La Crosse apartment proposal heads to city council as disagreements continue

Washburn neighbors upset with apartment proposal, La Crosse council members say city needs to act on affordable housing
5th Ave Housing Project

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – People in La Crosse’s Washburn neighborhood are worried a new apartment proposal could lead to more crime. The old Big Brothers Big Sisters building Fifth Avenue and Division Streets sits empty. The city denied a proposed 12 unit apartment complex last month, but Tuesday night’s Judiciary and Administration committee recommended its approval.

“This is providing high-density housing,” Aaron Wickesberg said, the president of Reliant Real Estate.

Reliant Real Estate would manage the property for the landlord. Wickesberg faces opposition from neighbors in the area who believe this apartment will attract more crime and drug traffic to their community. He disagrees with these neighbors’ reasoning.

“Not every single renter is slob, is a drug user, is an inconsiderate neighbor,” Wickesberg said.

A conversation with one neighbor he said struck a nerve.

“Ignorant and seemingly racist comments that he said to me on the phone today (Tuesday) makes me really wonder – is this neighborhood really ready for change,” Wickesberg said.

Kelly Becker lives a short walk’s distance from the building. She said her concerns are about the landlord’s ability to ensure safety in her neighborhood.

“It has nothing to do with anyone’s skin color,” Becker said. “It has nothing to do with making a scapegoat out of anyone.”

City Council member Martin Gaul said the city talks about creating affordable housing but doesn’t always follow through.

“We cannot advocate for affordable housing on a continual basis and each time one of these projects presents itself say no we can’t,” Gaul said.

Council member Christine Kahlow sided with the neighbors.

“One person who may be biased and racist does not label the entire neighborhood and all those residents in such a way,” Kahlow said.

Council member Gary Padesky aired his frustration with people’s assumptions of low-income renters.

“For people to assume that people who are having some problems in life and need lower-income housing are all going to be involved with drugs and everything else, I just think is sad,” Padesky said.

An empty, quiet building, with a loud presence from two sides who want different outcomes. The proposed $1.2 million project goes before La Crosse’s common council again next Thursday.

Wickesberg did reply to our request for a comment today. He said he’s committed to working with this neighborhood and said the concerns of these neighbors “couldn’t be further from reality.”