Finally a body of government has figured out TIF’s are a joke and just a handout to developers;

The Cass County Commission on Wednesday, July 5, rejected a developer’s request for public funding to finance the redevelopment of a property near Island Park, a financial boost that was already approved by the Fargo City Commission just last week.

The Fargo City Commission actually approved the TIF with only one dissenter, and he was doozy;

The project itself is a fine idea, Strand said, but he questioned if the city should be financially supporting it.

“I just don’t know if it’s our job as a city to partner to do that,” Strand said. “I just don’t know that’s our role, or what we should be doing… there’s lots of folks buying properties, remodeling and demolishing, but they don’t always come to us to have a 300,000 dollar investment in that.

Unlike Sioux Falls where the counties and school board just rubberstamp the city’s TIF proposals, Cass County said, NO WAY!

Strand is correct, it is NOT the responsibility of taxpayers to help fund condos. Maybe Sioux Falls needs to learn this. Just a few years ago we gave out over $50 million in TIF’s for attached parking garages to condos. While the developers are seeing millions in tax breaks and benefits there is very little ROI for taxpayers.

I actually wouldn’t be against TIFs if they helped with affordable housing and were much shorter;

“Coming at this with $300,000 (taxpayer) dollars for five units, the math for me is not even close to working,” Peterson said, adding he’d support a cheaper, five year TIF for the project.

That is what often cracks me up about TIFs, they last so long there really isn’t an ROI for taxpayers. By the time the TIF expires the property has probably changed hands a few times and the developers of the project are laughing all the way to the bank.

Yes, that is the daily rent, for the month it will cost you $5,950. I purchased my home 20 years ago, before I bought the house the rent I paid for a nice 1-bedroom behind U-Haul in Pettigrew Heights was $350 a month which included gas and garbage service. For $5,950 a month you could pay a mortgage on a 1 million dollar home. You can rent a decent hotel room in Sioux Falls for about $100 a night. Heck even Hotel Phillips only 2 blocks from this loft charges between $140-$220 a night. An VRBO or Air BNB is even cheaper. This 3 bedroom short term rental in McKennan Park will run you about $162 a night. Even if you had 3 people renting the loft, they would still have to pay $2,000 a month in rent. In fact what you would pay for rent in a year for this place ($70K+) was more then the original purchase price of my home.

Normally I wouldn’t give two rips about what a wealthy property owner/developer in DTSF charges for rent, I’m a free market person and if they can get that kind of ‘rent’ money, good for you. Where I take issue is that this building received a facade easement grant* (basically the city gives private developers money to fix up their historical facades with little oversight). I asked a councilor recently if the half-Inch faux brick that they glued on the front of Lucky’s facade was considered historic? Faux brick has been a trend lately, but I still think it looks fake. I thought one of the requirements of historic restoration was for it to be actually historic, you know, like the fiberglass bulstrades on the Pavilion’s new roof.

Besides the atrocious monthly rent, this really doesn’t make the city look very good when they are handing out TIFs for condo parking ramps and facade grants DTSF but on the other hand are promoting(?) affordable and accessible housing.

*The facade easement program was mysteriously and suddenly re-instated by the urging of Central District Councilor Curt Soehl. No surprise the 1st recipients for the grants were the former campaign treasurer for Soehl (for the 9th and Grange coffee shop that he is restoring) and the investment group that owns the Lucky’s loft who has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor TenHaken and his various supported candidates. The program is nothing but a pay to play payback to these campaign contributors. The program was originally ended because there really is NO need for taxpayers to be propping up these private developers.

The city really needs to get out of the wealthy developer welfare program business and start incentivizing affordable housing DTSF with programs that help build housing density while focusing on the individual property and small rental owners. Instead the city’s solution is to build slab on grade tract homes in a cornfield in Southern Brandon. Even a chicken playing tic-tac-toe is smarter than that.

UPDATE: In 2017 Rapid City used a very small TIF to support affordable housing (H/T Mike Zitterich). It was 5 years ago, but for a $26,500 TIF the developer was able to build 5 Town Homes – the cheapest with the price tag of $109K. Even with inflationary adjustments, that same place would only be about $130-150K today. It was built on a blighted empty lot.

We could legally do this in the core of the city, and we could do it for multiple properties.

Here is a video of the project;

Well we know the answer to that question when it came to the Bunker Ramp, but have we learned from that experience? Apparently not;

A planned housing development backed by a first-of-its-kind tax break from Sioux Falls City Hall is on track despite market uncertainty placing challenges on the project developer.

The Sioux Falls City Council in mid-October awarded a $2.1 million tax increment financing package to Nielson Construction in support of a 65-unit residential development. In exchange, the company promised to sell the home at “accessible” pricing that reflects first-time homebuyer levels.

But an email sent days later by the company to dozens of its vendors and subcontractors alerting them of cash flow issues raised questions about whether the project would happen.

“Unfortunately, with that, cash flow is short and there is going to be some delays on being paid for invoicing,” the correspondence read. “We promise that we will pay you for work completed but getting that payment in a timely manner like you are accustomed to won’t be the same.”

I was made aware of this email over a week ago and was also aware that Joe and Jon were digging around on it. While all businesses seem to endure some cash flow issues from time to time, you wonder what kind of financial vetting the city did? If any? Maybe the director of finance is too busy running multiple departments?

Mayor Paul TenHaken’s chief of staff, Erica Beck, said Tuesday that City Hall isn’t concerned that Nielson won’t be able to deliver on the project. The city is not on the hook if it doesn’t happen though, either, she said.

“We have no reason at this time to be concerned with Mr. (Kelly) Nielson’s ability to advance the project in which he was approved for tax increment financing,” she said. “Additionally, it is important to note that this is a developer funded TIF, meaning he is using private financing to fund the project.  There is no financial risk to the city.”  

Yes there is! If the city is using the TIF to build up infrastructure in the affected development, and the developer bails after the infrastructure is in place and before a house is built, we would be on the hook as taxpayers for it, just like the unfinished Bunker Ramp.

With all the six figure+ staff we have working for the city, you would think we could get at least one of them to do credit checks for these projects.

Besides being tipped off about the email, I was also told that Nielson construction was the ONLY developer willing to do this project. It wasn’t a matter of the city vetting multiple construction companies and multiple ideas and sites (like building density in the core) but a matter of picking the cheapest beer on the lowest shelf.

It would be enlightening to see if any councilors ask the planning department if anyone else bid on this project.

Greg decided to vote against the project because he questions the state legality of the TIF,

Sioux Falls attorney Brendan Reilly, retained by the city as independent counsel to advise it on TIF legalities, told the Council that its members have “wide discretion” about what qualifies for a TIF. And though state law prohibits TIF funds from directly paying for the construction of housing structures, the tax incentive program can be used for infrastructure directly related to housing.

Councilor Greg Neitzert, the lone dissenting vote, said he struggled to square state law that prohibits TIFs from being used to subsidize housing with the request coming from the mayor’s office.

I think the bigger question is NOT legality, I think it is legal, but TIF definitions are so wide that this would have given the council the authority to deny it. I just don’t see this benefitting lower income people in housing. Will it help people? Sure. But it does nothing to build density and bring the core back up to snuff and address our housing crisis. We can do this thru community development loans and federal grants and don’t have to issue ONE SINGLE TIF.

While I support Greg’s NO vote, his reasoning misses the mark.

Ever since the Reagan administration introduced trickle-down economics governments across our country have experimented with it. It simply doesn’t work. The concept is that if you give tax breaks to the very top it somehow will help the ones below in better jobs and housing. In fact it has done the opposite, expanding the wealth gap.

The cat was let out of the bag during this interview yesterday that the TIF sponsored housing development in SW Brandon was depending on the tired old broken system of trickle-down;

Meanwhile, Karl Fulmer, the executive director of Affordable Housing Solutions in Sioux Falls, told DNN that these TIF-paid city developments are an effective way of addressing affordable housing.

“The benefit of just building more houses in the $250,000 to $400,000 range still provides the unit, and you can see the transition out of more affordable units from those who might make enough to buy homes in that price range”, Fulmer said.

In other words, these new houses in new “accessible housing” developments actually are not for those most struggling to find affordable housing the most. They are far those who bought smaller, older “starter houses” in town that cost less than $250,000 and are ready to move out of them.

The true affordable housing comes in those starter houses. And the more new “accessible” houses funded by city TIFs that are built, the more those older, smaller houses become available to lower income people.

[insert laughter]

If you speak with anyone in the real estate business they will tell you that these homes are usually owned by lower income people, families, retired folks or rental property, they are not the Jeffersons moving on up. And even if what he was saying was true, most of the homes being sold in this development will go to NEW homeowners not people looking for a step up. In fact, I have argued that many of the starter homes in the lower price range (mostly in the core of the city) have more square feet and bigger yards (and basements) than what these new homes will have.

A better approach would be addressing the housing crisis we have with the people who are having the crisis;

Pat Starr, who represents the northeast district, also told Dakota News Now on Monday that city government is continuing to “dig a hole” by continuing to dig literal holes to build homes partly funded in part by Tax Increment Financing (TIFs).

“We need to talk about the real causes of the housing issues in our city rather than trying to put a band-aid and build 65 houses, which is what this program will do.” Starr said.”

“It’s not the program I’m concerned as much about as as I am figuring out who we’re trying to help. And, it seems to me we have a wage issue more than we have a housing issue.”

We must be giving a helping hand to those who are at the bottom first to lift the other boats. The city has decades long programs in place including low interest Community Development loans and grants. We also need to upgrade the existing infrastructure in our core such as streets and lighting. We can do all this using existing money in our 2nd penny and Federal dollars.

The president of Sioux Metro Growth Alliance, which helps people with payment on houses in rural and suburban communities surrounding Sioux Falls, disagrees.

“If you look at wage growth around the country and in the Sioux Falls market in the last three years, it’s been astronomical,” Jesse Fonkert said.

While wages have increased in SF, inflation and housing costs have been beyond astronomical and have wiped away any wage increases.

But Fonkert does agree with Starr’s assessment that continuing these city-funded housing projects is not solving the affordable housing crisis.

“It’s a challenging situation, because if you spend too much money on government programming, you’ll have companies that will just hike their prices up,” Fonkert said.

Notice the Sioux Steel District and Cherapa II projects didn’t announce they were building hundreds of units of affordable housing after receiving a combined TIF payout of $50 million. Developers will always go where the money is, and that is how a FREE market system works. But tax rebates for parking ramps attached to condos isn’t fixing anything it’s just making that wealth gap larger.