La PORTE — La Porte County has granted the city of La Porte $500,000 from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA] funds to help with the city’s recent investment of building additional housing throughout the city.

The La Porte County Board of Commissioners on June 5, with a vote of 2-1, approved the city’s request for infrastructure funding in relation to new housing. Commissioner Joe Haney cast the dissenting vote.

Previously, on May 29, the La Porte County Council, with a vote of 4-2, approved the city’s request for $500,000 from the county’s ARPA funds for infrastructure in relation to new housing.

Councilmen Mark Yagelski and Earl Cunningham cast the dissenting votes, while Councilman Mike Mollenhauer was absent.

The $500,000 investment from the county, said City Councilwoman Laura Konieczny at the County Council meeting, will help fund infrastructure for two housing development projects currently in the works for the city.

Part of the county’s $500,000 investment will help the city’s Park Street Project, which will be, according to La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody, a $35 million overall private investment.

According to Dermody, the Park Street Project will consist of 156 units of attainable housing, which will include 13 single-family homes, 95 townhomes, and 52 multi-family apartments.

The second housing development the $500,000 will help, Dermody said, is an additional 21 units of attainable housing built by local construction company Mitch Feikes Builders.

Dermody said between both projects, the city will be investing $2.4 million in water, sewer and infrastructure.

The county’s ARPA funds, Dermody said, will be used for water and sewer infrastructure.

“It’s not the first time, [and] I don’t see it being the last time that the county and city work together,” Dermody told the County Council.

Dermody told the County Council that regardless of whether the county provides funding or not, the city will be moving forward with these projects.

“That’s where I would say: is $500,000 going to save or crush a budget? Maybe a combination of all, but when we look back on history, are we going to say, ‘hey, we did this housing to change our future and to change lives of our residents,’” Dermody said.

“Let’s start working together, as you’ve requested, and put $500,000 on the table, which is 25 percent of the project, we’ll commit 75 percent, and let’s go after housing and let’s keep our people in La Porte County,” he added.

According to City Planner Craig Phillips, both a housing study conducted by the Vibrant Communities of La Porte County and a case study by the Health Foundation of La Porte show an increased need for housing within the city of La Porte.

“Both indicated a significant need for housing across the spectrum of all housing at all income levels, and these projects will help fulfill this at several levels,” Phillips said.

The reason for the two housing development projects, said La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership [LEAP] Executive Director Bert Cook, is to help supply a variety of new housing opportunities throughout the city.

“Typically, you use as a rule of thumb, you know, people should be paying less than 30 percent of their overall income on housing,” Cook said.

County Councilman Michael Rosenbaum pointed out that the additional housing throughout the city of La Porte will help provide an increase in local income tax, a tax that both the county and city fund.

“I see this as a good situation ... and I’m not even talking about what happens to real estate taxes and how it might lower other people’s as we have a bigger base,” Rosenbaum said.

From a property tax standpoint, La Porte County Office of Economic Development Executive Director Matt Reardon said the optics of this funding looks good for the county.

“If we’re going to invest what it would take to get it back, just like we would at any other project, I like the optics of this; where the city is spending way more money than the county is,” Reardon said.

Additionally, Reardon pointed out that the new housing developments within the city can help the La Porte Community School Corp. increase its student population. It could also use some of the generated income.

According to County Council President Randy Novak, St. Joseph County has recently reached out to La Porte County about the need for additional housing throughout this area due to the recent news of a battery plant coming to New Carlisle.

On Monday, the city approved a taxpayer agreement with the Microsoft Corporation for the construction of a data center on La Porte’s south side. The project is expected to bring in 200 new high-paying jobs by the year 2032.

“We’re creating jobs, but where do these people live?” Cook asked the County Council.

“We unfortunately ... export these people to other communities that have either better or more advanced residential markets,” he added.

Dermody guaranteed to the County Council that these new housing developments will not be used to create residential Tax Increment Financing [TIF] districts.

“The worst thing we could do and talk about [while] trying to have a partner ... [is] saying, ‘hey, we’re going to do a housing TIF where you get left in the cold, and you would not receive any revenue,’” Dermody said.

Residential TIF districts, Dermody said, is something he greatly opposes, because he believes the revenues generated from those areas are better spent on the county, city and school systems.

“I can definitely 100 percent commit to you that we will not turn these two projects into any housing TIF,” Dermody said to the County Council.

County Councilman Justin Kiel showed favor for the city’s housing development opportunities, and he hopes to see more come before the council in the future.

“I’m really glad that you’re bringing this to us because the shortage and cost of housing is probably a defining challenge for my generation,” Kiel said.

“Housing is well-known to be an important means of building generational wealth, and when we have a shortage or it’s too costly to acquire housing here, that permanently harms my generation,” he added.
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