PERRY COUNTY – Housing development was a talking point at the Perry County Redevelopment Commission last week, with several community members and board members taking on the topic.

“Housing is an issue,” said Redevelopment Commission President John Scheer.

Scheer commented about the state of Perry County population and how housing developers and county government could take action to promote county growth.

Population has declined by almost 1% over the last decade in Perry County, Scheer commented, referencing a United States Census Bureau study.

A reason for that, Scheer speculated, is the lack of housing. People are finding other places to live with more options for housing, some of whom work in the county.

Population growth in the county would require more housing and to encourage growth in the county, new housing is needed to attract people.

Without housing, redevelopment commissioners argued, the county won’t attract people. Without people, industries won’t have a work force and will leave. Without industry and population to generate taxes, the county will not be able to maintain the infrastructure it has, much less build more and will deteriorate.

“We know it’s an issue,” Scheer commented. “So we started a dialogue … to find out the possibilities of what this board can do, possibly what the county can do and what contractors [developers] can do,” Scheer said.

“We appreciate the [Seventh Street] apartment complex because it’s a really big part of what we have to accomplish here in the county,” Scheer said.

Developers response

Housing developers from around the county were invited to the meeting last week for an open discussion with board members.

They expressed their ideas and needs for housing expansion.

One major factor was the need for more space for development. If the community has a need for new housing, it first needs land lots to build on.

If new lots were to become available, infrastructure such as streets, sewer and water would need to be run to the developing area. Utilities are a major cost for an entirely new subdivision. One new lot could cost $25,000 for new utilities, which would only be an opening base cost.

New lots could also come from tearing down old structures to make way for new development.

Developers commented that once the old structures are torn down, utility access would remain, which saves a large step for both cost and time.

County leadership response

As a response to developers’ comments, redevelopment commissioners began to ask what they could do to help facilitate housing development.

“It’s not as easy as I once thought it was going to be,” Scheer said about the possibility of the county subsidizing basic utilities.

“Even creating a [Tax Increment Financing district] is not simple,” Scheer said, which, if created, could capture taxes from a developing area to go back directly into infrastructure in that area. However, more limited-time TIFs could help boost development in a single area.

Subsidizing utilities with the incoming American Rescue Plan funds could aid in attracting developers to start purchasing lots and building houses.

“Those on the [ARP] committee should consider that a priority,” suggested redevelopment commissioner Tony Thomas. “It’s a benefit to everybody,” Thomas said.

Scheer commented, “We need real property and real homes for families. It’s got to be the top priority,” he said.

“If we can get infrastructure in … from the builders standpoint, it’s to alleviate [them] from that cost – so that [they] can build homes,” Scheer said about subsidized utility material and construction costs.

“We got to keep pushing this thing forward,” Scheer said, adding, “Because if we don’t, we’re done.

“If we look at the community we’re at the crossroads now,” Scheer continued, citing the population decline. “Either we’re going to continue and be prosperous or we’re not … and there’s nothing.”

Scheer revealed the last major housing development project was undertaken in the 1990s. Since then, several industries have moved into the area but no housing projects were brought in to complement the industries.

Scheer revealed that other companies, including Toyota, are looking to expand into the area with the need for 1,400 employees at their facility, the housing could become an issue.

“I think we want to build a community that has … good people, highly motivated people and highly productive people,” Scheer said.

Solving issues

Community members at the meeting discussed the number of people who work in the county and live elsewhere.

Performing research into the numbers of working employees in the county compared to where they live could indicate how many new lots and housing options the county might need.

If new housing becomes available, the housing might attract people currently working in the county to live in the county.

Looking at Waupaca Foundry as an example, to attract the number of employees currently working at Waupaca who do not live in the county, the area might need 100 more homes to house that work force.

Preventing difficulties for developers could attract more developers into the area.

“Streamline the process to get from here to the finished product,” suggested developer Ron Smith, who will be responsible for building the new apartments on Seventh Street as reported in the Monday, July 19, issue of the News.

“You have rules and regulations but make sure they understand it,” Smith advised, adding, “Make it a checklist.”

Inviting people to start the development process will require access to land to turn to lots.

The redevelopment commission owns two plots of land west of the ATTC property, which could be used to create housing.

Wanting housing development requires available land to develop on.

“I would not be opposed to giving lots away,” Thomas said about property owned by the Redevelopment Commission. “If we give away a $5,000 lot, if we get a $200,000 assessed valuation home, we’ve gained,” Thomas said, referring to eventual taxes collected.

Tell City Mayor Chris Cail was at the meeting and revealed he is starting to generate a list of vacant properties and lots around Tell City that could be developed.

The mayor’s office could share that list with developers so they know what’s available.

When the ARP Committee meets to determine the best use for the $3.7 million, housing development is one of the issues that will be presented to them to discuss.

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