City leaders celebrate neighborhood revitalization milestone

City leaders and community organizers are celebrating the construction of 13 homes in target neighborhoods for revitalization. Officials hope that the new houses in the Powell-Poage-Hamiliton and Washburn neighborhoods will help solve some of the problems happening in these areas.

Since the 1990s, the city has tried to tear down dilapidated homes and replace them with new ones, however, they were only able to complete two or three each year. With partnerships in the private sector, they’ve been able to significantly increase that number to turn the neighborhoods around.

In 2013, the mayor, La Crosse Common Council and other partners pledged to make revitalization a top priority.

“Obviously they took that charge very seriously,” said La Crosse City Mayor Tim Kabat during a tour of a new property on Farnum Street.

Kabat says there was a large amount of deteriorating housing stock in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton and Washburn areas.

“These were also the neighborhoods that have issues with, whether it’s code enforcement or complaints [of] crime issues,” Kabat said.

Kabat says there have been other initiatives like stepping up code enforcement and increased street lighting to improve safety.

“We have a comprehensive approach. The housing piece is one big part of that,” Kabat said.

Council member Phil Ostrem says this housing boom is critical to bringing new families to the area.

“We need an injection of new life. We need younger people in this neighborhood and this is providing that,” Ostrem said.

To incentivize people to come to the area, the non-profit La Crosse Promise is offering up to $50,000 worth of scholarship aid to anyone buying or significantly renovating homes in the neighborhoods.

“We have families who don’t have kids but they may intend to use those scholarship dollars to further their education,” said Brian Liesinger, executive director for La Crosse Promise.

Other private sector business have stepped up to the challenge. Wied Investments, which is finishing construction on the property at 943 Farnam Street, is also working on another property just a few doors down.

“Looking at other lots in the area and what was going on the area, we really thought it was a great opportunity not just for us as a business but the neighborhood in general.”

For Delores Spies, who has also bought seven properties under the initiative, this was personal.

“I grew up on 9th and Ferry. So, it’s nice to see it coming back all new again,” Spies said.

In order to be eligible for La Crosse Promise scholarships, applicants must build or be the first occupants of a new single-family home within the two neighborhoods. The family would contribute a minimum of $150,000 toward the project, according to the non-profit’s website.

The total maximum lifetime scholarship for an individual student is $25,000. The maximum lifetime amount awarded to a La Crosse Promise Build Family is $50,000.

More on the steps to start an application can be found here.