Local housing poised for more growth

Friday, December 20, 2002

Remember the late 1980s and early 1990s? McCook was at a stand-still in the housing market. During this frustrating period, community groups failed repeatedly in efforts to generate interest in retirement living quarters and multi-unit apartment buildings.

Then, almost overnight, a turnaround took place.

Suddenly, living units were popping up all over the place. To the east, a group of investors led by Lloyd Benjamin built the Highland Park units across from Community Hospital, and shortly thereafter the Larmon family and associated companies launched the Willow Ridge development northwest of the hospital.

The housing surge didn't end there. In the years that followed, the Maplewood Apartments were constructed in western McCook; the Kelley Creek Apartments were developed west of the hospital; and both the Highland Park and Willow Ridge projects expanded.

As impressive as the growth has been, it is just a start. McCook faces many more housing challenges.

"We have much more we need to do," said Val Kircher, the former chairperson of the McCook Community Housing Corp., and one of the leaders of McCook's ongoing housing effort. "We need to clean up and fix up some of the community's older homes," she said, "and we need to provide affordable housing for working families."

These are not impossible goals. In fact, Kircher believes McCook is in a prime position for housing action.

Her hopes are hinged on two exciting happenings. First is the three-year grant of up to $120,000 to the McCook Economic Development Corp. to establish a housing office, and the second is the community housing study being conducted in association with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka.

"It's awesome," Kircher said. "The information we are gathering will be a valuable tool for builders and developers. It will also be a great assist in purchasing, rehabilitating and reselling older homes."

McCookites are still pinching themselves, wondering what brought the latest turnaround in housing. In Kircher's opinion, the key was a series of housing meetings which she and the economic development director, Kay Lavene, attended in the past couple of years. "That put us in touch with state and regional housing officials, who kept us informed about all the programs available to communities of our size."

Key decisions are near. Within the next two months, a new housing director will be in place and a series of housing study committees will start their work.

Through the success of the retirement center and apartment developments, McCook showed in the 1990s that it can rise up and meet challenges.

Now, in the 2000s, it's time to take on the community's need to fix up older homes; to create adequate housing for new industry; and to build additional affordable housing for all income levels. The process has begun. We're poised for continuing success in housing development.

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