Desiring Eau Claire to do more and sooner about a shortage of affordable housing, the City Council decided to put another $500,000 toward the cause in 2020.
Councilman Andrew Werthmann led the push at Tuesday’s meeting to put the added money specifically toward incentivizing more affordable multi-family housing in the city.
“We need to make this a stronger priority in our community,” Werthmann said, citing people who attended a public discussion Monday night that attested to their difficulty finding affordable places to rent, especially for low-income families.
Originally in the city’s five-year projects plan for 2023, the $500,000 was moved up to next year through a 9-2 council vote.
Councilwoman Emily Berge and Councilman David Klinkhammer cast dissenting votes with their primary concern being that the city didn’t have a concrete plan for using that money.
“I just feel uneasy. This is a lot of money. I just found out about it. There wasn’t vetting by city staff,” Berge said.
Council President Terry Weld had been on the fence early in the meeting, also arguing that there was no plan in place. However, his support was secured when Werthmann agreed that any projects funded by the $500,000 would need to be approved by the council first.
Backing the accelerated funding, Councilwoman Emily Anderson said there is a sense of urgency as people in Eau Claire struggle to make ends meet and pay for a roof over their heads.
“I feel just a strong sense of opportunity at this moment,” she said.
Councilwoman Jill Christopherson said money to address affordable housing shows the city’s availability and willingness to help address the problem.
“We’re using it to incentivize our community,” she said.
But Christopherson added that the city cannot improve the availability of affordable housing alone, and it will take the work of financial institutions, developers, contractors, nonprofits and others in the private sector as well.
“It really is the community as a whole that really needs to move this huge project forward,” she said.
The $500,000 is in addition to $200,000 that City Manager Dale Peters planned for next year so the city could buy land for an affordable housing development where up to 50 single-family homes could be built.
After more than two hours of discussion on a trio of amendments, the council unanimously approved Eau Claire’s 2020-2024 capital improvements plan on Tuesday. The first year of that plan will become part of the city’s 2020 budget, which will be written this fall.
The other changes made by the council before approving the document were:
• An 11-0 vote provided $20,000 next year toward construction of a skate park in Boyd Park in response to a request from local skateboarders who have raised about $50,000 so far toward the project. An agreement signed between the city and Eau Claire Skateboarders Association in summer 2017 had required the group raise $75,000 toward the project without a city contribution.
• In a 10-1 vote with Klinkhammer dissenting, the city will allocate $10,000 annually toward more bike parking on public property. The money came from reducing how much the city planned to spend on signs and technology for public parking lots and ramps.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting:
• The council unanimously approved an agreement with W Capital Group, which will be building the 112-apartment Cannery Trail Residences. Completing the building project will net the developer $600,000 in incentives from the city. Successfully getting low-income housing credits that would ensure rents will stay low would result in another $200,000 in city incentives.
• The city voted to create its 13th tax increment financing district in the redevelopment area known as the Cannery District. Property taxes on new buildings created there would go toward city expenses intended to spur new development in that area. The $13.6 million in potential city costs in the TIF district’s plan includes spending on roads, parks and up to $4.8 million in cash grants to developers.
• The council approved a $2 million bid from Gillig of Livermore, Calif., for three hybrid buses that will become part of the Eau Claire Transit fleet.
• Eau Claire-based Market & Johnson won the $564,700 contract to serve as construction manager for the city’s new Transit Transfer Center project.
• Morton Salt of Chicago will provide the city with road salt for winter under a $382,432 contract approved by the council.