Grass Roots: Elven Sted Lays Out Welcome Mat in Stoughton

It looks for all the world like a block of riverside row houses, maybe in a European capital. Sounds like one, too. But Elven Sted is a new workforce housing development in Stoughton that is allowing city natives to stay in town and providing disabled residents an affordable place to call home.

The 33-unit, $7.2 million rental development is the largest housing project built so far by Madison-based Movin' Out, Inc., a nonprofit agency that helps people with disabilities find affordable housing.

Elven Sted -- Norwegian for "river home place" -- sits, appropriately enough, along the Yahara River in central Stoughton, a city settled by Norwegian immigrants.

The "row houses" are a mix of apartments and townhouses, all of which are accessible to tenants with physical disabilities. But as they are now leased, only about one-third of residents have disabilities. That's a good mix, says Howard Mandeville, executive director of Movin' Out.

"We wanted to create an integrated experience. So, this was built as workforce housing and our marketing included people with disabilities," he told me when I visited Elven Sted early one recent morning and got the chance to speak with some residents.

"This is the nicest place I've ever lived," said 48-year-old Barry Wendt as we chatted in the community room. Both Wendt and his roommate are clients of Community Living Connections, Inc., a nonprofit agency with offices in Madison and Stoughton that assists developmentally disabled adults.

Elven Sted is Movin' Out's first rental property in Stoughton, and the first property developed not solely for disabled people and their families. The agency decided to develop in Stoughton after employers noted a shortage of high quality and affordable rental housing for their workers while agencies assisting the disabled reported difficulty in finding housing for their clients.

Community Living Connections was one of those agencies, and director Carrie Bublitz-Cardarella said Elven Sted meets a longtime need. "Affordable, spacious, well- maintained accessible housing is very hard to come by," she said.

Bublitz-Cardarella said she appreciates the fact the Movin' Out talked with prospective residents for months about what they would like to see in housing and then worked on many of the suggestions.

The mix of residents is a great thing for her agency's clients, she said. "There's a warm and welcoming feel there. I feel it will be a strong community for people with and without disabilities."

Stoughton native Matt Iverson is happy to be able to continue to live and work in his hometown, now that he and wife, Deanna, and their kids are settled in their three-bedroom, two-bath townhouse.

"We have three kids and we looked and looked and looked for a decent place to live with decent rent," Iverson said. Now, his even is able to  come home for lunch from his job at Stark Automotive Group.

Occupancy at Elven Sted began Oct. 1 and all units were leased by the time of a grand opening ceremony last week. Rents are linked to household income, which range from 30 percent to 60 percent of the Dane County median, and start at $400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and top off at $850 a month a three-bedroom townhouse.

Those affordable rents are possible because the development was financed through the sale of Section 42 federal tax credits, and also assisted with some $600,000 in tax increment financing from the city of Stoughton, says Dave Porterfield, Movin' Out's director of real estate development.

The city funds helped with the cleanup of the former industrial property that is now in an area of the city targeted for redevelopment, Porterfield told me.

In an economic climate where nothing much is happening in construction, the affordable housing tax credit program is one of the few things moving, he says. "It was a good situation for us. Labor and material costs are lower than they usually would be, land prices are down, interest rates are low. All that goes, in our case, towards lowering the rents," he said.

The development features a gallery of artwork by local artists along the hallway walls. Outside there's a rain garden, raised beds that will be available for tenant gardening, and a small playground.

All in all, Elven Sted seems to say "velkommen," a friendly welcome to affordable housing in Stoughton.

Kathryne Auerback