoped that this will accommodate an influx of employees by freeing up some of the existing, larger homes.

Kathy Cobb