A 38-page report to the Waunakee Plan Commission on housing options may seem like just another document in a library of others for village officials.
But the Waunakee Housing Task Force’s report is the culmination of 11 months of study, discussions with experts, and data collected to arrive at housing solutions for the Waunakee community. While many with homes here may see no problem to solve, those who have waited to find rentals or have found themselves priced out of the community may feel otherwise.
As Village President Chris Zellner pointed out at last week’s plan commission meeting, providing housing at affordable price points for workers is challenging for many communities. Chris spoke of his experience in Boulder, Colorado, where in one suburb with reputable schools, home prices range from $250,000 for a one-bedroom condominium to $750,000 for a single-family home. Boulder itself, he said, is allowing no new housing to be built.
Closer to home, Wisconsin Public Radio recently reported on a housing shortage in Barron County where not one home is for sale. There the idea is to build apartments because any new homes built would be unaffordable for that community’s workers.
When Waunakee embarked on its Housing Task Force last year, village staff meticulously recruited a diverse population representing all ages and different neighborhoods of the community to serve on it.
Through the work, surveys helped to determine both commuters’ and residents’ experiences in obtaining housing in the village. Task force members also wrestled with the term “affordable,” pinpointing area residents’ median incomes and home prices to define it.
All of this work resulted in 12 recommendations to village officials aimed at providing more homes with a broader range of prices to accommodate senior citizens and those who work in Waunakee. It also recommended the village provide more information to developers on finance options to build workforce housing and provide information to homebuyers about programs designed to assist them.
Another recommendation was that the work continue with the creation of an ongoing committee comprising plan commission and housing task force members.
Already, urban planners have taken note of the task force’s work and final recommendations. After they were presented at the Aug. 12 plan commission meeting, one attendee,
Olivia Parry, a senior housing and economic development planner for Dane County, congratulated the village on what she called a “successful process.”
“You did a really best-practice process, and this is a very difficult thing for communities to do,” Parry said, adding she was impressed with the work.
But, Parry cautioned, moving forward with such plans is “where communities get stuck.”
Parry also praised the idea of putting together a committee to help implement the plan.
This isn’t the first time Waunakee has been regarded as a model for other communities to follow. The village’s cooperative approach to land-use planning with the Town of Westport has often been lauded, particularly a decade or so ago when other nearby communities were embroiled in boundary disputes. More recently, other communities have taken note of Waunakee’s Creative Economy Initiative.
But, as Parry said, now that the Housing Task Force is completed, the real work begins. Plan commissioners themselves were scratching their heads when trying to envision actually implementing those recommendations.
Yet as task force facilitator Kristin Runge remarked, for now, the conversation is started. Village officials have a firm grasp of the needs, supported by concrete data, and can begin to work on implementing goals from there. It won’t happen overnight, but the hope is, eventually, people who work in Waunakee may be able to live here if they choose, and senior citizens who have been here all their lives can remain. The outcome should help Waunakee become a more welcoming and diverse community.