For Danya Day and her family, their new home in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood is a dream come true.
Day was joined by city officials Tuesday to celebrate her new house at 1511 S. Ninth St., constructed by Western Technical College students through the city’s housing replacement program.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking of for so many years that I wanted to do, and the opportunity was never there,” Day said.
The reality of being a homeowner — Day closed on her house June 15 — hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but she was grateful for the replacement housing program, which is funded through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development community development block grants. Her three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, on a lot formerly occupied by a vacant duplex, was constructed through a partnership between Western’s Wood Tech program and the city. The program started in the 1990s and adds two homes per year to the city’s housing stock. The city provides the lot and the foundation, and Western students build the house.
After Western students finish up their part, the city hires contractors to put in the plumbing and electrical system and puts the house on the market. It offers financing options to try and help low- to moderate-income households become homeowners.
The program highlights how comprehensive the city’s efforts to revitalize its core neighborhoods are, including housing programs, neighborhood resource officers and park improvements, among others, said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.
“Between the city and Western Technical College, we were the only folks who were making major investments in these neighborhoods, and now we’re really seeing the tipping point with our other nonprofits, with private interest, with La Crosse Promise, with all these different groups and people who are very much part of neighborhood efforts,” Kabat said.
Day had heard of La Crosse Promise, which offers college scholarships to families moving into the Powell-Poage-Hamilton and Washburn neighborhoods, but she hadn’t heard of the replacement housing program until her real estate agent brought it up when construction was completed on the house back in January.
“This program works a little bit different, and it’s a little more affordable for people in an income situation where I’m a single mom, one income,” Day said.
Day has two children, 14-year-old Khyree Malone-Day, who is still at home, and 23-year-old Micah Day, who is on his own.
“We had outgrown our place,” Day said.
Meanwhile, Day had started volunteering and working in the La Crosse community, joining Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge, an organization dedicated to elevating and empowering La Crosse’s African-American residents.
Despite the work she was doing, there was a distance between her and the La Crosse community because she didn’t live in the city.
“We weren’t fully in the community the way we’d like to be. I feel like if you’re going to help your community, you need to be a part of your community and you need to be aware of what’s going on,” Day said.
Becoming a first-time homeowner hasn’t been simple, especially as she navigated a promotion with the La Crosse School District, becoming a community schools coordinator. She needed to work out financing with her bank and the city and wait for approval by the city’s Community Development Committee.
“There’s all these things you’ve got to work out, but I had to really put up a fight. I’m not a quitter. I don’t give up easy,” Day said.
Even after closing on the sale and moving in, Day has been faced with some challenges. Being a newly constructed house, it didn’t come with things like window treatments, mirrors or towel racks. She ordered samples for blinds, then realized she didn’t have a mailbox for them to be delivered to.
“I’ve been fortunate to have the resources and the network and the support that I don’t feel like a lot of people have,” Day said.
She wants to pay those blessings forward.
“I also want to be an example for the black community in La Crosse, to let them know that they too can buy a house, you know. This is possible. I also want single moms or single parents to know it’s possible,” Day said. “I want to see our people succeed. I want to see them together. I want them to take advantage of opportunities. I don’t want them to be discouraged. Whatever I can do, I’m here to help.”
While owning her own house is still surreal, she’s glad to call the house — and neighborhood — home.