Group explores housing for active seniors
Development Foundation looks at need for housing for those looking to downsize from their family homes
For decades, the focus of the Medford Area Development Foundation has been to facilitate bringing jobs and economic opportunity to the community.
Over the years, development foundation members and leadership have worked largely behind the scenes with the goal of keeping the Medford community strong and vibrant.
In recent years, that focus has shifted toward addressing the ongoing worker shortage impacting not only Taylor County but rural communities across the country. The development foundation leadership recognized that when it comes to getting workers from the factory to the board room, it is essential for those people to have someplace to live in the community.
Development leaders formed a working group made up of government and business members to address these concerns and began working with consultant Pat Keefe, who himself has ties to the community. That group then led to others and built connections resulting in the city’s partnership with Fore to bring what will eventually be a 64-unit apartment complex to Pep’s Drive on former industrial park land.
The first 16-units of that complex were available to start renting out at the beginning of the year and at Monday’s annual meeting of the Medford Area Development Foundation, it was reported that 12 of the first 16 units have been leased.
While this is great news for the developers as they continue with the project, it addresses only one part of housing cycle needs in the community. Keefe explained to foundation members that throughout their life people have different housing needs.
People in their 20s who are just starting out look for affordable places to rent. As they get married and have families into their 30s and 40s they look to purchase a starter home or upgrade into a larger home. Then as they approach their 50s and 60s they look to downsize to homes that meet their needs before eventually looking at retirement or eventually assisted care options as they get older.
Keefe gave the example of his first apartment as an adult was in a large complex with amenities. He said as he and his wife look ahead toward retirement, they have come full circle and are again looking at that kind of living situation for the future where they can be around others who are at the same point in life as they are.
According to Keefe, while this cycle can be easily seen in larger areas such as the Twin Cities region, in Taylor County, as with many rural communities, the cycle is missing steps as people go into a home and then stay there. What this does is create a bottleneck as those looking to move up into housing don’t have as many options meanwhile those looking to downsize also have comparatively few options.
At the same time, Medford faces the issue of income rising which means there are fewer tools available from the government side for housing programs since those tend to focus on lower-income housing.
“This is a unique problem to Medford and other communities with strong industrial bases,” Keefe said. “It is a lot harder to sort through.”
Keefe proposed that Phase II of addressing the community’s housing issue is to target the market of 55 and older active adults. He said demographically many already own their homes, noting that according to the last census there are over 5,000 homeowners in Taylor County who have no mortgages. He noted this is unusual compared to other regions.
He presented the idea of foundation members taking leadership in laying the groundwork for an initial 32-units of 55 and older housing which would include townhouses or duplexes and have amenities such as walking trails, pickleball courts with residents either owning their home or renting.
He noted that the average household size in Taylor County is at 2.57 people per household. “There is a lot of wasted space in houses in Medford and Taylor County,” he said.
By having a place for those ready to downsize, Keefe said this would free up housing for people starting families and moving from apartments. “This is coming full circle,” he said.
Keefe said the roles the development foundation and municipal officials could play in this is to identify and purchase land for potential development of this sort with the city involved when it comes to things like park areas and trails to connect with other neighborhoods in the city.
Keefe also raised the suggestion of the development of a Community Land Trust which could be a mechanism to develop this sort of neighborhood concept and manage it through homeowner agreements. He noted the footprint of land needed is smaller than people would expect with 7.5 to 12.5 acres being needed for a 32-unit townhome development with amenities.
As with the previous investment into the apartment complex being built, Development Foundation director Sue Emmerich noted that this also serves to help prompt other private development to get involved and address these needs.
Foundation member Chris Schield asked about the impact current interest rates would have on people moving into these types of communities.
Keefe noted that the interest rates on 30-year mortgages are back under 6%. He said while it is higher than the very low rates seen in recent years, they are still far lower than many people in the room had for their first mortgages which for many were over 10%.
He also noted that the demographic they are targeting with this type of development is looking to downsize from homes they own and are treated as cash buyers in the market. “This would be a key to making it work,” he said, noting people would cash out the equity they have in their homes to purchase a townhome or could choose to rent.
As has been the case in past years, the development foundation’s annual meeting has been a time for a recap of the state of the economic health of the community.
“This past year we have seen exponential growth throughout our community,” said foundation president Brian Hallgren. “We are luck to have the visionaries like Doug, John and Luke Gasek and their exciting projects.” He also praised Ann and Dale Baumann and Dave Brandner who have taken older buildings and transformed them.
According to Hallgren, the foundation assisted to help 33 businesses receive grants through the Bounce Back program. He noted this totaled $330,000 coming to the community.
Hallgren also praised the collaboration with Mayor Mike Wellner, city coordinator Joe Harris and the city council to bring a 64-unit apartment complex to the community.
“We have also collaborated with the city and other volunteers to bring a band shell to Medford and the Whelen Park project that will enhance a walkable downtown. These additions and expansions are keeping our community thriving. That along with our industrial base have us looking toward a bright future,” he said.
In other business, foundation members:
Received reports from Emmerich and Medford Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President Billie Hartwig about Chamber activities in the past year. The Chamber welcomed 70 new members last year bringing the total to 330 members. The Chamber has also strengthened its partnerships with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and is actively working with other development groups in the region to assist in their efforts.
Discussed the need for a special meeting to amend the organization’s bylaws to merge the board secretary and treasurer positions into a single person to streamline operations and to move the date of the annual meeting going forward so that it does not fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was noted that banks are closed on that day which does not make it possible for some members of the foundation to attend the meeting.
Praised the efforts and commitment of Doug Berends who will be leaving the board after serving many years as the organization’s treasurer and for Sam Klinner who resigned from his board position.
Unanimously elected a slate of new and returning members proposed by the nominating committee. Returning board members reelected include Brian Hallgren and Sue Ackerman. Joining them will be new board members Jon Knoll and Ken Ceaglske.
Following the public portion of the annual meeting, the board met privately for reorganization with Schield elected president, John Lange elected vice president, and Ackerman serving as secretary/treasurer.