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GOED Chief Scott Stern, House-Wrecker!

Get out the wrecking ball! While an interim committee gets ready to discuss how to expand workforce housing, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development plans to knock down a few thousand crummy houses:

GOED Commissioner Scott Stern
Scott Stern, GOED Commissioner

Scott Stern, the governor’s commissioner of economic development, told the board that his office has identified about 3,800 dilapidated houses throughout South Dakota.

GOED would spend about $2 million per year taking down houses, based on a 50-50 split between federal funds and local funds, according to Stern.

He said South Dakota has preliminary approval from the federal housing program for $1 million annually in aid. State government won’t have any money in the project, according to Stern [Bob Mercer, “Plan to Study Workforce Housing in Small Communities,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.05.16].

If you see Scott Stern coming toward your place with a sledgehammer and a wrecking crew, tell him to hold his horses, that you’re on your way to get some paint and lumber right now!


  1. Rorschach 2017-05-17 07:36

    Awesome! The inlaws have 3 abandoned houses that could stand to be knocked down. We had thought about having the local fire department use them for practice. Either way is fine.

  2. Nick Nemec 2017-05-17 10:14

    If these are abandoned houses and this is an attempt to help county governments clean up the lots and get them back on the tax rolls then fine. If this is a program to help owners of property avoid spending their own money to tear down eyesores then no way. Ownerss can clean up their own property. I’ve footed the bill to burn down and clean up three old houses and numerous falling down out buildings. If you own it, you own it.

  3. jerry 2017-05-17 12:39

    Finally, an idea that is worth a damn for small communities across the state. Dealing with town boards is impossible because they themselves own most of them as well as the usual broken down cars and other debris. Clean them up and put them so that there may be a place for people to move to that is not Dogpatch (no offense Lil Abner), but your shack has got to go.

  4. Richard Schriever 2017-05-17 15:43

    Bailout of irresponsible property owners by big government Republicans.

  5. Troy 2017-05-17 15:57


    Not that I’m against the program but do wonder why GOED is the state entity doing this but on the other hand I can’t think what department would be better? Health?

    If this is the HUD program I remember from the 80’s, this is the situation:

    Abandoned houses owned by the county/city from non-payment of taxes in small rural towns. These houses/lots are not likely to get back on the tax rolls except maybe a farmer moves to town and he wants to the lot to store some equipment. The houses have become both rat traps, fire hazards etc. As Ror suggested, the local volunteer department doesn’t want to burn them for training in the event the fire would spread and its not like they have an abundance of resources.

  6. jerry 2017-05-17 16:26

    The town could set up ordances after the crap is taken down. People actually buy places in towns that have ordances set up to protect their new property values. I spoke with a man in Buffalo Gap that said of their problems with falling down property. He said that after they got stuff cleaned up, they did have people move there and pay taxes on their new and improved lots.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-17 21:30

    I’m curious to learn whether this program depends on eminent domain/condemnation or on voluntary participation and incentives.

    I note from this article in the Yankton Press & Dakotan like GOED is reserving 20% of the $1M housing demolition fund for towns under 500. That could lead us to a thorny question: just how many towns under 500 have the potential to attract lots of new residents, even with the assistance of a state house-wrecking program?

  8. Clyde 2017-05-18 09:25

    Thanks to the Ag policy of most of the last 40 years every small town is done for. No sense in making money for some big fat cat Rep contractor. In a few years all the grey and white haired residents that now populate those towns will be gone and all that will be necessary is to wait for a windy day and strike a match on the upwind side!

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-18 19:58

    Clyde, your point sounds cruel, but it’s rational. Tiny towns sprouted as bases of commerce and culture to serve surrounding populations of farmers working 160–320 acres each. In 1910, the average farm size in South Dakota was 335 acres. By 1947, it was 626 acres. The average farm size in South Dakota hit 1,000 acres by the 1970s. Average SD farm size in 2016 was 1,397 acres. Combine four-plus-fold increase in farm size with increases in productivity per farm worker, and the number of workers and families needed to raise crops and cows statewide is a small fraction of what it was a century ago. Unless there is a major “back to the land” movement of families seeking to raise their own food and sell their surplus locally, there will never again be enough farmers around Hecla, Zell, and Conde to support thriving local economies. Unless the market can come up with some other reason to move to those small towns, people aren’t going to move there, houses aren’t going to sell, and the current residents will be stuck with their property there until they die.

    Hey, instead of wrecking these houses on the taxpayers’ dime, perhaps GOED should strike some deal with Habitat for Humanity to salvage usable construction materials from those 3,800 dilapidated houses.

  10. Rorschach 2017-05-19 10:21

    I fully agree with your assessment, Nick. Owners should clean up their own property. But if they are elderly or poor they can’t do it. If there are immediate neighbors, the neighbors suffer varmint problems and decreased property value because of it.

    In the case of my inlaws, they will never tear down the dilapidated house their parents of one of them built where they grew up, or the other two dilapidated houses the departed parents worked so hard to acquire as rental properties. The cleanup will have to be forced on the inlaws or fall to the next generation at some later date. I’d do it right now myself if I had the green light, but I don’t.

  11. jerry 2017-05-19 12:23

    The question comes about as to how many folks would be interested in purchasing property in small South Dakota towns. I think one of the ways in which those can be marketed would be like mail boxes for those who want to come to the places for the warmer months and leave for the winter, just like the regular resident folks do in South Dakota now.

    While grandpa and grandma may have built the house of their dreams, those dreams are not the dreams of the current crop in line for the legacy. The run down property has no value in it whatsoever and that is why it is called dilapidated. By the time you had an electrician and plumber come in to get it up to code, you would have more invested in an un-insulated home with leaky windows and a drain field or septic system that was completely non workable. Slap a new roof on old leaky and you have invested much more than what a new home would cost. You can put up a modular or mobile home that is ready to live in for much less and you can then put that property back on the tax rolls as income for the town and the county. Tear it down, in this case, makes more sense. Go ahead on with your bad self Mr. Stern, your backhoe awaits.

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