It’s been a topic of conversation in Deerfield for a while: the need for more workforce housing.
Despite its small population of about 2,500 residents, Deerfield has a large industrial park where nearly a dozen companies employ about 1,000 people. The jobs range from highly-paid engineers to entry-level skilled laborers.
Where Deerfield continues to fall short is in offering housing to workers who can’t afford to buy one of the newer single-family homes that dominate the local marketplace.
A bill introduced last week in the state Legislature would seem to help fix that. However, because of the county it’s located on the very edge of, Deerfield doesn’t qualify.
That is a shame as AB 544 is otherwise a good bill.
It would create a workforce housing tax credit program administered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). The program would be open to lenders financing a workforce house project, developers or “the business for whose benefit the project is being carried out.”
Applicants would have to show that they have tried and have been unsuccessful securing funding from other sources including community development blocks grants, local assistance, tax incremental financing and WHEDA.
The catch: applicants must be in a Wisconsin county with a population density of less than 155 persons per square mile.
That eliminates Deerfield from eligibility, and that feels unfair.
Dane County, of course has a population density far above the bill’s stated threshold: about 440 people per square mile. That’s based on 1,238 square miles divided into about 542,000 county residents.
However, that high concentration of people is not representative of the county’s rural eastern fringe.
The Town and Village of Deerfield have a combined population density of about 110 people per square mile, well under AB 544’s threshold. That’s based on 36 square miles divided into about 4,000 residents.
Spreading out a little bit further geographically, the combined Towns of Deerfield, Christiana and Oakland, and the Villages of Cambridge, Rockdale and Deerfield, have a population density of about 93 people per square mile. That’s based on 108 square miles divided into about 10,000 residents.
The numbers demonstrate what those of us who live out here already know: our wide-open spaces and sparse population have much more in common with Jefferson County than Madison. Madison, we are not.
The USDA recognizes the difference: its maps label Cottage Grove as suburban, then draw a line just east of there to designate Deerfield and Cambridge as rural. So, too, do the state legislative district boundaries underscore the divide between suburban and rural areas of the county.
Were Deerfield three miles further to the east, it would qualify for the assistance AB 544 proposes.
State Rep. Barbara Dittrich, a co-author of AB 544 whose state Assembly District 38 spreads from Deerfield eastward to just past Oconomowoc, didn’t respond this week to repeated requests for comment.
Of course, we agree with supporting rural communities in their efforts to draw industry.
But we would like to see offers of state help be extended to all rural Wisconsin communities, not just to those on the chosen side of a county line.