A nine-month study of housing in Waunakee likely confirmed what many have suspected: many individuals are unable to find housing in the village within their price range.

A survey of workers commuting to Waunakee for work conducted as part of the study was one indication. Nearly 63 percent of the respondents said that Waunakee did not offer houses or rental units they could afford.

The Waunakee Housing Task Force, with a diverse composition of members, completed its report last month after an extensive, 11-month effort, and its facilitator, Kristin Runge of the UW-Madison Extension, presented the findings and recommendations to the Waunakee Plan Commission on Aug. 12. Plan commissioners ultimately forwarded the recommendations to the village board.

In addition to the lack of “affordable” or “workforce” housing, the report revealed that, according to the Dane County Housing Needs Assessment, 400 households in Waunakee – 210 renter households and 190 owner households – are cost-burdened or extremely cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing or more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing.

As she presented the report Monday, Runge said the task force looked at four key issues.

First, Waunakee is situated in a growing metropolitan area as Dane County is expected to grow by 20,000 households by 2040.

Second, Waunakee has a growing retiree population with less income. Third, Waunakee has a shrinking proportion of middle income households, defined as households earning between 80 and 100 percent of median area income and a lack of workforce housing.

Waunakee also has a strong reliance of workers who commute to the village – roughly 80 percent of workers in the village live outside of the village. Runge said part of that is likely due to an undersupply of homes in the middle.

Runge pointed to one upside. Surveys of commuters showed they are “overwhelmingly in favor of Waunakee,” noting it is a welcoming community with good schools, but they aren’t able to find homes within their price range.

The report presents data from assessments showing the housing prices, along with the residents’ income to support the findings.

The group’s decisions in the report were guided by three larger principles: Housing should accommodate workforce needs; those who work in the village should be able to live in the village; and third, that the housing strategies they recommend should first address the needs of those living in the community.

These and a number of other findings led the committee to arrive at 12 recommendations on housing development for Waunakee village officials to consider.

Recognizing that senior housing is needed, the task force’s first recommendation suggests further study focusing on senior citizens’ needs and desires in Waunakee.

The second recommendation calls for 160 housing units priced to households making 80 to 100 percent of area median income to be constructed in the next five years.

Third, the task force’s report recommends 75 income-qualified rental units be constructed within the next five years, incorporated into mixed-income development. The village should work with developers or lenders to pursue a variety of housing loans/credits, including Tax Incremental Financing, low-income housing tax credit and assistance from the Federal Home Loan Bank. It also recommends the village request the University of Wisconsin-Madison MBA real estate students to assist with identifying and assessing sites for workforce housing within village limits.

Another recommendation calls for a section of Waunakee’s comprehensive plan to be rewritten, but the task force members declined to rewrite it themselves. That section restricts rezoning for multifamily use, generally limiting the number of attached units to 25 percent of the village’s housing stock.

Other recommendations call for the development of smaller development projects, small-scale real estate ownership projects and a range of housing affordability within the same development.

The village should also create a catalog of publicly-available programs designed to assist homeowners and homebuyers and hold seminars and outreach for first-time homebuyers on programs to assist them. Finally, it is recommended that the village develop an ongoing committee, including plan commission and task force members, to continue addressing long-term affordable home ownership and rental options.

Plan commissioners initially seemed unclear about how to proceed with the report. Commissioner Brian Wallace asked if it should be recommended to the village board.

Commissioner and Village President Chris Zellner said he believed all 12 recommendations were valid and the board should consider them.

Wallace asked how the recommendations would get implemented.

“The village will have difficulty saying we’re going to put in 160 units,” Wallace said.

Kevin Even, village engineer, noted that some of the recommendations have budget impacts and will need the village board’s support. Implementation plans will be needed, he said.

Wallace recommended the report and its conclusions go to the board with consideration of how to put a committee together to move the report forward.

“It starts with a conversation and it starts with an intent to do something,” Runge said, adding that a lot of work will go toward implementation. “This group, those that are ready and willing, are very interested in seeing this through.”

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