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Taking action on housing matters: the pros and cons - PART 4 of 4

March 8, 2013

Some have attempted to make inroads into more moderate income offerings. Among these are longtime residents Ralph and Barbara Winters, who in 1999 developed a set of two-bedroom apartments on the western end of Cass Street. Ralph Winters has also been part of various discussions over the years regarding housing in Culver, as a past member of the town council and other boards and committees.

"As realtors, the acronym P.I.T.I. is used," says Winters. "That's Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance. Affordable housing by the usual criteria is a home in the $ 75,000 to $ 100,000 range. This is a stretch for someone with a $15 an hour job, unless both mom and dad are working at that rate, with fulltime work.

"In Culver," he says, "affordable housing could be accomplished if there were a co-operative land owner and perhaps a housing or infrastructure grant from the state or the federal government.

Manufactured housing or trailers is one path to affordable housing, but a few years back the Plan Commission said, 'no new house trailers in Culver.' That attitude would need to change.

"I would be supportive of the Culver Council if they chose to pursue a project that promoted affordable housing."

Another local businessman who has taken concrete steps to bring more affordable housing to Culver is Kevin Berger, head of Easterday Construction in Culver. After years of seeking out land, Berger helped bring a Garden Court assisted living complex to South Main Street, though he notes more than a year after opening, the place still isn't full.

"It all feeds together," he says. "If we could get some of the people that work in Medallion to live in Culver, that will help the restaurants, Park N Shop, the tax base. It has ancillary benefits.

"What I'm seeing as the problem, though, is the lake is such a draw for the affluent, that even if we go build stuff and subsidize it, unless you lock them in somehow, why wouldn't (middle income homeowners) flip it and make a profit? It's not just a matter of building something cheaply, but if that's all available, it's a buyers’ market."
Berger echoes town manager Dave Schoeff that the town may likely have to make some investment up front.
"My experience,” says Berger, “is (people) will look for it to be built before they consider moving here.
Berger also points out ongoing infrastructure and other decisions need to be made with commercial development and housing in mind.
"The Culver Redevelopment Commission put that lift station at the end of Jefferson Street to serve the Dicke property there, but look at the next property across the road. Is (the lift station) deep enough? How much more would it have cost to serve the next connection going in? I want to see that in the comprehensive plan: do we want to see industrial-commercial development and low income housing? How will we make it happen? We need more vision...we need to look farther out.
"Communities are either growing or dying," he adds. "There is no status quo."
Cafe Max owner Susie Mahler, who says she was part of the first incarnation of the Culver Redevelpment Commission, notes that a decade or more ago, building a housing development was out of the question, since the town's sewer system was in such poor condition.

Thankfully, after massive overhauls, that's no longer the case, but Mahler asks the question plaguing any discussion of developing moderate income housing -- which many property owners likely ask when considering what to do with their land: "Why would I build moderate income housing when I can make more profit and a higher dollar with ease?

ARE DEED RESTRICTIONS AN OPTION?

It will likely come as no surprise that the challenges facing Culver as a community with an increasing "resort" identity are neither new nor unique.

Some resort communities -- including mountain ones, as well as lakeside -- long ago recognized the inherent problems of a community emptying of its residents nightly, and many embraced deed restricted, or so-called "workforce housing," as an answer.

Deed restrictions often set aside a certain block of homes or apartments and then enforce a set of requirements developed within the community itself, rather than by a state or federal mandate. The aim, unlike some federal housing programs, isn't simply to provide housing to the poor or underprivileged, but to limit designated spaces to those gainfully employed and living full-time within the community.

In a 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times ("Affordable housing in pricey resort towns," www.articles.latimes.com/2008/feb/17/news/adna-subsidy17), the director of an area housing authority remarked, "This place will turn into Disneyland if we don't have anybody that actually lives here...It's like, 'OK, lights on,' and the whole workforce will just commute in, work here during the day. And then, 'lights out,' and travel back."

School officials, wrote the Times, credited deed restriction programs with helping recruit and retain quality teachers and other professionals.

In a 2009 Apsen Times article ("Resort towns struggle with affordable housing," www.steamboattoday.com/news/2009/jan/18/resort_towns_struggle_affordable...), success was found in giving developers incentives to build homes with apartments attached, relaxing some building guidelines to help encourage more rentals for local workers.

In fact, the workforce housing concept developed in the ski towns of Telluride and Aspen, Colorado in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia, where "a plan was developed to create a secondary and separate 'local worker' housing market which was based on local wages and affordability."

In addition to living and working in the community, beneficiaries of deed restricted housing in Colorado also had to not own a second home in the community, stay there for a minimum period of time, and agree to sell the property only to someone who met the same criteria. Caps were later added to the amount of profit a property owner could make on the same of the home.

A 2012 article on the Affordable Housing Finance website (housingfinance.com/affordable-housing/grassroots-effort.aspx) reported success in providing 24 units of affordable housing in the resort town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Town officials recognized workers in the community had to live outside the town and commute, noted the article, and so an ad hoc committee was appointed and eventually a "totally grassroots" housing coalition founded. The result was a long process marked by hard work, but overall a remarkably successful venture, with another 24 units in the planning stages.

THE GOOD NEWS

The silver lining to the housing challenges in Culver, of course, is what it implies: unlike so many small communities not only in the Midwest but around the country, Culver has utilized its particular resources -- from the presence of Lake Maxinkuckee and Culver Academies, to the retention of a small-town, community spirit -- to not only survive but thrive as a vibrant destination.

John Buxton sums up the essence of the complex relationship between Culver's attributes and its housing complexities: "We're victims of our own success as a little town."

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