Housing Corsica's new future

Developers of the town's long-awaited new housing development believe it could solve decades of population stagnation.

Luke Bamberg in front of his house, located on Van't Ness Drive in Corsica, S.D. The neighborhood is part of the new Corsica housing district that is being built by Jeremy Jensen and Jamie Rexwinkel.
Kai Englisch / The Mitchell Republic

CORSICA, S.D. — In front of a blue single-story home, on the edge of freshly trimmed grass, Luke Bamberg’s John Deere riding lawn mower sits on a neatly kept light-gray stone driveway.

A driveway that's been his since 2019. Bamberg waited years to be able to say that.

For others who share the same dream of owning a home in the small town, waiting won't be necessary.

Bamberg is a resident of Van’t Haaff Drive, a neighborhood situated in Corsica’s newest housing development that has been rapidly growing over the last few years on the southern outskirts of town. The development that began decades ago is the culmination of its developers' attempt to solve the small town’s housing bottleneck, which they believe has significantly contributed to its larger issues of long-term population stagnation and decline.

By building an array of homes, developers Jamie Rexwinkel and Jeremy Jensen hope the community will bring in new citizens, business, and property taxes – a ripple effect of changes that could lead to a new future for Corsica.


The effect has been immediate. With duplexes and triplexes included, the development's 29 residential units are already housing 26 families, according to housing plans provided by Jensen, a Mitchell-based contractor, who is an integral part of the project. Three more houses are currently being negotiated on. And those 26 families? They have 25 kids in all.

Those are significant numbers for a town of 583 people with a school district that had a graduating class of 23 students last year.

Bamberg is one of those people. He's a banker by trade, but a local at heart. After playing basketball at Dakota Wesleyan University in 2015, his dream was to own a home in the town he grew up in. It's been a dream of his since graduating from Corsica High School in 2011.

But upon moving back to Corsica in 2015, it took him years to find the home due to no houses being available that he was interested in. That has since changed, thanks to the ongoing development.

“I had wanted to move back ever since I left and went to school at Dakota Wesleyan," Bamberg said. "It’s been a dream of mine to come back here, to my parents, and live in the two. It’s the kind of thing where you have a good experience, good associations with a place, a good community, and you want your family to experience that. But when we wanted to come back, we found that there just weren’t any houses available.”

Corsica has long dealt with a shortage of homes.

The problem stemmed from houses rarely getting built. As a local construction developer and a longtime citizen of Corsica, Rexwinkel knows how slow things were on the housing front. In the 15 years before Bamberg moved in, between 2005 and 2019, there were only 17 houses built in Corsica, according to records provided by the Douglas County Planning and Zoning office. That equates to about one home going up per year. Before that, Rexwinkel estimates construction was even slower — one new house was built every two years.

Jaime Rexwinkel, pictured with his truck in front of Corisca-Stickney high school. Rexwinkel owns a construction company that specializes in concrete, and is involved with the effort to build houses in Corsica.
Kai Englisch / The Mitchell Republic

“I know there was a time where nobody built [in town] for five years. I received many calls over the years, asking if we had any lots available for development,” said Rexwinkel, whose number was on the housing development sign that prospective buyers would call.


The housing shortage stifled the growth of the town and prevented people from moving in. Rewinkel said that for many years he had to turn people away as a result of the lack of building projects.

“I had to tell many people no, we’re not building anything,” he said.

Many of those people were like Bamberg — people who wanted to move back to Corsica after growing up there but couldn't due to the housing shortage.

“Many times people [had been] moving out of town for college…and the problem they face[d] is that they [couldn’t] get back into town,” Rexwinkel said. “There [was] nowhere to buy a house. There just [haven’t been] enough houses available.”

That's why Bamberg rented out a place in town with his wife for three years. Although it wasn’t optimal he said, he decided to stick it out because he was determined to own a home in Corsica one day. It's something that many like him have done.

But in terms of staying power for keeping people in town long-term, having a town comprised of renters is not a solution, Rexwinkel said.

“When you don't own the property, you don't have that permanent foundation that makes you really have roots in the area. When people buy a home, that's what makes them set up shop in town, that's what makes them stay. When they're part of a community," Rexwinkel said. "When people rent, a lot of times they're here for a bit, then they're gone just as quick as you can bat an eye."

The housing shortage has had consequences. Between 1990 and 2022, the population of Corsica has declined from 689 citizens to 563, according to data by the US Census Bureau. The housing shortage has been a big cause of that, Rewxinkel said.


In 2005, Rexwinkel tried to change things by buying and developing the land that is now the new Corsica Housing District. Jamie and others had laid the groundwork under many of the properties — installing plumbing, sewage, and electricity as well.

But progress would stall. By the time Luke moved back in 2015, only eight of the planned 40 houses had been built.

In 2016, the properties were sold to a private developer.

“At that time, we got a new mayor, and he wanted to shake things up,” Rexwinkel said. “Some people who ended up on the board didn't have as much enthusiasm or know-how about construction and housing development. After key people who were driving the project got rotated off the board, we lost momentum. So we decided to sell [the development] to a private developer since there wasn’t much happening."

After the land was sold, the properties would be developed over time. Four would be built over the next four years. It was during that time that Bamberg bought his house.

“In 2019, I heard through Facebook that a former Corsica school teacher was changing school districts and selling her house," Bamberg said. “We jumped at the chance.”
Just the style of the home with a bedroom bathroom was the kind that you can comfortably raise a family in.
He and his wife were living in the home in June.

A revival of the project

In 2022, things took a turn when Jensen stepped in with worn cowboy boots and a determination to build homes. After the Corsica development corporation bought back the properties in 2021, they doled them out to developers. Jensen bought four lots in April 2022.

Over the next six months, he built four homes in the new housing development. To date, ten houses have been built in the last two years by Jensen and other individuals, which is more than the entire town saw in the last decade.


Jensen is a regional developer who has been working on a wave of housing developments in towns across South Dakota. Besides Corsica, he has projects in Chamberlain, Gregory, Burke, Huron and Aberdeen.

But he isn't just building houses. For Bamberg and Rexwinkel, and many others who live in the neighborhood, it goes beyond the physical houses – they’re building a community. It’s a place for people to grow the sense of “roots” that drew them back to the town in the first place.

“A place like this is really all about growing roots, ” Rexwinkel said. “When you have kids playing outside, when you have an old shed where everyone marks their heights every year, everyone comes back and says ‘Oh hey look! You’ve grown … this much,’ — that’s the kind of stuff that holds a community in place. That‘s what makes people want to stick around and say ‘Hey, this is a good place to raise my kids.’"

"There’s one guy here, the meanest, grouchiest farmer in the tri-state area, but you know what? He could’ve moved anywhere else by now, like Gregory, or anywhere else,” Rexwinkel said, gesturing to a man getting out of a rusted blue pickup truck. “But if you ask him, the reason why he’s stayed is because of all this, the community. Here, he can see his kids, his grand-kids, maybe even his great grand-kids grow up.”

As the sun sets low over the horizon, bathing the placid, freshly paved streets in warm shades of orange and gold, the future looks bright for Corsica. Neighbors chat, a cool breeze blows and wind chimes echo. A man and his wife talk to their son in their driveway. Asphalt crunches, as a little girl rides her pink plastic tricycle up the street.

Rexwinkel hopes the development work he's been steering can attract those same kids back to Corsica in the future. Jensen and Rexwinkel's mission to continue building homes has the future of the community looking bright.

5-2-23CorsicaHousingDevelopment-1 (1).jpg
Houses located on Van't Ness Drive in Corsica, S.D. The neighborhood is part of the new Corsica housing district that is being built by Jeremy Jensen and Jaime Rexwinkel.<br/><br/>
Kai Englisch / The Mitchell Republic

Kai Englisch joined The Mitchell Republic in 2023, where he currently works as a general assignment reporter covering the greater Mitchell area. Englisch graduated from St. John's College in 2022, receiving a B.A. in Liberal Arts. He speaks German and conversational Spanish.
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