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Addressing the affordable housing crisis

Two Rivers set to begin construction on 54-unit, multi-family development

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July 12, 2023

TWO RIVERS – Spurred on by a need for affordable housing throughout Northeast Wisconsin and beyond, the City of Two Rivers is doing its best to be part of the solution.

Construction on the West River Lofts, a 54-unit, multi-family housing development along the West Twin River in downtown Two Rivers will commence in August, with completion set for December 2024.

“This has been about a two-year deal because of the process of acquiring the tax credits and the financing on behalf of the developer – it’s an application process,” Elizabeth Runge, community development director/city planner, said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Elizabeth Runge

Greg Buckley, Two Rivers city manager, said the total development cost is just north of $14 million – with the city’s financial commitment at $600,000.

“Last fall, the City of Two Rivers created Tax Incremental District (TID) No. 17,” he said. “The development agreement recently approved by our city council provides for a $500,000, pay-as-you-go grant – it’s paid in installments as the tax increment revenue comes in, with an interest rate of 6.5%.”

Buckley said in addition to the $500,000 in TID money, the city is pledging a $100,000 grant from its affordable housing fund.

“That money – which will be a lump sum payment – will come in after the project commences and the developer shows that $2 million has been extended,” he said.

Runge sent the breakdown of the 54 units to The Business News, which includes:
One-bedroom (690 square feet, one bath) – fourTwo-bedroom (890 square feet, two baths) – 18Three-bedroom (1,200 square feet, two baths) – 18Four-bedroom (1,250 square feet, three baths) – 14
“We’ve heard from several people from the community and our city council that there is a need for three- and four-bedroom living spaces, so the development helps take care of that need,” Buckley said.

The need is there
Buckley said like other communities, Two Rivers needs affordable housing.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s about providing quality affordable housing for individuals and families, but it’s also about helping meet the workforce needs in the community.”

The development, Buckley said, will also include a trail along the waterfront.

“As a community, we’re trying to turn our face back to the water,” he said. “Some of the manufacturing places concentrated along the river have gone away, so this site, in particular, is located on a former set of mural buildings. We’ll also be making improvements to the riverwalk and shoreline.”

The development will be along the West Twin River in downtown Two Rivers, which will include a trail along the waterfront. Submitted Rendering

Buckley said there’s also a railroad bridge nearby the city plans to preserve.

“Adjacent to the site, there’s a railroad bridge owned by Canadian National,” he said. “The city hopes one day to do something with that bridge, maybe as a trail connector to the downtown area. If not, we can at least preserve it as a historical artifact in the middle of the river. We hope this is the first step toward some other major redevelopment of that river corridor.”

More development on the way
Buckley said there are other redevelopment sites close by, “so more affordable housing might be on the way.”

“We’d like to see a variety of housing,” he said. “We’ve also recently executed an agreement for about 70 units of market-rate apartments on the East Twin River near downtown,” he said. “Even in a small community, density is important in a downtown area. With that, people come and go, patronizing small businesses – you need that population density.”

Buckley said Two Rivers has lost some of that over the years.

“What better place than to have people living, working and recreating near the water,” he said. “We want to see more development along both rivers.”

Buckley, who has been Two Rivers’ city manager for almost 28 years, said he recently heard the median house price in Wisconsin is about $300,000.

Greg Buckley

“It’s also showing rapid escalation,” he said. “Two Rivers has typically been an affordable community to live in, but we’ve been at or slightly out-pacing the state increases the last couple of years. There hasn’t been a lot of supply coming into the city.”

Buckley said last year, the city also added a handful of single-family homes in a subdivision.

“We’re hoping for another six or seven this year,” he said. “We have 17 more acres to develop, which should be about 38 more lots. (In a recent city council meeting), the council authorized additional planning and wetlands delineation and issued permits so we can move forward with the third phase of that development.”

Buckley said even though the city won’t be making any money on the 17-acre lots, there will still be a benefit – both financially and personally.

“We’re providing the opportunity for new housing for that segment of the market that wants it,” he said. “Also, it’s tax base.”

Buckley said Two Rivers is currently in a slow pivot toward the future.

“I think Two Rivers is a beautiful place to live, and I think our future is bright,” he said. “We have the best beach in Wisconsin and trails along the water.”

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