GUEST OPINION: Survey process starting to address housing challenges

By JUSTIN SCHWENK, guest columnist

The Brown County Redevelopment Commission is beginning our Building Community Initiative in the coming weeks, and we would like to take a moment to outline its main goals and objectives as well as request the community’s assistance in completing Phase One.

The Building Community Initiative is focused on the redevelopment and rehabilitation of underutilized areas of the county. Multiple sources of data indicate the need for greater redevelopment to put Brown County on a sustainable path for the next several decades. In the coming weeks, more columns will be submitted to The Democrat that will outline the rationale behind the survey in greater depth, as well as the next steps and other phases of the project.

In the meantime, the RDC would like to invite you to become a citizen surveyor for the Building Community Initiative. We will be hosting our first training session on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. on Zoom. If you are someone who enjoys driving the county and has a little time to donate, we would be very appreciative of your assistance. The survey itself is very easy. All you need is a smartphone with the Landgrid app installed. If you are interested or just have more questions, please reach out to Justin Schwenk at [email protected] or send a Facebook message on our Facebook page at “Brown County Redevelopment Commission.”

The Building Community Initiative is a three-phase project designed by the redevelopment commission to be a community-driven effort to identify vacant and abandoned homes, rehabilitate them, and return them to productive use — specifically as affordable starter homes that will be accessible to a greater number of people interested in locating to Brown County.

As a result of this survey, we will also be able to institute a voluntary assistance program run by community organizations to provide help to residents with routine maintenance to prevent homes from becoming distressed.

The land survey that is now underway is the first phase of the Building Community Initiative and will be focused on information gathering and identification of areas where redevelopment will have the greatest impact. The end result will be a more efficient use of lands, the revitalization and reuse of abandoned homes, more affordable and diverse housing options for our community, greater opportunity for young families to locate to our community, a stimulated economy, and a more sustainable population base.

That sounds like a lot to deliver, and it is. However, the future of Brown County demands it and the citizens of the county deserve an initiative that is grounded in objective, data-driven information.

Administration of the survey is simple. It was developed by the Brown County RDC and its partner, Loveland Technologies. Loveland operates a GIS platform called Landgrid that is specifically designed to survey residential areas and assess their redevelopment needs. They have created a mobile application to answer a series of objective, observational questions that will allow the RDC to determine where in the county our efforts are best directed. When this survey is complete, we will have a comprehensive map that will present verifiable justification for future projects.

As a surveyor, your job will be to select the parcel on the map, answer the questions, and submit. If you are in an area that is out of cell service, the submission will complete when you return to service. Becoming a surveyor is equally simple. Attend a training session, submit your email to the RDC, and download the app.

It is important for everyone to know that this survey is conducted entirely from public right-of-ways. At no time should a surveyor ever be on your property. The information gathered is also only used internally to inform decisions. A comprehensive report will be published after the survey that outlines the findings while ensuring data privacy.

Most critically, the RDC understands the sensitivity that must be used in a project of this nature. It is not the intent of the RDC to stigmatize or force people to live a certain lifestyle. The origins of this project developed to answer the question of how to add more affordable housing without adding to the developmental footprint of the county. This plan was developed by using existing projects and best practices in redevelopment from around the Midwest in rural areas like ours.

What this plan is NOT is an attempt to remove people from their homes, condemn properties, or attack the most vulnerable in the community. The hope here is that we can change the conversation around residential development, build community goodwill, and show that the livability of the county can be improved in a constructive way.

We look forward to your participation and hope to see you at the survey training on Feb. 11.

Justin Schwenk is president of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Building Community Initiative citizen surveyor training

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 11, 6 p.m.

WHERE: On Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82327101039?pwd=NmdockhrYkpyNWFSV1RGbmxXNDNPZz09, meeting ID 823 2710 1039, passcode 683322.

ASK QUESTIONS OR SHOW INTEREST: Contact Brown County Redevelopment Commission President Justin Schwenk at [email protected] or send a Facebook message on the Facebook page “Brown County Redevelopment Commission.”