Altoona Aims to Add Affordable Housing With City-Owned Apartments

Tom Giffey

The City of Altoona’s approach to ensuring affordable housing to Chippewa Valley residents is radical in its simplicity: The city bought a building, remodeled it with the help of donors and nonprofits, and will now rent units at below-market rates. No tax credits, no subsidized rents, no screening of applicants to ensure their incomes are low enough to make them eligible for housing.

I think it’s another example of Altoona saying, ‘How can we get that done?’” – Mike Golat, Altoona city administrator, on the Solis Circle apartment complex

“I don’t know if it’s unusual or not,” said City Administrator Mike Golat at a Sept. 26 open house for the apartment complex, Solis Circle, 1511 Devney Drive. “There wasn’t a model to follow. … I think it’s another example of Altoona saying, ‘How can we get that done?’ ”

The 25-unit complex in a former assisted-living facility features efficiency, one-, and two-bedroom units, and rents start at $390 (including utilities). The City of Altoona purchased the building, which has been vacant for three years, for $770,00 in funds generated by a special Tax Increment District in the River Prairie Development. The city contracted with John DeRosa of Rental Resources to serves as property manager, and Golat expects the project to produce a positive cash flow for the city.

The initiative has its roots in a pledge by Altoona Mayor Brendan Pratt in early 2018 to address the lack of affordable housing in the community. City officials worked with local nonprofit JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope) and builder Cody Filipczak, among others, to create Solis Circle. Filipczak, of C&M Home Builders, originally planned to buy the building through a family foundation and operate it with the help of a nonprofit. When that didn’t prove feasible because of cost and complicated zoning issues, the city instead offered to buy the vacant building with money generated by new development in River Prairie. Filipczak, his firm, and his employees helped with upgrading and remodeling the building over the summer. City leaders, volunteers, and nonprofit agencies also worked together to bring the project to fruition.

“It was just cool to work on something that was so collaborative,” Filipczak said.

Golat, the city manager, said a regional task force formed last year to confront housing affordability recognized that public-private partnerships like this are critical to finding solutions.

“It’s a multi-pronged issue,” Filipczak agreed. “It’s going to take a lot of little changes, a lot of things like this, to make a difference.”