Anyone watching the April 19 village board meeting would have likely noticed Trustee Kristin Runge’s broad smile after she and fellow Waunakee Village Board members voted unanimously to approve a development agreement for a workforce housing project.
It seemed particularly fitting that Kristin would spend her last meeting as a village trustee casting this vote. She led Waunakee’s first foray into the complex issue of affordable housing three years ago.
Waunakee’s Housing Task Force included about 20 diverse community members, including Waunakee Village President Chris Zellner. As they were selected, village staff sought community members representing different age groups, neighborhoods and professional backgrounds. The committee was composed of a Waunakee plan commissioner, school district administration members and village board members -- all key to the village.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension community development director, Kristin brought in experts to explore topics like the definition of affordable housing and options for funding it. Completed in 2019, the task force’s 11-month study included a survey of workers who commute to Waunakee, with nearly 63 percent responding that the village does not offer houses or rental units they could afford.
The study also revealed that 400 households in Waunakee were cost-burdened or extremely cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, or in extreme cases, more than 50%.
In 2019, the task force arrived at a set of recommendations to provide a wider range of housing options and address the needs of workers and employers. One called for 160 housing units priced to households making 80 to 100 percent of the area median income to be constructed in the next five years.
The report also recommend 75 income-qualified rental units be constructed within the next five years, incorporated into mixed-income development. The Housing Task Force Report, authored by Kristin, indicated 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.
Another recommendation called for a section of Waunakee’s comprehensive plan to be rewritten. That section restricted rezoning for multifamily use, generally limiting the number of attached units to 25 percent of the village’s housing stock.
In 2019, with the Housing Task Force’s work completed, the unanswered question was how to implement a total of 12 recommendations. To do so, the dormant Community Development Authority was reengaged. Some of the work – revising the comprehensive plan, for instance – has been completed as the plan commission and village board followed the CDA’s recommendations
With Nicole Solheim, executive director with the Wisconsin Partnership on Housing Development, acting as a consultant, the CDA also recommended the use of affordable housing tax incremental finance extensions to help build workforce housing and improve housing stock. The village board approved that use, and last week agreed to loan 75 percent of the extended year of Tax Incremental Financing District No. 2 increment to the Cohen-Esrey Development Group for the Village on Main project.
That 50-unit apartment complex includes 40 units with rents priced at 30-60% of the average median income. When Village on Main is completed in 2022, Waunakee will be more than half way to meeting that 75-unit threshold recommended by the housing task force.
Kristin declined to run for reelection after she was appointed in 2019 to the seat held by Sue Springman, who resigned after moving away from the village. But Kristin’s involvement with her hometown’s government began with housing and ended with some of the community work she coordinated coming to fruition.
At some recent meetings, Kristin spoke about Waunakee leading the way in tackling the complex affordable housing challenge as she’s worked with other communities examining the issue. Last week, she and fellow board members came full circle in some of this work. Sure, they have more work to do, but the vote represented a large step. No doubt, the work she dedicated herself to in Waunakee will make a difference in other communities, as well.