Rushford EDA developing housing program with Semcac

Chad Smith

The Rushford Economic Development Authority (EDA) talked about housing at its most recent meeting Nov. 13. Typically, EDA discussions center on how to develop new housing opportunities in Rushford, but this meeting focused on ways to help keep up the existing stock.

“We’re in the preliminary stages of putting together what we hope will be a housing rehabilitation program,” said Rushford City Administrator Tony Chladek. “We talked through the idea for about an hour and the board was clearly in favor of moving forward with this.”

Chladek said the initial discussions involving a housing project like this include a partnership with Semcac. “Doug Grout, the new manager at Semcac, has a background in housing development from when he was up in Bloomington,” Chladek explained. “When he came on board at Semcac, we started kicking around some ideas.

“We also talked with Cindy Vitse, who used to run our CBG (Community Block Grant) Housing Program, which targeted lower-income folks,” he added. “We’re looking to develop a program that allows folks who have a little higher income, but not quite below median income. Retired folks would be one group that would fall into that category.”

They’re aiming the program at people with enough income to live in a house but may not have the disposable income to keep their house up the way they’d like. Chladek said they don’t want to see the existing houses deteriorate while city officials are looking for ways to add more housing.

“We’re looking for tools we can provide to homeowners,” he said. “We could loan them money, and then the equity in their home will help leverage that. Eventually, if they sell their home, we’ll get that money paid back to use for another house.

Ideally, Chladek said the city wouldn’t be out any money that way but will preserve the current housing stock at the same time. It could even add to the tax base down the road. “We know it’s probably going to go to things like siding, roofs, and windows,” Chladek said. “There could also be a possibility of expansion, doing projects like adding a room, or something similar.”

Semcac has all the administration in place to handle such a program, according to Chladek, who said the city wants to do a modification of a program they provide to target a different group of people. The city will still have to get approvals from several places to get the program up and running.

“We will need to get approvals from several places like DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development). Before we can even do this,” Chladek added. “The good news is we’ve got people (with Semcac) who are familiar with the process, so I’m pretty confident.

“Housing is a big deal all over. Not being able to keep up with development, not being able to keep up with rehabilitation, is all a big deal, I think that means a program like this will be on safe ground. The folks at DEED are hearing about housing issues. We’re going to start touching that base eventually.”

Even though there are some hoops to jump through, like legal counsel, Chladek said he would be “very surprised” if DEED said no to an idea like this. “Everyone on the EDA felt really good about the idea,” Chladek said. “After all, housing is our number one priority in our 2020 Economic Development Plan.”

The legal counsel will be necessary because the money for housing upkeep would likely be coming out of the Revolving Loan Fund and it’s important to make sure all the i’s are dotted, and t’s crossed correctly. “We’ll run this thing as a pilot program to see how much interest is out there,” Chladek added. “If this thing takes off as we hope, we’ll move on to trying to leverage some matching dollars from the state and see if we can grow the program.

“We intend to launch the program in the spring, just when people are starting to think about housing projects,” he said. “We got the ball rolling early so we could get all the approvals and other things in place so we can market the idea and have it ready for spring.”

While the program is still in the development stages, Chladek hopes to be able to make more information public as soon as the idea gets the needed approvals.