Towns are turning vacant schools into affordable housing

Vacant School Apartments
Posted at 1:24 PM, Sep 05, 2022

MAYVILLE, Wis. — Small rural towns across the country has been hit by the housing crisis. With limited options and space, towns are starting to use creative and cost savings solutions.

Mayville, Wisconsin is turning a vacant school building into affordable apartments.

“Mayville is a very charming town,” said John Guinn, the mayor of Mayville. “As time goes on, we’ve been successful over the past years in terms of development and building new homes and using a lot of our inventory up. So, we had to get innovated and provide affordable housing in the community.”

According to the National Association of Realtors, home prices are up by more than 30%, while Redfin reported apartment rent has risen 15% from a year ago.

With limited inventory in small towns, like Mayville, towns have turned to the trend of vacant school buildings to accommodate residents.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation awarded the city $250,000 to turn the old red brick school building into a 20-unit complex called the Albrecht School Apartments.

This could help solve a common problem in rural Wisconsin — a shortage of housing.

"We think the building has a lot of potential and a lot of historical value that we are looking at,” said Andreas Lezema, the owner of the building and contractor. “We're looking forward to the new construction but preserving that historical significance while giving it the modern look as well. As we did more research, we found out that my great-grandmother whom I never met, taught her. Her whole career she taught here, and her name was Willemina Albrecht, so we changed the name to Albrecht School Apartments."

A 2019 study by the Wisconsin Realtors Association reported that the state hasn’t built enough homes to keep up with population growth. This has resulted in a shortage and makes it hard for businesses to recruit and retain employees because workers in rural areas struggle to find affordable housing. One of the solutions is to build more multifamily housing, like apartments.

What makes this building unique is that it can save on cost since the infrastructure is already there, but it's also a greener way to create more apartments since contractors are recycling material at the school.

"We are taking advantage of the charm that's already there,” Guinn said. “What a tragedy it would have been if we decided to tear this from the ground up and build new construction."

While this trend is picking up in other states, Guinn said he hopes Mayville can help other communities accomplish this as well.

"I generally get two to three inquiries a month from other municipalities about being curious on what we are doing here and are trying to emulate that model,” Guinn said.