Newsmakers, May 11, 2017

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Lissa Carlson, Brian Liesinger and Brian Fukuda
Lissa Carlson, Brian Liesinger and Brian Fukuda Hope Kirwan/WPR

A La Crosse program that provides up to $50,000 in educational scholarships to families willing to build new or renovate a home in two of the city’s deteriorating neighborhoods has a good problem— too much interest.

La Crosse Promise‘s Neighborhood Program launched in 2015, with a goal of improving the Powell-Poage-Hamilton and Washburn neighborhoods near downtown La Crosse, older neighborhoods with declining property values.

Since the start, five new homes have been built and another home has been renovated leading to eight $50,000 scholarships that families can use for higher education.

Executive Director Brian Liesinger said interest is so strong that La Crosse Promise has a waiting list.

“Right now the housing market is such that I don’t think that we could turn over properties fast enough for the people waiting for them now. So that’s a good sign,” said Liesinger.

La Crosse Promise has made changes to its Neighborhood Program in the last couple of years to accommodate even more participants, like adding an adult scholarship program. It also has plans in the future to add another neighborhood where hundreds of homes sit in the city’s northside floodplain that will be eligible for new homes or remodeling projects.

The idea for La Crosse Promise came a decade ago and is based on Kalamazoo (Michigan) Promise. The first service La Crosse Promise offered in 2012 are Future Centers at the city’s two public high schools. Counselors at the Future Centers have helped 2,000 students with post-secondary advice— everything from career exploration to help applying for college and financial aid.

Liesinger said the Future Centers have freed up high school guidance counselors to focus on the many other issues students have and like the Neighborhood Program, at some point they would like to be able to expand the Future Centers.

“We’d have more staff to be able to go out and do outreach to students, and actually start addressing younger kids, going to the middle schools, perhaps elementary schools and start planting these seeds a little earlier,” he said.

There are about 25 place-based scholarship programs in the United States. La Crosse Promise often gives advice to other communities interested in starting something similar. Officials say people in the city of Milwaukee have expressed an interest in starting a similar program.

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Lissa Carlson Guest
  • Brian Liesinger Guest
  • Brian Fukuda Guest