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BizCast 25: Apartment Owner Roush on Renting to Unsheltered, Affordable

Episode 25

Apartment Owner Nick Roush, Roush Rentals, on Renting to the Unsheltered, Affordability

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

 C[00:00:00] Nick Roush: If we look at the economic vibrance of any community and we

[00:00:04] Nick Roush: look at our community and needs housing workforce and cost of living are all directly related and affect everything,

[00:00:13] Vicki Markussen: Welcome to BizCast Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from Biz News, brought to you by Biz News Greater Lacrosse. I am your host and founder, Vicky Markussen, and I have a long time friend with me, Nick Roush. We’ve known each other for a long time forever, and you are the owner of Roche Rentals, which is celebrating your 20.

[00:00:37] Vicki Markussen: Fifth anniversary, which you didn’t even process until I said, Hey, what makes this timely? I

[00:00:43] Nick Roush: know I 25 years I, good thing I don’t look older. Neither one of us nevermind the gray hair and the white beard,

[00:00:50] Vicki Markussen: but it’s been 25 years. How did you get started?

[00:00:54] Nick Roush: Started even before Mandy and I were married, which is crazy.

[00:00:58] Nick Roush: Bought our first owner-occupied duplex. It was an absolute dump and needed. Needed everything right, needed everything. And there was still wet carpet from the last people that lived there from the dog pee. It was awful. And we gutted the whole place and just did a ton of work. And really restored this neat old duplex bungalow on the north side.

[00:01:20] Nick Roush: This is part of my north side love and fix up this great old place. And we built a new garage there and it was awesome. So that was a long, long time ago, and, Real estate was always something, and rental property was something I did on the side while I was in other career pursuits, of which there’s been a few for different companies and always this thing that sort of grew until, in the not terribly distant past, I decided to go all in on. That’s just, my, my primary professional focus now. Yes. Yeah,

[00:01:49] Vicki Markussen: you probably looked at it and said, learned a ton. Oh, so now the next. Project is gonna be much easier.

[00:01:55] Vicki Markussen: Oh, the

[00:01:55] Nick Roush: learning. Oh god. I think one of our projects, when I was getting going, I, when we bought some other buildings and my mom literally said to me, Vicky, she goes, did you look at these before you bought them? She said, cuz mom was, slave labor to come and paint, fix and do. And after putting like every nickel I had into this building and like tons of credit card debt and all the things trying to make it work, we tore the building down so, No.

[00:02:21] Nick Roush: Yes, there was like 50 or $60,000 in credit card debt into the building and we tore it down to build a new building cuz it was just like I was, could no longer make a sell cat like it wasn’t going to work. And so we gave up and tore it down and that was the first new construction project we’d done in the city of lacrosse, which was an adventure.

[00:02:39] Nick Roush: That was a long time ago now. And the building’s still there. Good friend of mine bought it a few years ago and great property over in the Viterbo area. And then we actually ended up, we went so good, we bought the house next door and did the same thing. So we made it all work through growth, through a growth mindset versus ah, this isn’t gonna work and we’re getting clobbered.

[00:02:56] Nick Roush: We figured out a way to make

[00:02:58] Vicki Markussen: something happen. And I’m guessing that it’s a, it’s not that you are taking those profits and go living the high life, like you have a vision and you’re trying to save. Some revenue to buy the next property. And there’s there, this has grown. Like where did, so you started with nothing.

[00:03:16] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Where are you now?

[00:03:17] Nick Roush: I think today we have 255 units in the greater lacrosse area and plans to develop a bunch more. And I, I think, our philosophy has always been we continue to try to reinvest in the community, reinvest in our business as much as we possibly can. I’m.

[00:03:35] Nick Roush: It’s just the way I look at things is how can we keep our costs low and structure our business to provide a really awesome value to our tenants who are fantastic people. I still get out doing maintenance myself all the time, right? Because I feel like it’s still important for me to be engaged and all those things and know tons of our tenants and they’re awesome people.

[00:03:57] Nick Roush: And so the, it’s that virtuous cycle. We feel like the more we can provide great value to our people and treat them with their honor and respect that they deserve, and, accountability’s a two-way street. For us and for them that mutual respect relationship and caring for each other works out in the long game.

[00:04:14] Nick Roush: And we have lots of tenants who let. They will move from one property to another cuz they got a different job somewhere else. So we didn’t lose them as a person, they just went from this place to that place. Or we’ve even had folks go from the one bed and then, and they got married or there was the longtime boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever.

[00:04:29] Nick Roush: And then you know, the two bed and then they had a kid and then they moved into a three bed. That’s happened too. Wow. Yeah. Lot of awesome people. And that kind of goes back to our philosophy of just taking care of each other is how it works

[00:04:40] out

[00:04:40] Vicki Markussen: best. Yeah. Yeah. And your mom and dad are still involved in the business so.

[00:04:44] Vicki Markussen: Still very much a family business. Oh

[00:04:46] yeah.

[00:04:46] Nick Roush: You can meet mom She’ll if she, she has a good chance if you went and saw an apartment, mom showed it to you. And that’s still the case today. And dad, I still loop him in on maintenance stuff. Dad’s old joke, if he conduct tape it or staple it, he’s there.

[00:04:59] Nick Roush: Yeah. Yeah. But that’s awesome. And what’s so awesome with my folks continue to be involved, it does a couple things, right? It, they love to just keep an eye on stuff, what’s happening here and, oh the yard needs this attention, or, the dumpster mess happened or whatever.

[00:05:14] Nick Roush: And I on stuff cuz I just can’t be everywhere all the time. Yep. And it keeps them so engaged, it keeps them engaged with purpose and what’s going on and they love it. Mom and dad, that’s definitely where I got the entrepreneurial slash Self-employed Gene was from them, both of them being business owners and longtime folks in the community doing that stuff.

[00:05:32] Nick Roush: So I’ve always cut from that cloth. I was raised in that environment, so it was just the lens through which I saw the world for sure.

[00:05:38] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And you’re a central high school graduate? Yes. Yes. And Mandy too, correct? Yep. High school sweethearts. Yep. Oh my God. But this all comes from 20 years ago.

[00:05:48] Vicki Markussen: You were born and raised here. Yeah. And so cross home, We’ve talked about how housing is this driver of the economy and how it has an impact on workforce and cost of living. And so Yeah, it’s a web. Yeah. It’s all intertwined. You can’t have one without

[00:06:07] the

[00:06:07] Nick Roush: other. No, no. They’re completely related. If we look at the economic vibrance of any community and we look at our community and needs housing workforce and cost of living are all directly related and affect everything, right?

[00:06:25] Nick Roush: There’s just a reality. I think Mother Teresa said it best, right? Is without money, there’s no mission, right? It’s just. That’s the juice it takes to make things happen. And so the question is how can we come up with that resource in a way that everybody benefits and wins? And that’s a big part of kind of my business philosophy is I won’t get involved in a deal with.

[00:06:46] Nick Roush: Where somebody has to lose in order for me to win. Like how can we do something where the neighborhood wins and the community wins and we win, the tenant wins, the people that live there win. Like how can we do that? And so when I back up and think about that from an economic development perspective, like right now, Everybody, every business in town could thrive more.

[00:07:09] Nick Roush: If they had more awesome people to do stuff at their business. Yeah. Whatever it is. Whether I’m Gunderson or I’m QuickTrip, or I’m the pets food store, everybody needs people right now. Because we’ve gone through this time from the pandemic where like tons of people have retired outta the workforce.

[00:07:28] Nick Roush: As a result of their 401k doing so well. Yep. We’ve got people because of childcare challenges who have left or somewhat semi permanently left the workforce, right? And then we’ve got still people getting reengaged with the workforce in emergence from all that. And so that puts the big crunch on, on how do the employers fill those voids to do the jobs it takes to thrive.

[00:07:50] Nick Roush: And what I see from a housing perspective in our area and how it relates, I. Is. Every landlord in town who is worth their salt and doing I love that expression, but is doing a good job, right? Taking care of their people. They essentially have nothing available anywhere.

[00:08:08] Nick Roush: They have zero vacancy, a statistical zero. It’s actually a couple percent. But that’s statistical zero, right? And so how do we bring more people in if we don’t have somewhere for them to live? So we have to create those housing assets in order for that to occur. And I have to give, so forgive me, I have to go on a brief tangent that directly relates.

[00:08:29] Nick Roush: Yep. And what I talk about, and I’ve talked about this many times on what I call the chain of custody of housing. Okay? We talk all the time about, oh, we have all these amazing grads from Western and Viterbo and UW lacrosse. How do we keep them? And it starts with they need jobs and a good place to live.

[00:08:47] Nick Roush: Yep. And they need the kind of housing that a recent grad, I call it, the young professional wants to live in. So they need a nice one bed apartment that’s close to the stuff they wanna do in a part of town that’s advantageous to them. So let’s say close to downtown, close to restaurants, close to hiking, close to amenities.

[00:09:06] Nick Roush: That’s where they wanna be, right? Like they’re not. A suburban customer yet because not where they are in their life. So we need that like first housing to capture them because I’m pretty sure right now we got the jobs. Absolutely. Like right now we got the surplus jobs. Surplus, yes. Surplus of job availability.

[00:09:22] Nick Roush: So we need the place for them to live and then you know, they’re gonna get older. And in a few years, they’re gonna have boyfriends and they’re gonna have girlfriends, they’re gonna have, other people in their life. And then they’re maybe gonna need the two bedroom, or they’re gonna do the one bed for a while or whatever.

[00:09:35] Nick Roush: And then, household formation is happening a little later, right? It’s happening. Usually number starts with a late 20 or a early 30. And so now that happens. And now maybe they’re gonna need the two bed for sure. And maybe they’re still in a renting situation or they’re ready to buy their first house.

[00:09:50] Nick Roush: And so they buy that first house and then well, time goes on and now they have another one. Baby comes, or baby number two comes, maybe number three, who knows? And now they need that little bit bigger house. And maybe now they want to make a move from this spot to that spot cuz they wanna be closer to the school.

[00:10:05] Nick Roush: That’s really important to them. Or that next driving thing and then time goes on. Next thing you know they’re empty nesters. They wanna downsize into a smaller house, but still with the right amenities for where they’re at in their life. Or maybe they wanna go back to apartment life and they don’t wanna deal with a yard anymore and a roof and a furnace and all the things.

[00:10:23] Nick Roush: And time goes on. Maybe now it’s. Like senior housing. And then it’s nursing care. So here’s the thing. If we know that capturing population throughout the context of their lifespan helps them live, work, spend, and thrive in a given community, if we can provide all those things, we can check all the boxes on the chain of custody of housing.

[00:10:50] Nick Roush: That we don’t lose the person. We get to keep them. It’s not, I’m fresh outta college and I decided I was gonna go to wherever. Because if we look at La Crosse and why, we still live in LA Cross area. This place is beautiful, right? We have the rivers and the bluffs and great restaurants and awesome.

[00:11:06] Nick Roush: All the third places that just make. Lacrosse, the vibrant, loving community that it is. And so like we have all kinds of worms on the hook to catch people and keep people, but if we don’t have that housing asset, they’re gone. Period. End of sentence. And if we don’t have that housing asset for them at the right time in their life, lacrosse proper might lose that person to the bedroom.

[00:11:31] Nick Roush: Communities for sure. They might lose them to, on Alaska, they might lose them to Holman and nothing against Holman on Alaska. I love those communities that develop there too, and just awesome people as well. Again, if we go back to solving some of our lacrosse based challenges in looking at, Tax base cost of living.

[00:11:47] Nick Roush: Touch on that. Property taxes some awesome studies done by my good friend Carl Green, and he’s been beating that drum for so long, and I’m just an evangelist for the study too, is is, lacrosse proper has the lowest property tax value per capita of any city of its size in the state of Wisconsin.

[00:12:04] Nick Roush: By a margin. And so it’s moving those needles that not only helps La Crosse County capture that person, cuz we’ve got the housing asset, right? But it also helps capture them for a lifetime. And then as we improve those mo and move those needles, then that makes the property tax situation better for everyone.

[00:12:25] Nick Roush: Because we’ve raised that value per capita. We’ve made that better. Yeah. For everyone. And then who benefits? Then school districts have more money this than we keep the families in lacrosse now. We solve our enrollment challenges, right? Like other than making an assumption about declining enrollment, now we could have positive enrollment as a result of that because we’ve created the housing asset that people wanna live there.

[00:12:47] Nick Roush: And not just in certain neighborhoods. That we can move that needle throughout the city at different income strata. In different places. And there’s different answers for different housing solutions that can be very what’s the right phrase? Context sensitive.

[00:13:00] Nick Roush: Yes. Like where they go and what happens there matters. Yes. So I’ve jabbed long enough. That’s my, that was

[00:13:06] Vicki Markussen: a lot. That’s okay. I’ll interject. So tracking with you, just so everyone’s tracking. Yeah. Lacrosse. The average value of a home in La Crosse is very, is lower. For compared to other municipalities our size, let’s just put it that way.

[00:13:20] Vicki Markussen: Yep. And so I also look at it as there’s tremendous opportunity for the city of La Crosse in terms of we have an aging population that is also demographic of the city of La Crosse. Yeah. And aging housing stock. An aging housing stock. Yeah. Keep going. And That will change. There will become new owners to these homes.

[00:13:41] Vicki Markussen: And so if lacrosse can figure out how to become the entry level, that first time, affordable new home mecca. Yep. That’s the flip that happens, right? Yeah. So now all of a sudden, how do you get them? Right. And so all of a sudden it becomes this is the place where you can find affordable housing.

[00:13:59] Vicki Markussen: You are gonna have to invest some dollars in updating it and getting it to where they want it to be. Yep. Which is just another model, not all homes are turnkey. Yep. So anyways. There’s, that’s what the customer wants though. I’ll tell you that. That’s what I know. And we can go there next too. For sure.

[00:14:14] Vicki Markussen: So anyway, so to your point, so once if the city of Lacrosse can navigate to that to saying this is where you can buy your first home, then all of a sudden those children are being in the city of lacrosse and that helps with the school district. Yeah. However, now let’s go back to where we touched on.

[00:14:31] Vicki Markussen: So even I. From your very first rental to what you’re building right now? Sure. What type of amenities have been added that just become an expectation? I

[00:14:41] Nick Roush: think that there’s a lot of things that are important to the tenant today, and I think, it’s rule number one in location or in real estate is location, location, location.

[00:14:50] Nick Roush: You gotta be in the right spot that. Is advantageous to your customer for what they’re looking for. So we’ve got downtown spots, we’ve got suburban spots, we’ve got spots on the river, different places where we’ve just picked out these different things in, in, in good places. So what tenants want, right?

[00:15:08] Nick Roush: Small, a affordable, so capital A, affordable is in the industry, is capital a, affordable is how we refer to subsidized housing. In some way. And then small, a affordable is what I would call workforce housing. Like I’ve got my full-time job at QuickTrip, which is awesome.

[00:15:22] Nick Roush: I can afford to live in one of Nick’s nice apartments. Yes. But I’m not going paycheck broke. So I’ve gotta have. Rent at a price point that fits into a median income that our economy can digest. Yes. Okay. That’s gotta be true first, and then I want it to be nice. A lot of young professionals, right?

[00:15:41] Nick Roush: They’ve got an expectation. I’m not gonna say that it’s wrong, I don’t think that it is, that they wanna live in a nice, clean place that is well finished, right? Nice cabinetry, nice flooring, light, light fixtures, all the kinds of things. So it looks and feels. I wouldn’t say like their parents’ house but it feels nice.

[00:15:56] Nick Roush: Yep. There’s, that sense of reward that comes with that sort of first housing thing, so that’s gotta be there. What else do I have? I gotta have parking. I gotta have parking. I won’t get on my soapbox about all of the rodeos surrounding parking, but I will briefly say that this is Wisconsin and it gets really cold.

[00:16:11] Nick Roush: Five months of the year and people have cars. And so we have to have somewhere for those cars to go. In order to not make enemies with our neighbors by covering the streets with cars, right? So we gotta have parking, right? Somewhere to go with cars. Gotta have somewhere to go with your stuff, right?

[00:16:25] Nick Roush: Cause everybody’s got their Christmas crap and their extra luggage. It’s very important

[00:16:29] Vicki Markussen: crap though. Yes. Oh, very important

[00:16:30] Nick Roush: stuff. Yes. No question. They, everybody’s got their stuff, right? So they need somewhere to go with their stuff. So can I create a space for that stuff to go super beneficial as well.

[00:16:40] Nick Roush: And then, it’s gotta be in a safe place too. It’s gotta be in a place where my car’s not getting busted into on the daily or on the weekly. I’m not having to deal with crime issues, so on and so forth. It’s gotta be in a safe place and safe is a relative word. But it’s gotta be in that spot because again, Nick always I always look, I talk about myself in the third person.

[00:16:59] Nick Roush: It’s kind of fun. But I look at things through three lenses, right? I look at things like number one. What is root cause? If something’s going wrong, what’s the root cause? Anything else is symptom treatment, right? What’s actually sitting underneath all these layers of poo to fix the problem. Number two is that all change comes from suffering, right?

[00:17:19] Nick Roush: Nobody’s ever changed anything in their life because stuff was going awesome. It’s not until you’re getting kicked in the teeth that you’re like, maybe I should do something different. Myself included. All the time. And so then the question becomes is how great does the suffering need to get in order to institute change?

[00:17:33] Nick Roush: And can I see the early warning signs like, I’m the person who sits at a desk and my back hurts cause I sit at a desk all the time. And then 20 years later I need back surgery. Cuz I’ve been sitting at the desk for 20 years. Even though 20 years ago, every time I stood up it was like, Ooh, this is sore.

[00:17:48] Nick Roush: Maybe I should do more yoga or whatever. That’s foreshadowing. And yes. And then the third is that people do things based in incentives. And instead of isn’t always money, it often is, right? It could be karmic incentive, it could be love, it could be admiration, it could be praise, it could be acceptance, all kinds of things.

[00:18:03] Nick Roush: But inevitably we do things based on incentives. So coming back to your question. If I’m not living in a safe place that has these amenities and is close to the stuff I care about and whatever, I’m gonna move somewhere else. I’m gonna choose to go somewhere else because I can. And with work from home today and I’ll call it the transitive property of modern employment, meaning people can get new jobs pretty easily.

[00:18:29] Nick Roush: Yeah. And resumes aren’t as scarred as they used to be by the person changing jobs every two or three years. Very true. Used to be a really painful thing and now it’s the norm. Yes. I can just move I don’t want to be here. My stuff got broken into, or this place is too expensive, or this place is a dump, or the neighbors are noisy, I’m out and the least term, they’re off to the next thing.

[00:18:53] Nick Roush: So we’ve gotta be mindful of that in the assets that we create, both as landlords being, responsible for our tenants in the community as best we can and as a community. And where are we doing that? And I think that there’s. Lots of examples of parts of neighborhoods. Must, I’ll be honest.

[00:19:10] Nick Roush: There’s some very challenged neighborhoods in the city of lacrosse. That are also, cause I’ve lived here all my life, have a lot of beauty and character to them as well. Absolutely. And so there’s opportunity to. In those neighborhoods with development projects where we can raise the bar on density, whether that’s like town homes and a higher density for some, for sale options.

[00:19:30] Nick Roush: Or that’s what I would call medium density two-story apartment buildings. To help. And I’ll go somewhere with this so that it matters back to our conversation that can help move the needle for those neighborhoods. It moves the needle on taxes so property tax base goes up, which helps everyone.

[00:19:47] Nick Roush: Property tax base goes up, which helps the school district. And then what else does it do? And this is what I think is so important. This is the, this is the emotional aspects of me, is it also creates roots for that person in the city and in the neighborhood. Okay. Now I live here. I like it here.

[00:20:05] Nick Roush: It’s three or four blocks to Riverside Park. It’s, four or five blocks to the co-op to my favorite restaurant. I can walk to these places to my favorite other little spots, my favorite coffee shop. I can walk to Jewels or the Root Note or Grounded or whatever your spot is, right?

[00:20:22] Nick Roush: There’s so many. That’s so awesome. I love our local businesses. Oh my God, do I love our local businesses? You and I talked about that so much. Oh, it’s part of what makes lacrosse so awesome is now I have roots. And if I think about that chain of custody of housing, now I’ve got roots in this neighborhood and I met my girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever in this neighborhood.

[00:20:42] Nick Roush: And we love living here. Now it’s time to buy a house. Maybe I will take a chance in that fixer up or down the road. Or somebody’s building a really cool project down the road of some cool town homes. And I’m okay with a small yard or whatever. Boom. Now I wanna stay here. Oh, we’re having a kid.

[00:21:01] Nick Roush: They’re gonna go to Longfellow, they’re gonna go to Hamilton or Yeah. Whatever the school is, right? Yeah. So I create that chain of custody and I’ve done a few things. One, I’ve created some workforce housing to help our local employers so that we capture that person.

[00:21:17] Nick Roush: Two, I’ve created a chain of custody and roots in the community for them to wanna stay. And then I’ve given them a path forward by being mindful of creating the assets that people are looking for at each step of the way. And that creates this virtuous cycle, which solves so many other things.

[00:21:32] Nick Roush: Now, coming back to Mother Teresa, now there’s money for the mission. Because we’re bringing in more property tax revenue, and we can fix the roads, and we can fix the school, and we can, build the park and support these awesome things that makes lacrosse such a beautiful place because we’ve created the resources to make it happen.

[00:21:48] Nick Roush: You can’t tax your way to prosperity only at any business lesson. You can’t cost cut. To profitability, you have to sell stuff. And so we gotta create an awesome product that creates that. And I, my good friend Marv Wanders, loves to say, and all of us landlords, we all know each other to some extent or another, and have a good working relationship.

[00:22:09] Nick Roush: Yep. We’re not in competition with each other. We’re not. Yeah. When vacancy is a statistical zero. We’re in competition with other cities, is how Marv likes to put it. Like we’re in competition with that person who’s fresh outta UW lacrosse. Are they gonna move to La Crosse? Are they gonna go to Appleton?

[00:22:27] Nick Roush: Are they gonna go to Fond Lac? Are they gonna go to Green Bay? Are they gonna go to Madison? Are they gonna go to Stevens Point? Menominee? Where’s that person gonna go? And are we giving them every possible reason to want to come here? Yes. And that’s where we win. Does that make sense? It does

[00:22:42] Vicki Markussen: make sense, yeah.

[00:22:43] Vicki Markussen: So Marvin Wanders is with 360 360 Real Estate Solutions. Yes. Yep. Brilliant guy and so he has his share of housing and so you guys are looking at it of we need to provide the housing that’s going to retain the individuals. Yeah, but it’s all, again, it gets back to that ecosystem, right? Yes. So it’s not just about housing, because when people have the housing that they want, it’s the quality of life that attracts them.

[00:23:06] Vicki Markussen: Yes. The cost of little, like all of those pieces, it’s all intertwined. It all gets back to keeping our great workforce. And, we talked about the complexities of building in La Crosse, and you had said that there is, it’s a misnomer that there isn’t space to build in La

[00:23:23] Nick Roush: Crosse. Yeah, it’s not true.

[00:23:25] Nick Roush: It’s not true. There is available land in the city and it shows up in two forms, right? There’s vacant land. That I would argue are in good locations. We just got a parcel on the far south side that I think is gonna be a great location. It for what I would call the city of La Crosse.

[00:23:42] Nick Roush: And there’s other spots available. And then coupled with that, The good news about some of our challenged neighborhoods is we also have immense redevelopment opportunities that are close to amenities. There’s some awesome redevelopment opportunities that I, I don’t know if I could still do it, but you could throw a football into the places that you want to go.

[00:24:03] Nick Roush: That are close to there. Yeah. They’re within two or three blocks, which is so again, today like livable, bikeable, walkable. Awesome. So I think that there’s two aspects. There’s the open land that’s available in different spots. And we’re obviously going through a challenging time right now of high interest rates, high cost of labor, high cost of material.

[00:24:23] Nick Roush: The cost of materials is coming down. I think it’s gonna come down significantly in the next couple years. We’ll get into some of my crystal ball stuff maybe later, but, So I think that’s good news. Horizon for our community. And then there’s the redevelopment opportunities. And I feel like, the open land is obviously the lower hanging fruit, right?

[00:24:43] Nick Roush: There’s less barriers to getting that done. But it’s the redevelopment opportunities that I believe can really move the needle, right? Because I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. Where, this property is condemned, the one next door is falling down. How do we buy these two, assemble them, and from a property tax perspective and housing perspective, like 10 x 10 times the value was derived. As a result of doing that, like these two combined parcels were maybe worth a hundred thousand dollars total. Today there’s a million dollar property there. And then there was basically two units of housing. Now there’s eight. So we, 10 Xed value and we, for Xed density in a great spot that’s close to amenities, right? Like it’s two blocks from Gunderson Health systems’ door. And there’s I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that there are dozens, if not a hundred opportunities like that in the city. So what’s the barrier? That sounds awesome.

[00:25:40] Vicki Markussen: And there’s one more thing before you get into barriers. Go ahead. Please. So you’re just talking about the economic value, if you will, of doing that project, but then it’s the ripple effect, and we’ve seen it with facade improvements, like Oh yeah. So it’s not just that property someone sees, oh, that’s bright and shiny and I want bright and shiny on my home.

[00:25:57] Vicki Markussen: And then it has a what does the neighborhood getting brighter and shinier.

[00:26:00] Nick Roush: Yes. Don’t I wanna be a part of that?

[00:26:02] Vicki Markussen: Yes. Yes.

[00:26:03] Nick Roush: Yes. It’s the catalytic effect of redevelopment. Absolutely

[00:26:07] Vicki Markussen: happens time and time

[00:26:08] Nick Roush: again. A bazillion studies that point to, if a good thing happens here, good things tend to happen around the good thing that happened.

[00:26:15] Nick Roush: Yes. If it’s tiny, not so much, but when it’s bigger right, you start to redevelop a half block. And that’s gonna get eyeballs and attention in a good way. Yes.

[00:26:25] Vicki Markussen: And so then what is causing those projects not to happen?

[00:26:30] Nick Roush: It’s tough, right? Because you’ve got, you got a few things stacked against you to get that to happen.

[00:26:34] Nick Roush: The first is first cost, meaning what does it take to buy this? Stuff and assemble it. And unfortunately it’s, we’ve got a couple as it get a little, the weed, so track with me, right? There’s a couple layers in lacrosse. We have some special challenges to do that. One, in an easiest.

[00:26:53] Nick Roush: It’s not, we’re not Madison, we’re not Denver. Where the value of what’s going to get built is so big. That the developer can afford to just go in and buy the stuff, give people all the money, and then some. To tear it down because we don’t garner enough rent here for the things that we do to swallow up that first cost in the project.

[00:27:20] Nick Roush: Unless it’s really high density. Like at least three or four stories and it’s a half a block or bigger. And we’ve seen projects like that occur, but they’re tough. They’re tough to make happen. So you’ve got that first cost and then along with that you have the holding cost of a land assembly.

[00:27:37] Nick Roush: If we’re coming in as the person to want to do a project, it can take sometimes years to assemble all the houses on a half a block. And so now you’re sitting on the holding cost of owning all that stuff. Managing it, or tearing it down and paying a pilot, which is property tax in lieu.

[00:27:53] Nick Roush: So you’re holding all that stuff for so long. And it doesn’t work. It doesn’t financially work. And so going back to people who do things based incentives, it’s easier to redevelop Greenfield or Brownfield on open land. It’s just easier for that to occur. Yep. So that’s a barrier. The second barrier we run into is the NIMBY argument.

[00:28:11] Nick Roush: Okay. The nimby. For those that don’t know what that acronym means, it means not in my backyard. Nimby, and it happens in all directions. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Everybody’s guilty of the nimby. Why? Because we’re humans and we’re afraid of change. And sometimes the devil that we know is more comfortable than the possibility of what may occur otherwise.

[00:28:31] Nick Roush: Yes. So not always, but often. So and if, and as a, as humans, we have this automatic reaction. If we don’t understand something or we don’t know what it is, our automatic autonomic answer to the question is no. That’s, that’s what we do. So it’s dispelling the NIMBY arguments.

[00:28:51] Nick Roush: Yep. Having conversation with the people, conversation with the neighbors. I did a great project up in on Alaska. We started a couple years ago, and I came and met with all the neighbors. I invited them over before we even owned the property, and we sat down and I listened for three hours to all the things.

[00:29:07] Nick Roush: And we’ve tried to and listened to their concerns. And wrote them down and talked about how we can do things to make that better. Now am I saying everything we’ve done is perfect? No. But did I respond to what they asked for? And when they called me and said, Hey, Nick, stuff off your job site, blew into my yard.

[00:29:22] Nick Roush: Come pick it up. No problem. We’ll be right there. Sorry about that. Because the, 50 mile an hour winds that day blew some pieces of Tyvek in their yard. Yep. We’ll come and do the thing. So we’ve gotta be responsive to those people and hear their concerns and do our best to mitigate those concerns.

[00:29:37] Nick Roush: So that’s one part of the NIMBY thing. Yep. Another part of the NIMBY thing is to some extent, we’ve gotta have. I’ll call it the political and planning appetite to understand that, I know this doesn’t feel popular right now, but it is the right thing. So we’re gonna bite off this chunk.

[00:29:55] Nick Roush: We’re gonna bite off too big a piece of steak a little bit, and we’re gonna have to chew on it. It’s gonna take a little while, but we know in the long game this is the right thing. Yep. We know this is the stuff that moves the needle. Yep. And so you’ve gotta mitigate that first cost.

[00:30:07] Nick Roush: We’ll talk about how we can how the community, how the city can work together. And they know this this is not new in the playbook, but these are things that could be tools that we could exercise more. And then we’ve gotta have that political slash planning appetite to wanna take that on.

[00:30:20] Nick Roush: And when the neighbors come to be, In support of that greater vision that can and will move the needle. And there’s countless examples in all kinds of communities of that happening. So we’ve gotta use that information as a case study. Like we don’t exist in a vacuum here. All this stuff, everything’s been done before.

[00:30:38] Nick Roush: And other communities have been, let’s say, more progressive in making things like that happen sooner. We can use that information as a, a test case in helping people understand. So circle back briefly and then we’ll move on to the next thing. Oh, what can we do? That land assembly, that’s really where the developer and the city working as a partner to help make that happen.

[00:30:58] Nick Roush: Where the city can help with that first cost buy down in the interest of the long-term property tax increments. So we look at things like TIF financing, we look at things like that to be able to figure out ways to offset it.

[00:31:10] Vicki Markussen: Like interjecting here, so like La Crosse County right now has their acquisition and demolition grant which is awesome, right?

[00:31:17] Vicki Markussen: Yes. So six, I think it’s 60,000. Yeah. It depends upon

[00:31:20] the

[00:31:20] Nick Roush: size of the parcel. Yep. Of the parcel. But what you’re doing and all

[00:31:23] Vicki Markussen: it’s money, it’s real money that can get. Used, it’s new to acquire the property and to demolish. So then that reduces that first cost that you’re talking about. Correct. Yeah.

[00:31:32] Nick Roush: And then there’s ways for bigger assembly to occur if the municipality can get involved, right? And when you do the math on that, return on investment, just going from, let’s say a half a dozen. Really dilapidated homes to a nice, two-story medium density apartment building.

[00:31:50] Nick Roush: The return on investment for the community is massive. Like the in total return on investment, like ROI percentage. Yep. And this isn’t just the city, right? So it’s the city, the county, the school district, whatever. We’re talking like 17% annual roi. If Nikki or Vicky and Nick could invest in anything that returns 17% annually into forever we’d put every penny we had into it and it’s basically a Sure bet. If it’s guaranteed. Yep. So that’s a good deal for the community. And for the developer and for the tenant, no one loses in that deal. That first cost investment comes back to us in massive fold over time.

[00:32:34] Nick Roush: Absolutely. Yeah. So that’s what

[00:32:36] I

[00:32:36] Vicki Markussen: see. Yeah, and a lot of times you talked about the assembly. That has to happen, and I have a. Good friend who was running with someone and she says, oh my gosh, this house is just so awful. Why doesn’t someone tear it down? Just so happens that she was running with someone who owned that property.

[00:32:53] Vicki Markussen: No, but the point is that then it’s a learning opportunity, right? To. Say, here’s why. Yeah. We’re assembling all of these pieces. And so the public needs to understand that there may be some things happening behind the scenes to take care of some of these problem problematic properties. And it just takes the time to do that. And I’ve also, Seen, honestly and the city knows this too, it’s far better to have a private developer trying to make that happen than the city because the price of trying to buy that land, if it’s the city trying to do it Oh yeah. Goes astronomically

[00:33:25] Nick Roush: higher.

[00:33:25] Nick Roush: It does. And then there’s also other things the city runs into when they try to acquire property. It’s called Uniformly Location Act, where they are responsible for the people that live there for their housing and cost of moving and all the things that go along with that. Yeah. Which can be crippling in cost.

[00:33:40] Nick Roush: Yes. I

[00:33:40] Vicki Markussen: just learned that.

[00:33:41] Nick Roush: Yeah. So there’s ways for those partnerships to happen, but it takes all four, right? It takes time. It takes money. It takes genuine conversation with the neighbors to help mitigate the NIMBY concerns. And it takes, and this is the linchpin, it takes the political and planning appetite.

[00:33:59] Nick Roush: To take on the tough thing. Doing the, let’s say, the right thing versus the popular thing. And that’s not me throwing rocks, it’s just the reality of what goes down. I got compassion for every person at every level in that thing. Like taking the hard phone calls. I’ve taken many. It’s tough. And yet if you know what you’re doing is the right thing in the long game, you gotta stick to it.

[00:34:20] Nick Roush: Yep.

[00:34:20] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So the other thing that we wanted as we were talking about compassion Yeah. Is. Of course housing for the unsheltered is very, yeah. Conversation a hot topic right now. Now throw that ball to me. Okay. I am, because as I said, I can’t think of a better person to address it because you obviously understand it well from both perspectives, the compassion side and also the housing side.

[00:34:46] Vicki Markussen: And I’ve heard many of the rental property owners. Some who have said, we took in someone who was unsheltered. And the damage to their property was far beyond any sort of security deposit. Yeah. And even more the Ripple FL Ripple effect collateral damage you called it. Yeah. Is that then you have these tenants that did not, Bargain for this when they moved into the complex.

[00:35:13] Vicki Markussen: And so that causes stress on the other tenants. And so explain it from a property owner perspective, what is the complexity of housing? Yeah. The unsheltered, the homeless.

[00:35:24] Nick Roush: There’s a few things there, right? And I’ll start off with, there’s is an axiom that I absolutely love and.

[00:35:30] Nick Roush: We’re in a place today from a lot of things where we like to feel that compassion and kindness is like the most important thing. And I do believe that it is up without question of great importance, right? But if compassion and kindness is not tempered with logic and reason, We quickly descend into chaos.

[00:35:50] Nick Roush: And sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is force the issue of personal accountability. Okay. And I think any parent can understand, right? That, so sometimes they do stuff for their kids as an act of love, that in the end ends up biting them later. Yes. Like they give them too much.

[00:36:11] Nick Roush: Yes. And then when they want their kid to take responsibility for X, whatever X happens to be, that desire to do, that’s not there because they’ve been given too much.

[00:36:21] Vicki Markussen: Yes. There’s a pattern of being given too much. For

[00:36:23] Nick Roush: sure. Yes, for sure. And I think when we look at the situation, we’ve gotta take a compassionate approach, but it has to be tempered with logic and reason and always remembering that people do things based incentives.

[00:36:33] Nick Roush: That’s true. It’s built into our dna. It’s true if you don’t think it’s true just for the listener. And I’m saying this with love and compassion for you. If you don’t think it’s true, then ask yourself, if they stopped paying you to go to your job, would you keep going? And I would venture to guess that most would say no.

[00:36:48] Nick Roush: So always know that’s always running in the subtext for all of us. So there’s this com this balance, if you will, this purposeful check and balance between kindness and compassion and logic and reason. There’s a valuable push and pull. Both are true, both have value and actually both have love attached to them.

[00:37:04] Nick Roush: Okay. So that’s my philosophical look, right? Yes. So what’s this look like from a housing perspective so people understand the nuts and bolts? Okay. If I’m the. Typical landlord in lacrosse and I own, let’s say a few duplexes and maybe a single family home, and I’m renting those things out, okay?

[00:37:18] Nick Roush: I typically, if I go empty for one month out of the year, I’m probably going to break even on my property for the year. Because I only make about 10% of the rent. So if I take in a, let’s say a thousand dollars, I only make a hundred bucks. Okay. So if I have a, if I bring someone into my property that the property ends up getting substantially damaged.

[00:37:45] Nick Roush: Now I’ve got a twofold problem. I might go empty for two or three months while I to repair repairs. Repair, and I’m out all the money for the repairs, which can sometimes be in the thousands. You cross plot those two things, you add them together and now all of a sudden I’ve got to beneficially operate my property now for three or four years just at full.

[00:38:09] Nick Roush: Just to get back to even with what I lost for my repairs and for my empty time. Okay. So as a result of that to take on. A tenant that could cause substantial damage and ha you have no recourse in order to get the money back if they do destroy the place. This creates an enormous amount of risk.

[00:38:29] Nick Roush: And that risk is really hard, if not impossible for the small, or even large person to take on. Or if this person ends up causing a huge amount of problems within the thing. Now the neighbors, because everybody’s lives are very portable. They choose to break the lease, the neighbors move, they move away because they can.

[00:38:47] Nick Roush: Yes. These things don’t sound great. They don’t sound nice and, but they’re true. This is a reality of the things that people face on the housing side to be able to accomplish this housing from a private perspective. And If we circle back and go to what can we do to move the needle in what’s actually happening?

[00:39:05] Nick Roush: And I always, again, I always think of things from a root cause perspective. What is root cause? You’ve got two factors that are root cause. One is economics. A lot of the homelessness issue and unsheltered issue comes back to economic challenges. People through the wrong set of circumstances fell down on their luck and are in a super hard place where their problem is not a desire to do better.

[00:39:31] Nick Roush: Their problem isn’t. A desire to make change in their own life. It’s how can they get enough of an economic foothold to be able to take agency of their own life and make a difference for themselves. So there’s that, right? And then you’ve got the giant issue that is mental health and drug addiction.

[00:39:48] Nick Roush: And that of course, playing an enormous role and that also being a role for the person who actually wants help. Because you’re down in your luck and things are going bad, and you’re self-medicating, right? Whether it’s alcohol, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s, pick your addiction, right?

[00:40:06] Nick Roush: We love to throw the rock at addiction, and it’s that’s just happening because of sadness. That’s happening because of, depression that’s happening because of anxiety that’s happening because of these other problems. And if we can mitigate those other problems, suddenly those things can go away.

[00:40:22] Nick Roush: So we’ve got two things there, right? The economic stuff and then the mental health and drug addiction pieces. And so it, it takes an approach to these things, I think, to make it better that. Does our best and nothing’s gonna be perfect. That does our best to address both of those things being true.

[00:40:39] Nick Roush: We cannot make the, what I would call I guess I would call it, we can’t make the foolish assumption that just putting people in housing is going to solve the problem. It won’t. It can’t because all these other things will still persist for that person. If we don’t do the rest of the things now, do I agree that it’s impossible for somebody to engage in stable employment and, but I would say becoming a, a benefit to society if they’re not housed.

[00:41:08] Nick Roush: Of course. You got housing that’s just it’s part of the big three. You gotta have food, shelter, water, right? Yes. Those have gotta be true. Yep. And what’s next? And so I look at it like there’s just. There’s buckets of good possibility here in that we can hand out. So it’s all carrots and sticks.

[00:41:25] Nick Roush: Carrots and sticks. We can hand out carrots like you would not believe. We have tons of job opportunity. Oh my God. Like all the companies, whether it’s the landscaper, the customer service, the restaurant, the holy cow. Like you, you cannot talk to a business owner in any one of those workforce sectors that says we don’t need people.

[00:41:47] Nick Roush: It doesn’t exist. I agree. They all need people. So we have the carrot of a beneficial employment. I think we have the possibility to create some housing assets, and we also, again have to have that like that. This is, so that’s the, like the compassionate side of all this wonderful opportunity for those that want that help and need it.

[00:42:09] Nick Roush: Yeah. And it’s not a handout, it’s a hand up. It’s the go. Let’s go back to the Bible. It’s, let’s teach a man to fish. Don’t give a man a fish. Because then you have to give a man a fish forever. But if you teach a man to fish, he eats for life. Yes. And there’s plenty of fish in our sea. There is. If we teach him to fish. Yes. And then we have to temper that with logic and reason that says there’s gotta be sticks. It’s showing up clean and sober. It’s showing up to your job. It’s, it’s taking care of your housing. It’s doing the things that let you keep that hand up until you can get a hand on your own.

[00:42:44] Nick Roush: And we’ve gotta have the, the appetite to hand out the sticks to offset the benefit of the carrots. And as humans, we all need both. We need both, like I got plenty of sticks growing up. Still get ’em on occasion doing dumb stuff. Oh, I wasn’t thinking about that.

[00:43:01] Nick Roush: Or that was a mistake. And the sticks come out, life has sticks. So it’s tempering that compassion and logic and reason together to come up with a solution that we can make the carrots happen. And also there’s penalty for the things not being upheld. And that’s like things that can actually move the needle.

[00:43:18] Nick Roush: And we can’t sanction it and make it okay for what’s happening now to continue to persist. Because the detrimental effects on our community are too great, and people do things based in incentives. They’ll just choose to move. People will choose to move and move away, and that’s not okay for all of us.

[00:43:33] Nick Roush: Let’s help these pe, let’s help people in a beneficial way. Yes. I hope that wasn’t too verbose. I think I said a lot of words there. That’s okay. Yeah.

[00:43:43] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Okay. Let’s go into the last question. Yeah. Yeah. What makes you passionate about what

[00:43:48] Nick Roush: you do? Oh my gosh. There’s a bunch of fun stuff about what I do. One, I get to work with a lot of amazing people, whether it’s people that directly work for Rouch Rentals and helping them by office manager.

[00:43:59] Nick Roush: Amazing human being, like helping her grow her career. Other people that work for us, helping them grow their career and continue to grow in what they do. And then we hire a ton of contractors too, which. We work with largely the same people for most of our projects, and I feel like they’re all employees.

[00:44:16] Nick Roush: I know them all. I know you know their names and their kids’ names, and who’s getting married and what’s going on and all the things. And the benefit that comes with creating that and the benefit to our, our whole autonomy here, right? I’m building things and spending money with as many local people as I possibly can, then they’re spending money locally and helping stuff happen here.

[00:44:36] Nick Roush: So I think for me, if I’m summing it down, it’s, I get the most out of life by creating, helping, create opportunities for others to flourish. It’s always been like, My life purpose to try to live an inspired life and inspire others to what’s possible for them. Yeah. Like I get the most out of seeing whomever succeed in what they do.

[00:45:01] Nick Roush: And to see that there is, it’s not a zero sum game. Oh my God. There is an endless possibility for us all to create so much awesome stuff in our lives. And it’s not that hard to win. Just try hard, like it’s okay if to do hard things. It’s okay to get beat up and get back in the arena, right?

[00:45:23] Nick Roush: Yep. And I think finding that and doing that and helping other people find that within themselves, that’s what I enjoy the most. And

[00:45:32] Vicki Markussen: you’re very good at it too. Yeah. Thanks for that. Yeah. So you have been listening to BizCast Greater La Crosse with my guest, the owner of Roush Rental. Nick Roush, 25 years in business.

[00:45:44] Vicki Markussen: You got to hear all of his wisdoms. Thank you for sharing it with us, and we will catch you next week. Thanks.



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