Our view: Projects in works with more potential for workforce housing gains in county

Many industries and businesses in Kenosha County are looking for workers.

Workers are looking for jobs, but many struggle to find a place to live.

A recent series of stories by business writer James Lawson pointed out that while workforce housing inventory is lacking now, there’s momentum to change that.

The Kenosha Area Business Alliance, the economic development organization which has helped to bring much of the new business and industrial growth for years, has a new mission today.

It is leading the way in expanding housing development to fit the need of a growing workforce.

To that end, KABA and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. hosted the Workforce Housing Outlook: Needs and Strategies community development forum in January. The workshop was a visual reminder that housing development was underway in Kenosha.

Heather Wessling Grosz, KABA vice president, said “the task force will work with our municipalities and employers to drive workable solutions to balance the opportunities and encourage options all along the housing spectrum.”

A study of U.S. Census Bureau statistics released in January by Storage Cafe, a nationwide self-storage website, showed Wisconsin had welcomed 25,155 arrivals from Illinois in 2018. Projections dictate a severe need for housing development.

“They almost have to be building nonstop for two to five years to meet all of the housing demands,” said Lou Molitor, Kenosha Chamber of Commerce president.

Is the housing shortage slowing some of the employment growth?

“Maybe not yet,” said Wessling Grosz. “But more often than we’d like, our new employees are not our new residents.”

Developers like S.R. Mills, Greg Moyer and David Nankin have multiple housing projects in various phases of completion in Kenosha, Somers and Pleasant Prairie.

Still, obstacles are many in housing projects. They are, among others, zoning restrictions, density, infrastructure and land cost.

How much of it should be market rate, luxury rentals, single-family affordable, lower income? We know there needs to be a mix of all types. Cluster homes may be part of the answer.

Housing and financial experts have seen new strategies come up, such as tax incremental financial districts for workforce housing, state tax credits and more funding and partnerships for down payment assistance.

“We need to work together to encourage new housing stock that attracts young families starting out,” said Kurt Paulsen, University of Wisconsin professor of urban and regional planning, who presented at the recent conference. “A home is where a job goes to sleep at night.”

Our housing series was published just as the coronavirus pandemic was hitting home and the governor’s safer-at-home order started. We’ll get out of this, and when we do there’s a lot in the works with much more potential for workforce housing gains in the county.

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