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Affordable housing legislation may not sit well in some Wisconsin communities

Some communities may welcome the new tools and processes proposed by the bills. Others may view this as infringing on the control they now have over the types of housing within their borders

  • 2 min to read

A series of related bills introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly last week, that would force municipalities to take steps to increase their stock of affordable housing, may find resistance in affluent pockets of rural Dane County.

Given the outcry in Cambridge in the past couple of years over affordable housing proposals, which led several developers to abandon plans for apartments and a neighborhood extension of small starter homes, we’ll be closely tracking the local response to these bills.

Across the state, some communities may welcome the new tools and processes proposed by the bills. Others may view this as infringing on the control they now have over the types of housing within their borders.

Assembly Bills 603, 605, 608 and 609 were all introduced on Oct. 8:

• Under Assembly Bill 603, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. would have to set up a program to certify workforce housing projects as shovel-ready. WEDC would then work with local governments and state agencies to expedite permits for projects certified as such.

• Assembly Bill 605 would require cities, towns, villages and counties to spend either $1 million or 10 percent of their federal American Rescue Plan Act funds on one of four things: new workforce housing infrastructure including streets, sewer, water and sidewalks; creating a low or no-interest loan program for remodeling and repair of older workforce housing; creating a low or no-interest loan program for building new workforce housing; or redeveloping commercial sites for new workforce housing.

• Under Assembly Bill 608, municipalities would have to permit, in at least one neighborhood, multifamily housing with a density of 16 or more units per acre. Municipalities would also have to permit multifamily housing of that density in any area zoned for commercial use. And municipalities would have to set up a process to expedite approval of workforce housing projects.

• Under Assembly Bill 609, a municipality could create a local housing investment fund, with certain sites designated as housing investment fund properties. Akin to how a tax incremental finance district works, new tax revenue generated from rising property values on those sites would go into a fund to make more housing available for households of moderate income, diverting it away from schools and general government. The funds could only be used for specified purposes, including financing new workforce housing construction and/or rehabbing existing workforce housing.

The bills define workforce housing as being for households that earn up to 120 percent of the county’s median income. And a household may not be made to pay more than 30 percent of its income on housing.

The bills contain some provisions that may bring pause in rural Dane County, amid some of the county’s smallest-populated villages and towns.

While we see the value of including affordable options in our local mix of housing, not everyone does.

We’re also not sure that setting aside 10 percent of ARPA funds for workforce housing initiatives is practical for small villages and towns that are likely to receive less than $200,000 in federal aid total. The resulting $10,000 to $20,000 wouldn’t go far toward supporting any kind of housing development.

And being made to use ARPA funds in this way may generate some municipal pushback.

We’re also interested to hear the local reaction to, akin to a TIF district, diverting tax revenue that normally funds schools and general government to workforce housing development.

We look forward to the coming debate, both statewide and locally.

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