Advocates for more affordable housing in Eau Claire and a second public skate park pressed their cases before the City Council will vote on which municipal projects it will fund in 2020.
A large crowd attended a public discussion Monday night in front of the council, which will vote today on next year’s projects as part of Eau Claire’s 2020-2024 capital improvements plan.
“Housing is way too expensive on a limited income,” said Teresa Simpson, a resident of the Maples Mobile Home Park.
She recently was ordered to leave her home after health officials deemed it too dangerous to live in because of a failing roof. A fellow resident who is leaving the trailer park at 1611 Western Ave. volunteered her trailer for Simpson’s family to begin living in on Aug. 1.
But she and others who live at Maples told the council on Monday night that housing options are desperately needed by people with low incomes.
“We didn’t choose to live in those conditions, we couldn’t find another place to live,” said Krystal Buttke, who lived at Maples until her house also was deemed unfit for habitation because of a failing roof.
City Manager Dale Peters has proposed $200,000 next year to allow the city to buy a large vacant lot and subdivide it so up to 50 single-family homes could be built there. Developers would need to agree to keep home prices down, and Peters said it would foster homeownership for lower-wage earners.
While some at Monday’s meeting said they appreciate the city putting money toward addressing affordable housing, they questioned if homeownership would help low-income people in most need of safe, inexpensive housing.
“It’s very unlikely my family would qualify for a single-family house,” said Emily Shields, the manager and a resident of the trailer park.
Judi Moseley, who is co-chairwoman of an affordable housing task force with community group JONAH, said the city’s money would be better spent on multi-family rental housing instead of owned homes.
“I just don’t see how $200,000 can make that big of an impact if you’re spending it on single-family housing,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting, city finance director Jay Winzenz did say the city is playing a role in two apartment building projects that are expected to apply for low-income housing tax credits. One building would be at the city’s planned downtown Transit Transfer Center and the other is the Cannery Trail Residences apartment building. The latter is subject to a development agreement slated for a vote today that would provide developer W Capital Group with up to $800,000 in city incentive payments by meeting certain milestones, including compliance with affordable housing requirements.
Another constituency at Monday night’s meeting is urging the council to contribute funding for a skate park in Boyd Park.
Chris Johnson, who owns Passion Board Shop in downtown Eau Claire, remarked that the city’s current facilities at Lakeshore Park are too small.
“Kind of crazy selling skateboards in a town where one person can skate at a time,” he said to the crowd.
The existing park’s small size belies the popularity of skateboarding in Eau Claire, he said, and the sport is growing globally with its debut next year in the Olympics.
The Eau Claire Skateboarder Association has raised $50,000 on its own already for the Boyd Park skate park, and Johnson wants the city to contribute toward the cause.
In July 2017, Eau Claire signed an agreement with the association, requiring the group to raise $75,000 toward the skate park’s construction without a match from the city.
Volunteers have raised $50,000 so far.
“I think it’s phenomenal we’ve been able to raise that much money,” said Gabe Brummett, an Eau Claire skateboarder.
An amendment to Eau Claire’s projects plan proposed by Councilwoman Kate Beaton and Councilman Andrew Werthmann would provide the skate park with $20,000 from the city.