The COVID-19 pandemic has laid the foundation for another looming crisis.

That crisis is a lack of affordable housing, Village of Oregon planner Elise Cruz told the Observer. She pointed to a state-mandated housing report the village published in 2019 stating one out of every four households in the county can’t afford to live in Oregon.

To mitigate that, Habitat for Humanity and Lakestone Properties brought conceptual plans for affordable housing developments to the June Planning Commission meeting, seeking staff feedback. Commissioners asked for more public input before moving forward with either plan.

Habitat’s plan involves redeveloping 769 Janesville St., and Lakestone’s would build new apartment buildings with rents below market rate at 917, 919 and 947 Janesville St.

The concepts will go to neighborhood informational sessions for public engagement. Habitat’s session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 27, with a Tuesday, July 28, rain date. Lakestone’s is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, with a Thursday, July 30, rain date.

Both are planned to be held at Triangle Park in Oregon’s downtown. Each developer will give a presentation on their respective proposal, and guests will have the opportunity to offer thoughts and ask questions on the plans, Cruz said.

She said both developers are prioritizing invites for people who live within 200 feet of each proposal location, as they have to factor in current Forward Dane rules that restrict outdoor gatherings to 25 or fewer people. For those who cannot attend and want to know more, Cruz said the village will reach out to OCA Media, which runs the village’s public-access cable channel, for live streaming.

Cruz said the village will encourage attendees to stay six feet apart and wear masks, and park tables will be spaced six feet apart, as well.

This won’t be the only opportunity for the public to view the plans, Cruz emphasized adding that the proposals are also subject to change as developers work on revisions.

Habitat and Lakestone are set to come back to the planning commission with changes in September, she said, based on the feedback they receive from the July sessions.

Addressing a shortage

Much of the northern portion of the Lakestone Properties site is wetland, Cruz wrote in a May 29 memo to the Planning Commission, rendering it unbuildable.

But Lakestone first proposed to locate three or more multi-family residential buildings with 135 units on the southern portion of the site. The buildings would have underground parking and three stories of apartment units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units, Cruz wrote.

“These units would be classified as ‘affordable’ and would be available for families making 30-80% of the Area Median Income,” she wrote. “For example, currently in Dane County, this would be a family of four making between ($24-$63k) per year.”

Cruz wrote Lakestone is looking into the possibility of one or more of its proposed buildings being dedicated to senior affordable housing, as well. The proposed development would also have a clubhouse, shared greenspace and a stormwater retention facility.

The southeast portion of the site is proposed to be reserved for commercial developments with a restaurant, bank, gas station or other retail establishments.

“This project would certainly have its challenges, with site layout and design, but it would help us well on our way of meeting our affordable housing shortage in the village,” she wrote.

A welcoming ‘Habitat’

In a separate memo dated May 29, Cruz writes the village has been in contact with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County since late fall 2019 to explore redeveloping part of a Janesville St. property.

“The property was listed for sale in mid-2019 and currently has two homes on (it), which are both rented to families,” she wrote. “The site is approximately 1.3 acres in size.”

She wrote Habitat has been studying the size of the lot for the past few months and accepted an offer to purchase it. It is proposing to leave one of the homes and demolish the other, which is a small cottage.

Habitat shared two concepts with the Planning Commission in June – one with a cul de sac and the other with a dead end – both laying out five duplexes on the site, for a total of ten new housing units. Each unit would range between 1,000-4,000 square feet.

She told the Observer Habitat typically supports families with an income within 30-50% of the median in the county. The organization takes care of its homeowner’s mortgages and has them take classes about financial literacy and related topics.

In turn, the homeowners clock around 350 hours of “sweat equity” of construction of their future home.

Cruz wrote getting this plan to go through would require both a village comprehensive plan amendment and a rezoning, but “would support the Village’s affordable housing goals and provide an ownership opportunity for low-income families in the community.”

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.