August 2, 2010

Habitat for Humanity overcomes a Racine alderman's challenge

Jan Roland
The head of Racine's Habitat for Humanity home-building program criticized Ald. Jeff Coe during Monday night's Common Council meeting.

Speaking during the council's public comment period, Habitat Board President Jan Roland said Coe was attempting to block home construction in the First Aldermanic District. If the city impedes Habitat's work, Roland said, the organization would cut back on the number of homes it builds or pull out of Racine all together.

"Habitat chapters are serving thousands of cities around the world," Roland said. "Every year it's among the Top 10 home builders, yet somehow I don't think we're welcome in District 1 (Coe's district). I don't understand it."

Roland called Coe's efforts to stop Habitat projects "out of place." He said if the city makes it more difficult for Habitat to build, the nonprofit will return to its roots and build 1-2 homes per year. If those are unacceptable, Habitat will disband, Roland said.

"We've proven ourselves, get out of our way, Mr. Coe," Roland said. 

The City Council sided with Roland, at least for now. Coe tried to introduce requests to stop a Habitat project at 1132 Irving Place and to implement a 60-day moratorium on transferring land to Habitat. But the council refused to assign the items to the Committee of the Whole, instead deferring action on them until they can be assigned to specific committees. 

Coe argued the items needed to be taken up sooner because the city is facing an Aug. 15 deadline to spend $3.1 million in federal stimulus money to buy and rehab houses. Part of the money will be used to buy 1132 Irving Place and turn it over to Habitat for a rehab. (The home was originally slated to be razed, but the city switched the house to a rehab.)

The council's action followed a lengthy procedural debate over how to handle Coe's requests. It was Ald. Ray DeHahn who suggested the items run through the council's regular committee system, and Ald. Ron Hart quickly backed him. 

Several council members described Coe's actions as coming at the "11th hour," which is too late to take up policy decisions. 

"Haste makes for poor legislation," said Ald. Q.A. Shakoor II, adding proposals like Coe's make the city look adversarial to development. "We have to be more business friendly." 

The council voted 10-5 to defer action on Coe's proposals until its next meeting, though the five no votes were somewhat deceptive. At least two aldermen who voted against deferring the proposals simply wanted to receive-and-file the requests, which would kill them upon arrival. 

Of Coe's proposals, one of the four looked like it could gain traction on the council. Coe, Ald. Eric Marcus and Ald. Sandy Weidner want to overhaul the city's Loan Board of Review. The board is now comprised of city department heads Rob Weber, Dave Brown, Marcia Fernholz, Brian O'Connell and Rick Heller. The aldermen want to appoint two City Council members to the Loan Board and have the full council review the board's actions. Right now, the Loan Board's actions are final. 

Ald. David Maack said Monday night he supported the concept of an elected official on the Loan Board, but wanted the proposal to work its way through the City Council's normal committees. 

All four of Coe's proposals will return to the City Council in two weeks for committee assignment. In the meantime, work will proceed on transferring 1132 Irving Place to Habitat for Humanity and the city is on schedule to meet its Aug. 15 deadline to use federal stimulus money to buy homes in foreclosure. 

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