For more than a century, the Garfield building in north Rapid City served as a schoolhouse, but today, different lessons are being learned there: the lessons of homeownership.

In 2012, plans began for what’s now known as the Garfield Green Project, a mixed-income, mixed-housing development. The school itself would be converted into 12-unit apartment building while eight, single-family “Habitat for Humanity” homes would be constructed beside it.

I had the opportunity to tour the campus this January and was absolutely blown away. Of course, the school was beautifully redone into contemporary apartments, and the single-family homes, built primarily by volunteers, were lined with new appliances and large closets. But what stuck with me most was the sense of community.

I got to meet soon-to-be-homeowners Valeriah and Tera during my visit. They’ll be neighbors in two of the Habitat homes. Both are moms, working hard to support their families, and both had seen homeownership as too high a financial hill without the support of Habitat. Now, they’ll each have mortgages designed with their financial situations in mind.

Many South Dakotans are in a similar position to Valeriah and Tera. Despite South Dakota’s relatively low cost of living, finding affordable housing can still be a challenge for low- and middle-income families. That makes it no surprise that there are 120 families on the waiting list for Habitat Homes. But projects, like Garfield Green, help.

Unfortunately, overreaching government regulations can make it more difficult to keep the cost of these homes low. For instance, appraisals can cost more than $1,000 and are required for a mortgage. Some appraisers offered to donate their services to non-profit charity groups, but found such a donation was a violation of the federal Dodd-Frank Act. Habitat for Humanity explained the regulation made it difficult to provide “responsible homeownership opportunities to families” as you couldn’t get affordable access to bank mortgages. This was one of the issues Black Hills Habitat for Humanity discussed with me.

The week after I visited the Garfield Green Project, I was thrilled to help the House pass H.R.2255, the Housing Opportunities Made Easier (HOME) Act. If enacted, this legislation would simply allow mortgage appraisal services to be donated by fee appraisers to non-profit organizations.

In response to the bipartisan legislation’s passage, Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International explained: “This bill will help us keep affordable housing affordable… By ensuring that professional appraisers are also able to volunteer their services, this legislation will help keep loan origination fees low for new homebuyers. That’s good news for people buying Habitat homes, and it’s good news for the more than 1,300 local Habitat organizations across the nation that will be able to use the savings to build, rehabilitate and repair more homes.”

We absolutely need more options for low- and middle-income housing in South Dakota. Not only do families need it, but it’s also difficult to recruit businesses that want to hire people if there’s not housing available. While I’m eager to work on more in this area, I’m confident that in repealing this regulation, we take a step forward, expanding homeownership opportunities for hardworking South Dakotans. 

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