Citizen Wausau

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N2N Creates East Side Neighborhood

by on March 9th, 2010

There have been many critics who say leaders of the City of Wausau have put too much emphasis on downtown, and that resources are being diverted away from some of the more low-income, inner-city neighborhoods.  I may be one of those critics.

For a long time, the perception was that once you got outside of an area bounded by 6th Street and the river (east-west), and Scott Street and Forest Street (north-south), you really didn’t matter.  I am not saying that is how it was, but that was a very common perception.  I was very pleased that for the last year or two, more emphasis is being put on areas outside of the downtown area, including the near west side.  However, now there is a perception that once you get outside of an area bounded by 3rd Avenue on the west, 6th Street on the east, Bridge Street on the north and Thomas Street on the south, you just don’t matter.

A meeting I attended on Friday morning, March 5th, will hopefully help to eliminate this perception.  The committee, which meets the first Friday of the month fairly early in the morning, is the Mayor’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor Committee.  The N-2-N Committee (as it is called) was born as Former Mayor Linda Lawrence’s Core Area Renewal Effort (CARE).  Much like the Wausau Century Project, this was a fairly high-government involvement project to do something with Wausau’s low-income neighborhoods.  Although the CARE effort ended with Mayor Lawrence, some of the ideas continued on with the N-2-N Committee.

The N-2-N is more of a bottom-up type of organization trying to improve neighborhoods.  One of their preferred tools is creating neighborhood associations.  They define neighborhoods and help them create an identity and civic pride.  They get help from the police department and the inspections department.  Two of the most well established neighborhood groups under the N-2-N program are the much publicized Werle Group on the West Side, and the Longfellow Group on the East Side.  The N-2-N committee has been working with a newly-formed inner-city neighborhood group on the West Side that has called themselves the “Westies,” and has already seen some improvement for their efforts.

The N-2-N committee is now looking at creating a neighborhood group in one of Wausau’s most problem areas.  Their goal is to facilitate residents and property owners with creating an “East Town” neighborhood group.  The area they are focusing on runs from 6th Street on the west to the railroad tracks (before Bellis) on the east, by Franklin Street on the north to Forest Street on the south.

The model they have used for other neighborhood groups is going to probably have to be put on the shelf and a completely new approach used because of the very unique and diverse make-up of this area.

Some of the challenges facing the N-2-N Committee include:

  • 130 rental homes vs. 34 single-family owner occupied homes
  • 42 commercial properties
  • 7 large apartment complexes
  • 7 owner-occupied rentals
  • 5 group homes
  • 4 probation & parole houses (TLP)

Based on information available to the N-2-N committee, there are 26 registered sex offenders living in this area.  Also, the average age of the homes is around 115 years old (houses range from 1850 to 1960, so the newest properties are still a half-century old).  Getting “buy-in” from the home owners is not going to be enough.  Rental property owners and tenants are going to play a much larger role if this is going to work because as best the city can calculate, about 80-percent of the housing in this area is rental (and that number might be low).

The two biggest problems identified in this neighborhood are blight and crime.  Per the summary statement distributed at the N-2-N meeting, some of the tools that Wausau can use for the blight issue include:  inspections with follow-up and enforcement, landlord oversight, and community development grants.  For crime, the same statement lists solutions such as increased police presence, enacting a dog ordinance, and enforcing a nuisance ordinance.

I applaud the N-2-N Committee’s desire to look at an area that seems to have been forgotten.  However, I am not letting down my guard completely.  The City of Wausau’s housing task force came up with a number of recommendations, despite having no real stakeholder input.  Many of the recommendations are very heavy-handed.  The task force consisted of council members and city staff who, in turn, interviewed other city staff in doing research for their recommendations.  There was no input, however, from residents, home owners, renters, or landlords.

I applaud the apparent willingness of the N-2-N Committee to take a similar bottom-up approach in helping strengthen this troubled neighborhood.  As an active landlord in this community, I pledge to do what I can to help.  However, if city leadership falls back on trying to address these issues without stakeholder involvement, I fear there will be more problems than solutions.  Let’s work together and do this right!

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