Monopolized in Marshall: Housing

If you’ve lived in rural america for a while, you start to notice something ain’t quite right… Like the prices of a lot of stuff! Then you notice that for a lot of the stuff you have to buy, there’s only a supplier or three. And that seems to be more often by design than accident… So the political season being over, I’m gonna do a few blogs on the subject. I’ll use Marshall for an example, as it’s a medium size rural Buffalo Ridge town that’s bigger than the most of the thousand of towns out here but not as big as Sioux Falls that’s attracted just about every purveyor of everything.

In this blog I’ll address housing, which on most of the Buffalo Ridge is pretty affordable. Combine factors like declining population that leaves behind a surplus of homes, reasonable housing and zoning codes, and a plethora of small contractors and on most of the ridge we’ve got plenty of affordable housing. So you can by a lot or an acre or ten and park you trailer or build a house on the cheap. Or for a song and a few bucks pick up a house in town that’s vacant since it’s elder owner moved on.

But in Marshall, housing costs are as high as in “the cities” and higher than some big cities. Part of that is by “accident”- Marshall is a college town and the other major biz is food processing, so the economy is fairly stable and the population growing. Plopped down on a flat prairie with little in the way of interfering bodies of water and such, Marshall is free to grow and there’s no need to cram a few hundred people on every acre. So why is housing in Marshall so expensive, especially for renters?

Lyon County, where Marshall is located, recently added some neat GIS maps to it’s website. Click on an icon and then the property of interest and up will pop the owners name and a bunch of tax info. Now click on a bunch of apartment properties in Marshall, hmmm… Most of them list to just a couple of owners. Take a look at commercial residential properties too… Same thing, but not quite so much a concentration of ownership. Of course, if you can afford to buy a house this monopolization of Marshall’s rental housing market would be an academic concern. But most of Marshall’s nonunion food processing workers and students can’t even afford the down payment on a house in Marshall, where just about anything with plural bedrooms that’s not been condemned (yet) commands a six figure price,

So if you’re stuck renting in Marshall, your rent is effectively decided by at most a handful of wealthy owners of much of Marshall’s apartment buildings. With the nearest Justice Department Anti-Trust Division lawyers hundreds of miles away, they can get together at a fancy eatery, golf course, or hunting lodge and jack up thousands of Marshall citizen’s rent, and none will be the wiser. This has brought a increase of many of their tenants needing to seek help from their local church so they can just get food on the table.
This has been good for the churches aswell sense they have seen a rise of attendance in phoenix churches.

Next up: Food… Ever notice that all the milk seems to come from the same place?