December 22, 2009

Racine likely to get $1.4 million to help neighborhoods; But where to spend?

The city of Racine is line for another $1.4 million to buy old homes and refurbish or demolish and rebuild them. The contentious question heading into 2010 is what old homes to buy?

Members of the City Council's Finance Committee previewed a future debate Monday night by questioning the strategy of targeting government money to a specific neighborhood in hopes of dramatically improving an area.

Alderman Mike Shields questioned city plans to focus on the neighborhood south of Downtown at the expense of other areas. "If we continue to build on the south side, we're going to have other areas suffer," he said.

Alderman Terry McCarthy backed Shields. "His advice is well taken," he said.

At issue is the complicated process of trying to maximize the effect of state and federal money in a city that has needs in all directions and neighborhoods. Clearly the central city, or Riverview, as the Mayor likes to call it, has the most distressed homes in the city. But the foreclosure crisis has hit neighborhoods hard throughout Racine.

The policy decision then becomes do you target poor neighborhoods in hopes of making significant improvements? Or do you go into poor or even wealthy neighborhoods and root out problem properties before they spread?

Without getting into specifics, I have family living in a traditionally middle class neighborhood in the city that happens to be in Shields' district. Three neighboring homes are in foreclosure or on their way into foreclosure, and two more are for sale. If you go down the block, another 5-10 homes are for sale. It's clearly an area on the edge. Sadly, this is just one block in a city with high unemployment in an economy with little hope of turning around in the next five years.

The $1.4 million that's available to the city is part of a surprise $6 million pot of state money. (WHEDA returned $4 million to the state it didn't need and the Department of Commerce had $2 million set aside for this type of program.)

Heck said the $1.4 million allows the city to buy 10 homes and refurbish eight of them; The other two would be demolished and rebuilt. The city is also using $1.9 million in federal stimulus money to buy another 14 rundown homes to refurbish or demolish. That gives city development two dozen opportunities to pull a problem home off the market, and, in theory, turn it around into an owner-occupied property.

Shields argued Monday night city development should look throughout Racine to find the problem properties, rather than focus on one pre-selected area. But Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II pointed out a targeted approach can work. He lives in the West Sixth Street area, which the city focused on and turned around from a high-crime area into a solidly middle-class neighborhood.

"It can work," Shakoor said in response to Shields.

Heck told the committee that the 10 properties the city would buy with the state money - Racine still has to apply for the grant, but is likely to receive the money - have not been selected. It won't be hard to find qualifying properties everywhere in the city, he said.

"Look out the window and you can practically find 10 houses that need work," Heck told the committee.

The city's grant for the $1.4 million is due on Jan. 14. The grant will include a list of 20 potential homes to buy. The list would be narrowed to 10 once the city receives the grant, Heck said.

A decision from the state should come quickly. Work on the homes needs to start by mid-June, he said.


  1. Wow, tough call.

    I think an approach where to tackle an entire area at a time makes sense. There are limited funds and just buying up a property or two scattered around the city might not do as much collective good as an investment in one area to stabilize it.

    Of course that leads to the very sticky question of how to pick what area should be worked on.....tough call but best of luck with the process.

  2. No matter where we know who will benefit somehow.

  3. Usually when you get these grants it is a small portion of the total cost. We get 3.3 million-24 properties.What will be our final cost be ?? 10 million ?? for how many years ??

  4. QA keeps talking about a 94% reduction in crime. Did anyone ever see these numbers? Is he running for mayor again?

  5. Oink - Oink - the state lacks funds to fund its Medicaid obligations but has pork funds to distribute

  6. The Douglas Ave area needs some major help. It is a gateway to downtown also which has made good improvements over the past few years.

    Time to shift investment, but target it in on an area and let it develop.

  7. Put it in the ghetto, it remains a ghetto. Our mayor would want it downtown, let's put the monies in his re-election fund, he's going to need it. Bye-Bye Mr. Mayor!

  8. Concerned Citizen12/22/2009 3:30 PM

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  10. "But Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II pointed out a targeted approach can work. He lives in the West Sixth Street area, which the city focused on and turned around from a high-crime area into a solidly middle-class neighborhood."

    Q.A should walk this area it is far from solidly middle-class neighborhood. See the Crack houses on Frank Ave or Maple. See the kids deal drugs on 6th st. See the run down homes on Jones Frank Maple etc.
    Perhaps Q.A could talk about the letter getting passed around asking QA to quit one of his two public offices so QA can do his job.That would mean coming to the neighborhood watch meetings.

  11. Here is a chance for the mayor to correct his record of supporting/marketing failed developments. We can only hope, and pray.

  12. Use the money for demolition of the problem houses. We need to reduce the inventory anyways.


    Detroit and why Racine will follow that path. Hate to be here in 5 years.

  14. I agree with ANON 9:36

    Too high a concentration of properties and people that middle class Racinians of all colors don't want any part of. The city is losing wealth and attracting poor folks, Not a good trend.

  15. Check this video out on Detroit. Once Americas most prosperous cities.

  16. Our new mayor's plan of sustainability is to use state and federal money to build Racine up. That has been his strategy in the past with W. 6th, YMCA (whatever happened to that school the state paid for?) and other projects. The city gets the grants and skims admin fee off the top and everyone is happy. The folks in Antigo, Franksville, New Glarus, Portage, etc. just love to help out with money taken from them by the state and feds and given to the fine folks in Racine.

  17. "Why is it so difficult for people to grasp the advantages of a free market? It's never going to get any easier than this. Only a little over a decade ago, the centralized planning of the Eastern bloc was exposed as having created a squalid, poverty-stricken abyss. Meanwhile, corrupt running-dog lackeys of the capitalist system here in American managed to produce a society in which the poorest citizens have televisions, refrigerators, telephones, and the opportunity to appear on the Jerry Springer Show."

  18. I just returned from Detroit. Believe it or not, parts of the Motor City look pretty decent. Pray that Detroit doesn't become the new Racine--one Racine is more than enough for our poor planet.

  19. Did you get out of the airport? Compared to many cities, and I spend time in many, Racine has the richest, cleanest ghetto of all of them.
    Our rough neighborhoods have people on Blackberries, satellite TV, expensive cars.
    I think if people give up these luxuries and spend more on their families and homes things could be much better.

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