(New Buffalo, MI) - A desire to build new housing within the price reach of average wage earners just outside the city limits of New Buffalo has taken another step forward.
New Buffalo Area Schools Superintendent Michael Lindley agreed during a March 15 workshop to try and get the city and township to join the school district in the potential development viewed as a public-private partnership.
Lindley said he will also attempt to get Berrien County government to contribute to the project in some fashion.
The plan involves construction of 30 townhomes and two apartment buildings containing 32 units on land owned by the school district along Lubke Road across from New Buffalo Elementary School.
Another 15 lots would be reserved for single family houses that would be constructed over time with help from students in the high school’s building trades program.
Currently, the total cost of constructing the 62 units is estimated at roughly $18 million.
Representatives from Progresses, a real estate development company based in Chicago and the Antero Group, a consulting firm also based in Chicago, gave an overview of the project and the steps involved to break ground during the workshop at New Buffalo High School.
Several members of the school board and citizens also attended the session.
Whether the development materializes hinges on acquiring enough financial support from the public or private sectors to reduce the cost of construction enough to bring down the price of the homes to a level average wage earners can afford.
Right now, Lindley said he felt the estimated cost is much too high and any private or public funds that might be available to help offset the expense will be needed to make construction a reality.
“It’s imperative you look for any grant programs out there,” he said.
The homes would go up on about 20-percent of the 35 acre site owned by the school district, which has pledged to donate the land for the development to help offset the cost of the homes.
Local governments will be asked to put in the streets and other infrastructure such as water and sewer lines at no cost or a discount.
Lindley said the idea is to bring in families with children now priced out of the local housing market to reverse declining enrollment. He said another goal is to attract and retain more teachers by providing homes financially within their reach.
“We got to think outside the box and figure out how do we get these people to live here,” he said.
Lindley said he anticipates the new housing, if constructed, to be available for purchase and rent. He also emphasized what’s traditionally viewed in a negative light as affordable housing is not what’s being discussed.
School board member Lisa Werner said deed restrictions aimed at keeping the homes occupied by full-time residents in future years should be included.
“We want some control so it just doesn’t turn into a second home development,” she said.
School board member Denise Churchill expressed a similar view.
“I want to protect the integrity, the reason we’re doing this,” she said.
Ed Gausselin, a representative from the real estate development firm, said reaching the desired price level will be a challenge especially from much higher construction costs and rising interest rates.
However, he said the design work is in the very early stages where it’s ripe for cost reduction adjustments typical in major developments.
“There are ways of getting this where it needs to be,” he said.
Eric Neagu, president of the consulting firm, said construction could begin within a year if everything in the process goes right. He said the next steps should include a surveying of the land early in the spring and decision by the school district on any restrictions desired in the deeds.
Another workshop to further discuss the proposal is anticipated in May or June.