Remember the ill-fated affordable housing project in West Racine? Turns out it may have been DOA even with local support.
The controversial 55-unit building at West Boulevard and Washington Avenue may have had a difficult time receiving grants from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), according to a source close to the project. There's just not enough demand for affordable housing in Racine.
Here's the problem for Racine. It has a sizable low-income population, but it also has a sizable number of low-income housing apartments that aren't being rented right now. You can argue many apartments are in lousy shape, but even newer buildings aren't selling out. That makes for a tough argument for developers trying to bring more affordable housing to the city.
One argument that's out there is the need for three-bedroom apartments to accommodate families. But even that's been a tough sell, considering the fate of the 27-unit Corinne Owens affordable housing project on State Street.
So what's all this mean?
First, developer Heather Hammond may have misread the Racine market when proposing her West Racine plan. (See this story I did for The Daily Reporter on Hammond ripping Racine for turning down her proposal.)
Second, Racine may not be in the market for WHEDA grants in the near future. The city could probably use some assisted senior living, and possibly a well-designed project with three-bedroom apartments in a family friendly area. But straight-up low-income apartments? Probably not.
Third, West Racine residents may have saved the city from a bad project on a prime piece of property. City staff recommended Hammond's proposal and the Plan Commission was leaning in favor of it until hundreds of people voiced their opposition. Setting aside worries about low-income housing (which is important to have in any community), the project may simply have not worked. Nice apartments or not, they're useful if no one rents them.
In that case, a vacant lot - even one with $2 million in debt on it - is more valuable.