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Rhinelander’s Housing Needs Assessment recommends expanding senior housing, building quality rental units


If you are in the market for a new home in the Northwoods, you know competition is fierce.

It doesn’t take long for homes to sell and some sell for more than asking price.

The City of Rhinelander has heard the anecdotes, so this fall, city officials conducted a housing needs assessment.

“The Housing Needs Assessment was to inform us on a number of fronts,” Zach Vruwink, Rhinelander’s city administrator, explained. “One, what’s the market look like today? Number, two, what’s the demand horizon? How many units do we need to promote development within the city and then construct? And finally, what are some strategies we can employ to bring about a better housing stock here?”

The report identified a need for both affordable and market rate housing, even though the city’s population is declining.

That’s because much of the available housing is really old.

“So much of Rhinelander’s housing stock was built in an era that it’s just probably beyond its useful life,” Vruwink said. “And because there hasn’t been any nicer housing, the study revealed that people are living in housing that’s cheaper, which is fine, they have more money to spend on other things. But it puts more competition and pressure on those that can’t afford anything higher.”

To meet demand, the Housing Needs Assessment highlighted a few areas for priority focus.

One of those areas is developing senior housing.

Rhinelander, like other nearby communities, has a growing senior population, but lacks the independent and assisted living facilities to serve that population.

“Seniors want to age in place,” Vruwink said. “If we can give them an opportunity to age in Rhinelander, it creates less stress and burden on those families trying to care for a loved one that may have to live with them because they can’t find housing somewhere else in town.”

There’s an added benefit to developing housing options for seniors, too.

“Seniors are staying in their single-family homes longer,” Vruwink said.

If they had the option to move into senior-specific housing, that could put affordable single-family homes back on the market.

On the other end of the spectrum, young, entry level workers also struggle to find housing in Rhinelander, so another priority identified by the assessment is high quality rental units.

“Entry level teachers, entry level nurses, some of your professionals that have not been in the workforce for a long time, they’re challenged by finding housing here in the city,” Vruwink said. “We believe that we’re going to have to pursue a workforce housing project at some point with a developer.”

One other suggestion the city plans to act on is hiring a neighborhood coordinator.

About half of the homes in Rhinelander were built before 1960 and not all of them have been maintained.

A neighborhood coordinator could help with that by connecting residents with resources to afford property maintenance and enforcing maintenance standards.

Vruwink said developers are already interested in the results of the Housing Needs Assessment. He’s hopeful it will lead to positive change.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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