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More diversity of housing good for workers, Deerfield community

Sixty proposed new market-rate apartments on the village’s south side could help diversify the housing stock, opening Deerfield to a broader mix of earners

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Deerfield has a long history of providing good jobs with solid futures to young workers for whom technical school and hands-on training are more of a draw than college.

But until now, those eager to work close to home have found apartments in the village hard to come by.

In recent decades, there have been higher-end single family neighborhoods and some moderately priced single-family homes developed in Deerfield. But rental apartments have remained scarce.

That has been a disservice to Deerfield’s thriving industrial sector.

Now, however, that may be shifting.

Sixty proposed new market-rate apartments on the village’s south side could help diversify the housing stock, opening Deerfield to a broader mix of earners.

That would be good for workers and for the village in general.

Deerfield’s manufacturing legacy goes back, at least, to the mid-20th Century when firms like the Deerfield Creamery Company and Sta-Rite Industries were major local employers.

Since the 1980s, the fast-growing Deerfield Industrial Park has put the village on the regional industrial-sector map, with easy access to two interstate highways and a prime location between Madison and Milwaukee.

Today, more than a dozen manufacturing and trucking firms operate in Deerfield, daily employing more than 1,000 people.

Deerfield, in fact, continues to far exceed the state’s per-capita number of manufacturing jobs and has continued to add such jobs as they’ve declined elsewhere in Wisconsin.

But U.S. Census data has shown that most of those employed by Deerfield’s industrial-sector firms don’t live in the village.

Entry-level workers, especially, have had to seek out apartments closer to Madison. There is simply little for them to choose from in Deerfield.

Now, however, the townhouse-style Autumn Wood apartments on Autumn Wood Parkway might make living in Deerfield more possible.

Now progressing through the local approval process, they would consist of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred nationwide interest in living in exo-urban communities like Deerfield, defined as just beyond a metropolitan area.

The village is – almost — perfectly situated to capitalize on that.

It already has an abundance of industrial-sector jobs at established firms.

It has a state bike trail that crosses Main Street, a quaint historic downtown and an appealing location 20 minutes from Madison and an hour from Milwaukee.

Over the past couple of years, the village has invested a significant amount of tax incremental financing into infrastructure improvements in the downtown area. There’s talk of coming municipal improvements like relocating the village offices and expanding the library.

And over the past five years nor so, an array of new community activities and festivals have cropped up, as civic involvement has grown.

There’s community energy waiting for more people to join in, and broad consensus that with a few more people, long-sought retail businesses like a grocery store and a hardware store might again prove viable.

We hope prospective Autumn Wood residents see that energy and lean into it.

Deerfield isn’t alone in recognizing the importance of a diverse housing stock in drawing new residents who bring new ideas and the possibility of community engagement.

In 2015, Dane County created an affordable housing development fund that has since awarded over $15 million. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority has also responded, offering tax credits to developers to rehab and to construct new affordable housing.

A healthy community commits to having a mix of jobs and a diversity of housing for workers of all income levels. The Deerfield Village Board seems to understand that, in giving the tentative okay to the Autumn Wood apartments.

We hope its future residents embrace the possibilities inherent in living and working in the village, that could be both good for them and good for the broader community.

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