You don't have to look very hard in La Crosse to find aging homes badly in need of repairs. How to best revitalize the city's neighborhoods and grow the tax base is shaping up to be one of the big issues in the race for mayor.
Candidates Doug Farmer and Tim Kabat both say it's one of if not the biggest challenge facing the city right now. That's because declining home values over the years have left La Crosse residents paying a tax rate more than double neighboring communities.
"It's not going to happen overnight but if you start today, you can look back after 5, 10 or 20 years from now and say: OK, we're making a difference," said Kabat.
Kabat, currently the executive director of Downtown Mainstreet Inc., says re-hiring a grant writer for the city would help bring in outside money for all kinds of different projects.
"I think the city needs to be more proactive and aggressive looking at grants from foundations and other funding for these specific projects especially when you're talking about building housing and improving infrastructure," he said.
Doug Farmer is proposing using proceeds from a retiring TIF district to invest an additional $1.1 million in the city's housing programs.
"With very little money in the rehab program, we can really give a house a bounce and then the whole neighborhood," said Farmer.
"This money would be not only used for the housing replacement but also the rehab program where we go into houses and take out the lead paint (or) put new siding on the outside of a house," he added.
Karl Green, a community resource development educator in La Crosse County, led a recent study on the issue and found 64% of the homes in La Crosse are valued at less than $100,000.
Click here to read the report.
He says the growing number of rental properties is part of the problem.
"We really start to get a situation that feeds on itself in which case you don't have a lot of people making improvements, you then don't attract people into the neighborhoods," said Green.
"That leads to the higher tax rate and the higher tax rate then causes people to not want to live in the city. It just become this cycle," he added.