While conferences and workshops are frequently offered by all types of organizations and industries, opportunities to truly engage with others by sharing success stories and best practices are comparatively rare.
Every year since 2018, Dakota Resources’ Learning Network program hosts quarterly events known as Thriverr Gatherings. Although our Thriverr Gatherings share some commonalities with a typical conference or workshop, we’ve spent years designing these events to cultivate regular and consistent collaboration and connection for our members.
One Thriverr Gathering in particular each year focuses on housing. At these gatherings, we bring together community leaders and housing resource partners not simply to talk or learn about housing initiatives, but to collaborate and share tangible solutions to rural housing challenges in real time.
The welcome check-in at this year’s Housing Gathering in Chamberlain, SD.
The Housing Gathering’s Structure: The Reverse RFP
Over the years, Dakota Resources has cultivated relationships with resource providers who are doing the important work of expanding housing opportunities in South Dakota, including Homes are Possible, Inc. and the South Dakota Housing Authority, among others. By bringing resource partners together with community leaders to communicate and collaborate together at Thriverr Gatherings, we’re redefining the traditional conference or workshop model in favor of facilitating fruitful discussions and strategic partnerships that endure well beyond the confines of one event.
According to Tom Farber, a community leader and housing advocate from Britton, South Dakota, the fruits of participating in gatherings like these come in the form of making connections to resources and building relationships.
“Part of the problem with large projects like housing in small communities is a lack of knowledge of what resources are available to help,” Farber said. “That’s what Dakota Resources does so well; they pair projects with resources. It’s important to go to gatherings like these to get fresh ideas. You never know what you’re going to pick up that you can take back and apply in your community.”
One key component of the Housing Gathering is a reverse Request for Proposals (RFP), which is an opportunity for participants to connect 1:1 with resource providers who can assist them in creating a plan to move forward. Participants are encouraged to bring forth housing ideas that they are dreaming about or are working on for their community. Resource providers and experienced housing developers then “pitch” how they can help make the project happen. Sometimes, that means being a part of the financing or construction; other times, that means answering questions.
“The connections that community leaders make during the reverse RFP process help them take the next step with their project,” said Dakota Resources’ Mike Knutson. “They discover people who have done the work before and are willing to help them. They discover information that they didn’t know they needed to know, and they also find partners who help make their projects realities.”
What’s exciting about the Housing Gathering is that the collaborations and conversations that take place have sparked the development of housing solutions in many rural communities, including Tripp, South Dakota.
Tripp’s Story: 2021 Housing Gathering Sparks New Home Build, Sale
In July 2021, after a few “scary community moments,” including the closure of a nursing home and a grocery store in his community, long-time Tripp resident and community leader Caleb Finck decided to attend the Housing Gathering.
“At the time, the Tripp Development Corporation started digging into the core of what we as a community needed to work on, and we kept coming back to the lack of new housing available in town,” Finck said. “Plus, the existing housing in Tripp was small in square footage, and some were in a dilapidated state. I went to the Housing Gathering with the idea to find something that we realistically could tackle; we at the Development Corp had never made housing happen before.”
During the Reverse RFP process at the 2021 Housing Gathering, which took place in Centerville that year, Finck connected with Jeff Mitchell from Homes Are Possible Inc., in Aberdeen, who shared blueprints for smaller, slab-on-grade, villa-style homes that were relatively inexpensive to build. Other participants shared cost estimates for building homes like this, and Amy Eldridge from the South Dakota Housing Authority helped to brainstorm financing options through the Housing Opportunity Fund. The progress made at this gathering left Finck feeling hopeful about expanding housing options in Tripp.
Tripp Development Corporation built the first house in Tripp, SD in several decades. Photo courtesy of Caleb Finck.
“I came away from that Housing Gathering pretty excited that housing development was not a far-fetched idea for Tripp to take on,” Finck said. “I would never have made the connections and built the relationships had I not been at the Housing Gathering.”
Things took off quickly from there; the Development Corporation board in Tripp approved a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom home build – the first new home in Tripp in decades – the day after the Housing Gathering wrapped up, and the board worked tirelessly to submit their application for the Housing Opportunity Fund financing quickly. Whenever the project hit a roadblock, Finck turned to the Thriverr network. He’d join and ask questions at one of the weekly Virtual Coffee Breaks, or he found resources and answers on the Thriverr platform.
In January of 2023, the new home was sold to a Tripp native, the culmination of multiple years of work, and community leaders like Finck are already looking toward the future. The Development Corporation has acquired two dilapidated properties and has finished removing these structures, leaving two empty and build-ready lots, which is helpful for community appeal. In addition, building duplexes, triplexes, and governor’s homes are all potential projects on the table for the future.
What’s most exciting? The housing market in Tripp has completely changed in the past two years. Finck says that two other homes, in addition to the Development Corporation’s home build project, were built in 2022, and another one is coming soon. Multiple homes for sale in Tripp have also changed hands within weeks of hitting the market, and housing appraisals have more than doubled.
“I’m hopeful that 2024 brings about another home build and another sale,” Finck said.