News 8 Investigates – Dorm Gap part 2

Crowded college campuses push thousands of students into La Crosse neighborhoods looking for a place to live.

The population of La Crosse took a significant jump as thousands of college students moved into the city this month. The majority of those students need a place to live off campus creating a high demand for rental properties.

Here is a look at the number of full time students in the fall of 2015 at the three local colleges in La Crosse, and how many beds are available:

Fall 2015 FT Enrollment Dorm Capacity UW-La Crosse 9,600 (grad/undergrad) 3,555 Viterbo 1,384 (undergrad) 695 Western 1,922 200

Quiet neighborhoods surround the hustle and bustle of busy college life at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Thousands of these busy students walk to their rented homes and apartments within those La Crosse neighborhoods.

“They’re a good part of our community. I like having them in town,” said La Crosse resident Ken Hanson.

But the lifestyle of a college student can sometimes differ from the lifestyle of families.

“Our neighborhood was all families and one house went to rental,” said La Crosse resident Kimberlee Chavalas. “And we’ve seen how that’s changed with them not taking care of property, liking parties and loud noise, and not being considerate of neighbors. And so that’s been tough.”

The owner of a La Crosse rental company believes his newest development could be a win-win for students and the community.

“I think the obvious solution is high density,” said Marvin Wanders, owner of 360 Real Estate Solutions.

Wander’s company is building a 58-unit apartment complex that will house 170 people. The building project called Aguilera was announced earlier this month, and will be built next to UW-La Crosse’s campus.

“When you’re trapped between a river and bluff, you really need to be focused on density and redevelopment,” said Wanders.

This project by 360 Real Estate Solutions, along with others popping up around the local colleges, are examples of this concept.

“So, this project basically took eight old homes. We’re re-developing it. There was $14,000 in tax base. When we’re completed, there’s going to be $150,000 in tax base… significant increase,” said Wanders. “And we’re adding community-based neighborhood amenities with a cafe and a fitness center. That adds real value to the community.”

“We’re seeing more and more of that,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. “The Hive is another example where they combined the first-floor commercial space with the upper levels with residential units.”

The mayor and some local developers believe this type of housing can also help pull some students out of residential neighborhoods.

“It’s a common sense thing to think that if we can start to create a higher demand back in the campus areas with higher densities that are attractive in the marketplace and that meet those students’ needs, we will see the migration come back toward the campus area,” said Kabat.

If that happens, the concept could drive down the need for so many homes to be converted to student rental properties in surrounding neighborhoods, opening up the possibility to revitalize parts of the community.

“If it does pull people out of neighborhoods, that allows for those neighborhoods to be redeveloped,” said Wanders. “At some point, you have to take that property out of service because some of it, with candor, was built at a much different time. Very small, boxes, if you will, that don’t accommodate the needs of today’s society.”

But how many of these high-density housing complexes can La Crosse sustain?

“You’re raising a very good point, and what is the right balance,” said Kabat. “I think we’re still on the building side of the equation. So, I haven’t heard the cautions or concerns about adding too much density at this point.”

For now, the new building projects will continue to move forward providing student housing closer to campus, which some residents look forward too.

“We love our neighborhood, and we love having kids in our neighborhood, but we respect that not everybody lives the same,” said Chavalas.