Neighborhood Investment Program is meant to fund needs, not wants

The Economic Development Committee (EDC) has told the city of Wausau that it has applied for $10.5 million from the Neighborhood Investment Program to fund a pretty pedestrian bridge in Wausau’s Opportunity Zone (WOZ) “vision” for the redevelopment of the former Wausau Center Mall.

Neighborhood Investment Program funds are meant to assist local governments in implementing significant projects that help neighborhoods recover from the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, and can be used for childcare and housing initiatives.

One of the two arguments they used to support this decision is that the WOZ project is “shovel ready.” Inadequate housing has yet to be seriously addressed by the city, resulting in heart wrenching outcomes. Just last winter a homeless man was found frozen to death under a semi trailer and another man committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. The city’s own study revealed a need for 400 residences to meet the anticipated housing need by 2025, while close to 300 low income citizens currently wait for their names to be called to receive a home.

The reason projects addressing dire housing  needs weren’t “shovel ready,” despite frequent demands made by the public made to the mayor and city council throughout this past year, was because the city chose not to make providing affordable homes and ending homelessness a priority over developing Wausau into a little Madison (or into a destination for wealthy tourists from Illinois?).

According to Human Rights Watch, United States: Pandemic Impact on People in Poverty, March 3, 2021:

“Since the start of the pandemic, 74.7 million people have lost work, with the majority of jobs lost in industries that pay below average wages. Many of those who lost work and income are running out of money and savings. In January, some 24 million adults reported experiencing hunger and more than six million said they fear being evicted or foreclosed on in the next two months due to their inability to make housing payments. By contrast, higher-income people have been relatively unscathed economically. Despite the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression, the collective wealth of the U.S.’s 651 billionaires has jumped by over $1 trillion since the beginning of the pandemic, a 36 percent leap.”

Despite this cruel reality, in a city where the poverty rate exceeds that of the state’s by 50%, our city decision-makers are quick to take government money, using the disadvantaged status of the people living on that census tract, then displacing them and not providing them with essential basic needs. This proved an effective tactic for them when they sought hundreds of thousands of dollars through federal Brownfield Grants to fund the initial phase of Riverlife in 2012, claiming monies would be used to address the health impacts on Hmong people who sustain themselves from gardening in industrial tainted soil and fishing the contaminated river. Yet remediating action remains pending!

This shovel ready pretty promenade project reveals the city’s true allegiance to gentrifying Wausau and continuing to displace poor and low income Wausonians, while shamelessly shoveling the dirt over the graves of the most vulnerable in our Community.

Tell the new Director of City Development, Lisa Brodek, the EDC, Mayor Rosenberg, and the city council to stop this distorted inhumane rationalization the city is using to hoodwink the state for our money over others’ dead bodies and diminishing livelihoods. Demand the people most harshly impacted by the ravages of the COVID pandemic be rescued.

Condemn this death measure approach to city planning! Flood the city council and the Neighborhood Investment Grant Program with letters of protest, demanding this once in a lifetime opportunity benefit those who’ve suffered the most, for whom a pretty new promenade will only provide yet another undignified slap in the face.

Bruce Grau is part of the Northcentral Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign