Developers Crucial to Solving Attainable Housing Crisis

by Jim Schuessler, Executive Director, Door County Economic Development Corporation

In February, the results of Door County’s Housing Analysis were released, and to the surprise of nearly no one, it showed a significant need for workforce (attainable), senior and seasonal housing. This study provided data about the units needed both now and in the near future.

Since then, Door County Economic Development Corporation’s Attainable Housing Committee has been providing information to businesses in the construction trades, citizens and elected officials throughout the county. Several months of preparation, including a Housing Symposium, went into developing the outreach phase, which provided a summary of the analysis and specifics on solutions.

Some may not perceive the housing issue as a crisis, but anyone who has watched A Place of Our Own – produced by the Interfaith Prosperity Coalition of Door County (many thanks to writer and producer Kathleen Toerpe and editor and photographer David Skidmore) – it’s hard to view the impact being felt by our neighbors who want to continue to live and work here as nothing less than a crisis.

To solve it, the next step will be critical to our success. Private housing developers, working with county and local governments, can provide the development necessary to begin addressing our housing needs. Collaboration is vital in this because a siloed approach often hampers communication and kills new ideas that are focused on providing solutions.

One good example of potential success is the Town of Liberty Grove, which is communicating with citizens, using outside resources and taking careful steps to create opportunities to be a part of the solution. Once a successful template has been developed, it can be replicated.

DCEDC, in collaboration with representatives of the City of Sturgeon Bay, has introduced a group of private developers to the opportunity that’s available to them to succeed economically and help address our housing crisis: a win-win. This format was, and still is, successful in the county where I served prior to coming here last July.

What can go wrong?

Controversy kills private investment. I can tell you firsthand that potential projects, including grant funding, were lost here because to the past issues over the westside waterfront. What makes for an attention-grabbing story on the local news translates to risk for developers and the lending community.

All tugs or no tugs? Keep the granary or eliminate it? Bring in a new amenity such as a hotel or kill competition?

Not this time. Let’s find a way for everyone to win. We can keep tugs while opening a portion of the waterfront. A private developer might welcome the granary as an asset to an overall development. Nobody wins when competition is killed.

In enthusiastically welcoming developers here, we are marketing a dazzling product. Sturgeon Bay has much to offer: excellent infrastructure, great schools, vibrant retail, water everywhere and urban sites for development and redevelopment. The much-needed new apartments springing up south of Target and near Egg Harbor Road have reportedly been leasing as quickly as they’re completed. Great news!

Attainable housing can keep our children and grandchildren from leaving the county. More senior housing can keep people from relocating, and their current home can then become available to those seeking a new one. Seasonal housing helps to keep our local businesses thriving, especially during the peak season.

Let’s welcome smart development that enhances our tax base and helps to create a sustainable Door County.

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