Report: More affordable housing needed in Rock, Walworth counties

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BELOIT - Affordable housing and financial security remain two of the biggest issues facing residents in Rock and Walworth counties, according to new report published by Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties.

Every three years, Community Action is required to submit a new community needs assessment to qualify for federal funding for programs aimed at creating pathways out of poverty.

This year's report shows 22,550 residents in Rock County and 12,405 residents in Walworth County are estimated to be at or below federal poverty status. In its survey sent to residents, 5.4% said they were homeless, while 44.1% said they rented property and only 21.6% owned property, with 21.6% saying they lived with others.

Community Action Executive Director Cecilia Dever said the lack of affordable housing in the nonprofit's service area was "skyrocketing and scarce."

She pointed to projects like the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas (NRSA) plan in Beloit's Merrill and Hackett neighborhoods and the River Valley housing development in Beloit and Janesville as positive efforts that are making a difference, but said more needed to be done.

She also said access to dental care and increased transit offerings have grown stronger since the previous study done in 2016.

"(The assessment) confirmed everything we already know. We see it every day. People need housing and they come in every day looking for help," Dever said.

In its first full year of serving families with access to temporary housing, employment resources and basic supplies like clothing and school supplies, the NRSA program helped 34 families. This year, the program has helped over 50 families, according to Community Action Planning and Development Director Marc Perry.

The effort allows changes to the city's consolidated plan to provide easier access to grant funding for both neighborhoods. The effort allocates federal funds ($50,000 annually) to improve public safety, revitalize the neighborhoods through more social services programming and affordable housing options, while supporting resident empowerment.

Dever said Community Action received funding from anonymous donors to help offer similar services to residents outside of the NRSA neighborhoods.

Other concerns facing residents is the lack of affordable mental health care

Going forward, Dever said the plan will be used to draft strategic planning goals in preparation for drafting Community Action's updated 2020 planning document, while looking to get more resources into Walworth County.

"We really want to reach out to Walworth (County) more," Dever said.

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