Ensuring safe, modern housing for Barron County’s growing senior population and other low-income renters is the goal of a proposed $15 million renovation plan, according to county officials and the Barron County Housing Authority.
Many low-income public housing projects in Barron County are approaching (or past) the age of 50. Since the summer of 2021, the Régie du logement has been studying ways to update its social housing stock, in particular housing for the elderly.
The current plan includes a host of upgrades and/or renovations to seven public apartment buildings, two in Barron and the rest in communities like Almena, Dallas, and Prairie Farm (among others).
The proposed buildings and upgrades are listed in an infographic that accompanies this story.
Bailout could provide funds
Funding for the project is being approached in two ways, according to county officials.
First, county officials are proposing to use $3.5 million of the more than $8 million in federal aid allocated to the county under the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress last year.
The County Board of Supervisors was briefed on the proposal at its regular monthly meeting on Monday January 17, 2022.
County Administrator Jeff French told supervisors he believed the money could be used for social housing under rules proposed by the federal government. If Barron County uses ARPA money for public housing, the funds will be used “to help reduce any (additional public) debt that would be required for this project,” he said Jan. 18. .
In documents he prepared for Monday’s meeting, French was optimistic the money could be used, but added that more information needed to be gathered.
The proposed federal spending rules “allow more flexibility in spending (Bailout Act money),” he said. “However, there is more knowledge that needs to be acquired before (county officials can make) firm commitments.”
Second, the county is working with a Madison-based public housing developer to acquire tax credits that will allow it to raise funds from private investors.
Issued by the federal government to states and territories, credits are awarded to private developers through a competitive process.
The promoters then resell the credits to private investors to obtain financing. After the housing project is commissioned (essentially made available to tenants), investors can claim the credit on their income taxes over a 10-year period, according to the Tax Policy Center.
In a recent email exchange and phone conversation, Housing Authority executive director Meg Skemp said her agency had applied for a 4% federal credit that would be matched by public funds.
Skemp said Barron County is one of 16 applicants from the state of Wisconsin to apply for the credits.
“We had never pursued this type of program before,” she said. “Applicants must pass a first round (of examination) before they can be considered.”
The Housing Authority was going to apply for a 9% tax credit offered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
“These credits are for rural projects, but our scores weren’t that high,” Skemp said.
WHEDA awards credits to rural applicants based on the proximity of apartment buildings to libraries and grocery stores, which doesn’t fit the profile of projects like those in Dallas, Almena, and Haugen, for example.
Renovation – interior and exterior
The Housing Authority is studying a plan that would fund major improvements to buildings and land in several communities.
These include 70 units, consisting of Portland Manor (8), Almena; Berger-Bois (24), Barron; Parkview Manor (8), Dallas; Norvin-Château (8), Haugen; Riverview Mansion (8), Prairie Farm; Lakeland Mansion (8), Turtle Lake; and Barron Family (6), Barron.
It is a portfolio of 64 one-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units.
If the necessary funds can be obtained, the list of interior and exterior improvements will include the 24-unit Berger-Woodland building in Barron, five 8-unit buildings and six 3-bedroom townhouses.