LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW)--La Crosse has a relatively low unemployment rate, but a below averagehome-ownership rate. A program called La Crosse Promise, aims toencourage purchasing or building homes and education.
In 2009, La Crosse Countyreleased a challenging trends report which showed urban sprawlcausing issues with in the county core: the city of La Crosse. BrianFukuda, a La Crosse County community development specialist worked onthe report.
"We have some growingconcentrations of poverty in some of our most challengedneighborhoods," Fukuda said. "We have deteriorating housingstock."
The report states it's quote"not suggesting that our current situation is in crisis, butrather it is challenging us...to think today about how we can reversethe trends and provide a promise for a better future."
Fukuda says the solutionofficials came up with is La Crosse Promise. The program wouldprovide scholarships to public or private colleges and universitiesin Wisconsin for families residing within La Crosse City Limits.
"I think what the entitieshave is a profound understanding of the impact education has on aneconomy, a local economy, a state economy and a national economy,"said La Crosse Schools Superintendent Randy Nelson. "It really sits at theheart of that."
The La Crosse Promisescholarships would be funded entirely by private donations.
"For a really initial pilotprogram we're looking at, for a specific neighborhood, maybe $250,000over ten years or something like that," said Jerilyn Dinsmoor, theexecutive director of La Crosse Promise. "But to expand it,anywhere from $1 million a year over 10 years, on higher."
And the ultimate goal is tooffer scholarships for all students living in La Crosse with anendowment, which would require about $41 million. Finding financialbacking is proving challenging.
"We don't have multimilliondollar donors who will write us a blank check for scholarships everyyear," Fukuda said. "That's something we've struggled with for anumber of years is how do we start to implement the scholarshipprogram."
So La Crosse Promise plans tostart small-- hopefully raising enough money to provide buildscholarships, which would be for families who construct new homes inthe city. The hope is to draw people back to the core of thecommunity.
"The family is making adirect investment in our community by building a new home and the LaCrosse Promise would make a direct investment in that family byhelping them fund their student's college education," Fukuda said.
The programs success willrequire even more than just donations. It has to be a joint effort ofLa Crosse Promise, the school district, the county and the city.
"From the city standpoint,we've got to have good neighborhoods, we've got to have housingavailable, vacant lots for people to develop and to really have thesupport in place so that this becomes an attraction for new peopleto come in to the community," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.
"The city has a lot of olderhousing stock that we are actively now rebuilding housing," addedLarry Kirch, the La Crosse City Planner. "So the city's built 46homes and if this scholarship program materialized, we haveopportunity to essentially create lots by tearing down dilapidatedhousing that's passed its useful life and then build a new housethere."
As of now there isn't atimeline for when the scholarships would be available. And while itwill require a lot of work to raise the money, Fukuda says he'sconfident the program will steer the city and county in the rightdirection.
"Thisis something that has a proven track record in other communities tomake an impact and to really address a lot of the issues that we'refacing," Fukuda said. "And these are things that keep me up atnight and I believe that this is the solution."
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