Shireen Ranschau: Battling Homelessness Amid Prosperity

The city of Sioux Falls has perhaps the strongest economy in South Dakota. Unemployment, about 3.0 percent, is less than half the national average. Job growth has been steady for three decades, a number of national companies have set up shop in Sioux Falls, and new neighborhoods blossom around the edges of the city.

You would think that such a booming economy would have little need for affordable housing programs. Not true, said Shireen Ranschau of the Sioux Falls Housing and Redevelopment Commission. She's been with the agency for three decades and now serves as its executive director. "Our biggest concern is affordability. We are a growing community, so jobs are not generally the problem, however, for someone working full-time making less than $13 an hour, the average two-bedroom apartment can be out of reach," Ranschau said. Service workers, entry level workers, the elderly and people with disabilities frequently struggle to find affordable housing in Sioux Falls.

In recent years, low vacancy rates and the loss of traditional housing that was deemed substandard by the city of Sioux Falls, pushed market rents higher and that makes affordable housing programs more important than ever, Ranschau commented.

Among the programs utilized by Sioux Falls Housing is the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, which subsidizes rent for people living in privately-operated apartments and rental homes. But, she said, the waiting list for people trying to get into that program can be four to five years.

To supplement traditional housing assistance programs, Ranschau and her staff also administer the Shelter Plus Care Program, which provides rental assistance for hard-to-serve homeless people with disabilities. Southeastern Behavioral Healthcare provides the case management and healthcare services, and Sioux Falls Housing provides the housing. "Once they get a permanent home, they can be more stable," Ranschau said.

Ranschau has been particularly focused on developments that combat homelessness in Sioux Falls. The city's economic success, ironically, has exacerbated the problem of homelessness. She said people move to Sioux Falls from across the country because jobs are available. Yet when they get here, they're confronted by a housing crunch. They end up paying as much as half of their income for housing, crowding several people into a small apartments or even living in cars.

By partnering with SDHDA and utilizing programs such as HOME, Neighborhood Stabilization, Housing Tax Credits and Continuum of Care funding, Sioux Falls Housing is able to address affordable housing, one person at a time.