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They went at it. Monday night’s Meeting of the Whole came near to blows as the subject of low-cost subsidized housing became the subject of discussion. The city council, led by council president John Halverson (Mayor Hartz sat in the audience, and then spoke as a citizen later in the meeting), sat in silence as citizen after citizen spoke on a variety of subjects, but by far the most contentious subject was Hartz’s bringing to Lake Geneva the idea that the county housing authority (he sits on that county board) be moved to the city, and that 28 subsidized apartments be constructed over along Wells Street. Tom Hartz spoke very eloquently about the need for more diversity in housing, what with the great increase of so many homes being rented out for short term vacationers, and therefore disappearing from the long-term rental market.

Bill Huntress, Lake Geneva’s premier barber, spoke eloquently, but with much more emotion about the dangers of bringing in renters who might not respect the close to free ride they were getting by being given six hundred and fifty dollars every month to pay the rent, when they would only have to pay a hundred and fifty. One woman then spoke very emotionally about her early time in the city, living as a poor child in a very low-cost apartment.

There is, of course, no financial justification for the Walworth Housing Authority (W.H.A.) to move from its current headquarters located in the center of Walworth County in the City of Elkhorn to the City of Lake Geneva. It would be a waste of public funds to build a new facility for the headquarters of the W.H.A., as part of a new 28-unit apartment complex that would be done in a partnership that would help subsidize some private developer’s development. This move would likely open a new path for the misuse of public money as a means to fund a private developer. The maneuver smells similar to giving $800,000 of taxpayer money to a private investor to buy an $800,000 theater.

Why build W.H.A. headquarters in the City of Lake Geneva, one of the most expensive cities in Walworth County? An implied justification for the moving of the Walworth County Housing Authority to the City of Lake Geneva is that since 40% of the students in local public schools come from low-income families, the City of Lake Geneva is a poor area, and therefore it would be a good location for the Walworth Housing Authority. That is misleading because most of the low-income students do not live in the City of Lake Geneva, but live in the other small towns outside the City of Lake Geneva where they can still afford to live. There are 3,952 students in Lake Geneva schools. 40% of that number is 1,580 students, and of them how many need help? That’s unknown, but it’s much more likely that many more could be helped by not moving and building a new headquarters in the City of Lake Geneva and instead, using that money for those who need it. If the cost to build a new facility, and to move the agency to the City of Lake Geneva were publicized, then one could calculate how many additional rents could be paid or subsidized.

Helping those who can’t afford a place to live, and then helping them get a place to live is the fundamental purpose of the Walworth Housing Authority and it should not include building a nice new place for the authority itself. The issues discussed the potential move of the authority and the building of the low-cost units were all concerning what kind of people might be coming to the city and not why any effort should be made at all to move an agency or authority that has been doing just fine right where it is.

The need for more rental housing is evident. But the question of how to best accomplish that remains very much open and emotionally charged.

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