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Platteville looks to promote buying, rehabbing older homes
Platteville Municipal Building

The City of Platteville is moving ahead on an effort to increase availability of affordable housing.

The Common Council will vote on a resolution in October to create a loan program to renovate pre-1950s homes, and a grant program for conversion of pre-1950s houses rented to college students back to single-family ownership.

The two programs would be funded by $180,000 from keeping Tax Incremental Financing District 4 open one year beyond its scheduled closing this year.

State law allows TIF districts to remain open one extra year to fund affordable housing efforts. That requires approval from the state Department of Revenue.

Those two programs were chosen instead of two other proposed programs. One would have given grants to residential developers for part of infrastructure improvement costs. The other would have given grants to builders of “affordable” homes to cover interest costs during construction.

The goal of the two programs on which the council will vote is to encourage rehabilitation of homes built before a wave of home construction in the city in the 1960s tied to expansion of UW–Platteville. 

The housing study completed earlier this year reported that people want to live in Platteville “but struggle to find the right home,” in part due to a shortage of homes of less than $200,000. The study also reported that “homes that need extensive rehabilitation are less attractive to buyers.”

“We have a lot of older homes that are 1940s and older” and “enough interest that people are very interested in remodeling mid-century homes, but to remodel homes it’ll require a bigger incentive,” said Director of Community Development Joe Carroll.

Common Council president Barb Daus said about one-fourth of the city’s houses were built before 1949.

As with many smaller college towns with comparatively large colleges, Platteville has more rentals than owner-occupied homes. Purchases of single-family homes that were then rented to college students grew when UW–Platteville’s enrollment growth outstripped its dormitory capacity, before the opening of Rountree Commons and Bridgeview Commons, as well as other privately owned student housing, including Newman Heights just east of the UWP campus.

As a result, even after the academic year began, houses with For Rent signs can be found throughout the city.

“I think we’re trying to get the mix back to owner-occupied,” said Carroll.

District 1 Ald. Isaac Shanley, a real estate agent, said the city had as of last week 35 homes with asking prices of $200,000 or less, but “less than a dozen” homes that cost $125,000 or less. Only two of the less-than-$200,000 homes were west of Chestnut Street and south of Main Street, around the UW–Platteville campus.

Shanley said homes of $150,000 to $200,000 can qualify for financing from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, but homes less than $125,000 do not.

As for available lots within the city, Shanley said 18 lots are available in Eastman Cartwright’s Golden Heights subdivision off Pioneer Road. 

“The demand for homes in the city of Platteville is not as strong as you think it is,” said Shanley, who said demand for one-story or split-level houses was much stronger than demand for two-story houses. “It’s not due to a lack of housing available in town. They’re there. You just don’t have the demand.”

“And we need jobs to bring people,” said at-large Ald. Barb Stockhausen.

“People nowadays want a ranch-style house or a split-level house,” said Shanley. “Five years ago, two-story houses were what people wanted.”

Carroll said the program could be used by those who “flip” homes — purchase, renovate and then sell to single-family owners.

The last city attempt to encourage home construction took place 20 years ago when the city offered $600,000 in incentives to promote home construction in the Knoll Wood Way area. The city paid for one-fourth of infrastructure costs. 

Carroll quoted a Delta 3 Engineering estimate of $35,000 per lot in infrastructure costs today.

The housing study lists two objectives — improve the city’s existing housing stock, and support new single-family or “small multi-family owner-occupied development.”

A city memo said that incentives “should stimulate behavior that would not occur absent the incentive” to “maximize the value added through public sector participation” while avoiding the “potential risk” of “over-subsidizing behavior that would have occurred naturally.”